Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership

Spring Newsletter

Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership

Photo courtesy of Colin Mackay

Well, here we are, back again, where we were 25 years ago with ScotRail under public ownership. It has been an interesting journey for those of us who have been around the block with 3 TOC’s, 4 CEO’s and 6 Transport Ministers, most of them in the last seven years. We await with interest further information on our role in the future of Community Rail in Scotland. We have made a short video to promote the work of the Community Rail Partnerships and what we have learned over the past 7/8 years.

In the meantime, for those of you who are wondering what the difference is now, the Scottish Government have set up ScotRail Holdings Ltd to report directly to Scottish Government and ScotRail Trains Ltd will run the railway in Scotland.

This is an exciting time to be part of Scotland's railway family and we look forward to seeing CRPs go from strength to strength under the new arrangements.

Passenger and Visitor numbers

We did ask just before this transition how the Highland Main Line was performing since our last update, and we can see that apart from a dip due to the Omicron variant of COVID late last year, passenger numbers have been on a slow, but steady rise for the past few weeks. This is good news, and we hope it will continue as travellers return to the railways. Of immediate concern is lack of staffing at weekends, when our Stations are now busiest and the lateness of Summer timetables being released as holidaymakers struggle to plan holidays using the train. We also continue to question Peak Time Travel restrictions on non-commuter routes.

The Moffat Institute have just released the figures for Visitor attractions since 2019 and it can quite clearly be seen, that the outdoors and outdoor centres have done really well and we have plenty of those! Indoor attractions have seen a massive drop in visitor numbers over the past two years and without international tourists returning in great numbers, it could be a few years before they recover.

Cyril Bleasdale

Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership

We were very sorry to hear of the recent death of Cyril Bleasdale at age 87. Cyril began his career at 16 as a Booking Office clerk and went on to become a director at Intercity, General Manager of London Midland Region and Director of ScotRail, retiring from BR in 1994, but coming back to revive the staff newspaper Railnews.

He did three things for our line. It was at Blair Atholl in September 1990 that he launched the ScotRail Express 158 units, which were the top of the range trains in their day. When Priscilla Lorimer formed a campaign which successfully resisted a cut in hours of staffing, he urged her to keep the group in being, thus making it the forerunner to our Partnership. And when the building on the island platform at Aviemore began to show signs of decay, he warned that without partnership funding it would have to come down: others joined him in its rescue and five years later it assumed its present role and became the interchange for the Strathspey Railway.

Neil Sinclair – Author - Highland Railway Buildings

We are still working towards a date in late June for Neil to launch his latest book about the Highland Railway, hopefully sandwiched between an event at the Strathspey and the Model Rail Show in Perth on the 25th and 26th June.

Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership

Pitlochry Station bookshop and the circular economy

Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership

A new term has entered the popular and political language in recent years – ‘the circular economy’ - and Scotland even has its own Circular Economy Minister, Lorna Slater, who describes it as follows:

“A circular economy is at the heart of Scotland’s response to the climate emergency and will help dramatically reduce the amount of waste generated in Scotland.”

Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership

So what does this have to do with the HMLCRP and in particular, with Pitlochry Station Bookshop? A quick Google search provides the answer. Each year, 640,000 tons of books are sent to landfill – yes, 640,000 tons! There has to be a better way of managing our precious resources and environment, and Pitlochry Station bookshop provides one solution.

Here is an example.

Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership

I buy a paperback copy of Elspeth Barker’s novel for £8.99 from an independent bookshop in Edinburgh. I love it – it’s a curious tale and reminds me about my childhood and about things I had forgotten – for example, what Sunday clothes used to feel like! When I finish reading it, I donate the book to Pitlochry Station Bookshop and it sells for the princely sum of £2, because it is a new edition. It is read and returned by someone else, and the next person to buy it gives an extra donation of £3, so that they can make the amount up to £5 and use our Card Reader. By the time it is sold next, it sells for £1, because it is no longer a new book. It sells once more. When it comes back for the last time, the book is parcelled up with other older stock, bound for a charity that raises money for literacy projects in Africa. So my purchase has not only helped an independent retailer (and of course, an author, now aged 82 years, and a British publisher) but it has raised £9.00 (a penny more than I paid for it) for the six charities that the bookshop supports. And it has finally raised money for children in Africa. That’s what I call a circular economy!

As of 1 April 2022, Piltochry Station Bookshop had raised £370,824 for charity. It does so thanks to its support from Scotrail, HMLCRP, all its donors and all its volunteers. It is much loved by all those who visit, whether this be local Perthshire residents or those from further afield – this year we’ve sold books to customers across the UK as well as to visitors who have returned to Canada and Australia. We’ve appeared on two TV programmes and even in a Mexican newspaper – and all of this publicity encourages more people to visit and to get involved. This is a truly special place – one which we are all proud to pay a part in. Come and see for yourself!

Viviene Cree
Piltochry Station Bookshop volunteer and committee member

Charter Trains

We know you like a beautiful train to photograph, so having noticed the Royal Scotsman on the line last week, we thought we would draw your attention to the website to find out about these iconic trains on the Highland Main Line.

Saturday 23rd April
Great Britain XIV (Day 2) Edinburgh - Inverness (via Kirkcaldy & Aviemore)

Sunday 24th April
Great Britain XIV (Day 3) Inverness – Stirling (via Aviemore)

UK Rail for Ukraine

UK rail industry sends humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Working as one to provide aid, the rail industry came together to launch a unique humanitarian train which left the UK on a special DB Cargo service.

This service is carrying more than 1,500 tonnes consisting of a range of aid, including non-perishable food, hygiene and medical products, basic living equipment and other much needed supplies that have been donated from a range of businesses and organisations following requests for aid from the Ukrainian authorities.

Transported in 24 shipping containers over a 500 metre train, the aid transported by UK Rail for Ukraine has been labelled in all three languages to assist distribution when it arrives at its destination.

Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership

Free Rail Travel

Free train travel for Ukrainian refugees arriving in Scotland, England and Wales is being offered from the 20th March onwards. More information here.

“Whereverly” App

We have been providing contacts and information for the second “Highland Discovery” app being worked up for the Highland Main Line. Some of you may recall the original one followed the A9, so we are pleased to be involved in the promotion of our wonderful railway line. The Community Launch took place on 31st March and we look forward to the main event in May.


We would love to recruit some new volunteers, particularly to help with Station Adoption, we currently have no representatives for Newtonmore and Aviemore.

We wish everyone a very Happy Easter.

Highland Mainline Community Rail Partnership

Photo courtesy of Colin Mackay


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