Vital rail link re-opened
I was pleased that ScotRail resumed services between Glasgow and Stranraer at the weekend following the suspension caused by a devastating fire at Troon Station.
The temporary line closure had meant that trains serving Stranraer and Barrhill were cancelled or substituted by buses, which caused concern and inconvenience for some of my constituents.
With the line through Troon closed, Wigtownshire was cut off from the national rail network for a lengthy period and the only passenger train still left in service south of the town was deployed only in Ayrshire rather than travelling south as far as Stranraer.
I raised this issue with ScotRail officials and in response they justified opting to use the 'trapped' diesel-powered locomotive between Girvan and Ayr only as they could make more journeys and benefit a greater number of passengers.
It seems lack of refuelling facilities at Stranraer, the cost of staff training and equipment maintenance to service them, were factors and that such circumstances, say ScotRail, have only arisen twice in the last seven years.
In his reply to me, ScotRail operations director David Simpson, said: "We have appropriate contingency arrangements in place for most eventualities and the replacement bus service has comparable journey times with the rail service so customers at Stranraer and Barrhill are not materially inconvenienced."
I thank Mr Simpson for his prompt reply and I know my constituents, who recall another lengthy line closure in relatively recent times caused by the state of the Ayr Station Hotel, will want ScotRail to do their utmost to keep Stranraer connected to the national rail network in future.
Driving forward licence testing
One of many issues emerging during the Covid pandemic was the loss of normal driver-training and assessment.
It's a problem that has faced a significant number of those wanting to pass their theory and practical tests in my large rural constituency.
I have written and held discussions with DVLA on behalf of constituents who require a licence for work, study and a range of personal reasons.
I'm, therefore, pleased that as restrictions ease extra resources are being put in place by the UK Government nationally which should see testing fully resume with extra examiners recruited and hours extended.
In our region I was delighted that the agency has agreed to open a new theory test centre at Newton Stewart -- in addition to the existing practical tests held in the town.
This should see the backlog start to ease from early September at the local centres and I'm hopeful that national issues, involving staffing shortages at the DVLA's Swansea HQ, will be addressed.
I'm encouraged that progress is being made and wish all aspiring drivers in Dumfries and Galloway success in obtaining their licence as soon as possible.
Rail bridge decision welcome
A national programme of infilling with concrete disused railway bridge arches has reached Dumfries and Galloway and has raised concerns and questions.
In one case in my constituency a bridge on the former Stranraer to Dumfries Railway at Lochanhead, near Beeswing, was identified for such a scheme designed to make the structure safe as an alternative to more expensive repairs.
After being approached by constituents concerned that the infill proposals would create a significant obstacle to any future reopening of the railway, I wrote expressing concern to Highways England, which has responsibility for looking after such legacy structures for the Department of Transport on both sides of the border.
With strategic transport across the UK under review, including former rail routes in our region, this bridge could have potential significance at some point in the future and I felt it was, at very least, premature to infill.
I'm delighted Highways England have now dropped the original plan and state they intend to repair the overbridge - not infill it.
Good way to remember Anne
I'm glad that a great friend of Galloway, Anne Brown, who sadly died recently, is being remembered in a highly appropriate way through an annual essay prize.
Anne, who lived in the Newton Stewart area for many years, had a highly successful and creative career as a long-serving BBC journalist and radio producer.
Even when she moved from the region, she maintained her local links and was the respected chairwoman of the Wigtown Book Festival for a lengthy period.
Although she was well-known for her work on national programmes in Scotland, I recall in recent years how efficiently she organised some of the local pre-election candidate debate broadcasts.
The £1,500 Anne Brown Essay Prize is open to Scottish-based entrants and will be awarded in association with the BBC for the best literary essay, published or unpublished.
Training for the right skills
As we edge towards economic recovery and emerging in the not too distant future from the pandemic downturn, training for the most relevant skills remains a key priority.
In my ministerial role I was interested to visit recently Russell Roof Tiles, in the east of the region at Lochmaben, to talk about the training needs of companies planning carefully for the future.
A valued employer, the long-established firm is investing substantial sums in upgrading their manufacturing process and with currently more than 70 employees are also recruiting staff to train in skilled machine work.
It was an interesting visit, which highlighted the fact practical skills are equally as important as academic ability, and illustrates how the UK Government's Plan for Jobs should aim to offer the right support at the right time for those wishing to upskill and expand their workforce.
A great place to visit
Well done to the team at the Logan Botanic Garden on the Rhins of Galloway, which has been voted best in the UK in a recent consumer survey by consumer champion Which?
As I know from my own visits, the sub-tropical gardens are not only a great attraction, they are one of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh's research and conservation centres where rare and endangered plants are grown.
They continue to welcome visitors and have a range of Covid precautions in place.