Letter: End of line for great railway route

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The Independent Online
Sir: The railway franchise director's decision to exclude the London to Fort William sleeper from the minimum service levels required of train operators ("Sleeper trains face axe as subsidy is cut", 15 December) will probably kill off one of Briti sh Rail's most neglected assets. Yet it comes only a month after the publication of a report by the official economic development agency, Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), which was highly critical of BR for failing to exploit a potential tourism g old-mine.

The report finds that "comparisons with tourist train travel in other areas of high scenic value around the world do not flatter Highland services - though there is every reason why the Highlands should become one of the world's top railway touring areas".

BR's failure adequately to promote Highland railways or offer services which connect with other forms of public transport is identified as a major cause of lines being uneconomic ("visitors cannot get information on connecting services... in London... and, to their utter amazement, not even in Edinburgh or lnverness"). Such is the inertia of British Rail's management that the HIE report found "repeatedly during the survey, people (including many in tourism) pointed out lost opportunities and described sourl y how they had unsuccessfully tried to co-operate with ScotRail in encouraging traffic".

If privatisation is to mean anything, it should surely herald an era of railway entrepreneurship. Tourist and marketing opportunities are there for the taking. Despite the franchise director's betrayal of Fort William and Lochaber, people at both ends ofthe track should not give up the fight to retain the West Highland's only direct public transport connection with the south. Given the line's huge tourist appeal, we might at least retain a seasonal service.

Yours faithfully, HUGH RAVEN London, W11

15 December