IT IS A GREAT PLEASURE to live in the North East. A particular delight is to take my bike on the train to Montrose then cycle back over Cairn o’ Mount, stopping for sustenance first at Fettercairn or Clatterin Brig, then a reward on the other side at Crathes or Culter.
Currently nearly all ScotRail trains between Edinburgh or Glasgow and Inverness/Aberdeen are Class 170 Turbostars, with four official bike spaces. The frisson of excitement as I roll the dice hoping I get a space is palpable!
So I was delighted when I heard Abellio ScotRail would be phasing in, from summer 2018, refurbished HSTs (as they are more than 40-year-old class 43s currently running on the Great Western Railway) on the routes that serve Scotland’s seven cities.
They look great. The “spec” on the revitalised mark 3 coaches is impressive and apparently delivers a 33 per cent increase in capacity.
In February 2015, on the penultimate slide of a presentation to the Cross-Party Group on Cycling, was this: “The Class 125s will have a capacity of at least 20 cycles”. Fantastic. No more gambling for me, and a recognition of the apparent (according to Sustrans) £345 million per year worth to the Scottish economy of cycle tourism.
Finally, the delights of the North East would genuinely be opened to those (e.g. families of four who can’t gamble on the one bike that would ruin their plans!) who wish to come and cycle, using our excellent establishments and not having to worry about whether space will be available leading them to decide, on balance, that the Union Canal is the best bet. Again.
Great news for the rural economy as, on such routes I get hungry and thirsty. I have a limited distance so I will stop and spend locally. Businesses which are crying out for trade in the current climate (and due to business rates hikes they are – but that’s another story!) so what a boon when I and sometimes four or five companions stop by looking for a full lunch and rehydration. As opposed to the car tourist who stocked up at the supermarket in Dundee and will head straight for a picnic on the (admittedly wonderful!) Cairn O’ Mount summit.
Spokes, the Lothian Cycle Campaigners, have discovered there will only be 8 bike spaces: 2 in a vertical-hanging rack in one of the coaches and 3 in each of the 2 power-car luggage compartments.
But that’s not all. These latter 6 spaces will only be available for end-to-end journeys (such as Aberdeen-Edinburgh) and will not be accessible at intermediate stations. And given that some services from Edinburgh to Inverness for example require a change at Perth, doesn’t that mean that the 6 aren’t available for certain Edinburgh-Inverness services?
So in fact, for my trip to Montrose, I’ve got to take a chance on one of the 2 spaces in the coach… half of the current Turbostar provision! And woe betide if a couple of friends want to join me.
This is a poor show from ScotRail and Transport Scotland who seem to be winding back on promises, reducing capacity on a burgeoning and profitable area and generally not delivering on the social and economic benefits offered by a train service. The whole thing is made worse by the fact that these trains had been heralded by the Scottish Government and ScotRail as bringing in a new era of bike/rail travel between the central belt and the Highlands/North-East
Are there solutions? One expert suggests it is possible (and has been shown in practice by other Train Operating Companies) to have 2 bikes per carriage, plus 4 or 5 in each of the two power cars. There have also been questions raised about “redundant toilets” i.e. those unused in the new design, which will simply be locked up – transporting air. Surely they can be converted in some way?
The Virgin class 43s to Inverness seem to cope with bikes in the power car with pre-booking and guard assistance to unlock. I do not accept that a timetable delay at stations can be the issue as any basic logistics adjustment on the platform can worked on or on-train announcements ensure the cyclist is ready.
Can they be persuaded to think again? I hope so and I have lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament (provided below) highlighting the need for action by the Scottish Government, its agency Transport Scotland and ScotRail. I set it down to be debated if it got sufficient cross-party support. That support duly arrived so Parliament will debate the motion in the near future.
I tried to draft the motion very carefully to avoid alienating any party – I think this issue transcends party lines – but disappointingly, as at time of going to press, the motion has been out for support for approaching three weeks but not one SNP member has signed, despite their stated commitment to cycling. The more signatures, the more powerful the message, so do contact your MSPs and ask them to sign.
I have also written to ScotRail seeking a meeting to discuss this. They know their trains best but I DO know my way around a Class 43, I use their trains constantly and I do know about pushbikes. Who knows what can come from fresh, “outsider” thinking?
The Government is desperate for a modal shift to cycling by 2020 but is going to miss its target in a big way. ScotRail can play a major part in making cycle tourism easy but also encouraging cycle commuting. The new rolling stock offers a fantastic opportunity to do it. I’ll be doing all I can to urge them to reconsider and ensure they seize it.
Liam Kerr – pictured with his bike at Stonehaven station – is the Conservative spokesman for transport and infrastructure.
Motion S5M-05106: Liam Kerr, North East Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Date Lodged: 10/04/2017
Cycle Capacity on Scotland's Railways
That the Parliament notes the calls on Transport Scotland and ScotRail to reverse reported plans to reduce available cycle space on trains serving intermediate stations on the Edinburgh/Glasgow - Inverness and East Coast main lines; understands that, on 25 February 2015, the ScotRail Franchise Delivery Team informed a meeting at the Parliament that there would be improvements in 2018-19, with the introduction of four and five coach InterCity 125 High Speed Trains and an expectation that these would carry at least 20 cycles; further understands that the cycling campaign group, Spokes, has discovered that the increase in bike space has been gradually reduced, which means that, for the stations on these lines, there will be fewer spaces for cycles than at present; believes that almost all ScotRail trains are Class 170 Turbostars with four official bike spaces and that, although the new plans include a total of eight bike spaces, six can only be used at the termini, with only two spaces available for stations other than the departure and arrival points; notes the calls on Transport Scotland and the ScotRail Alliance to recognise the immense contribution that it considers cyclists bring to local economies, especially in the Highlands and the north east, and further notes the calls on the Scottish Government to bring pressure on Transport Scotland and ScotRail to reverse this decision and increase cycle space on Scotland’s railways, as it understands was promised in 2015.
Supported by: John Lamont, Peter Chapman, Graham Simpson, Jeremy Balfour, Andy Wightman, Oliver Mundell, Alexander Stewart, Douglas Ross, Dean Lockhart, Donald Cameron, Miles Briggs, Maurice Corry, Murdo Fraser, Finlay Carson, Ross Thomson, Liz Smith, Mark Ruskell, Annie Wells, Alison Harris, Alex Cole-Hamilton, Alison Johnstone, Neil Findlay, Patrick Harvie, Margaret Mitchell, Anas Sarwar, Iain Gray, Gordon Lindhurst, Alexander Burnett, Brian Whittle, Daniel Johnson, Bill Bowman, Claudia Beamish, Edward Mountain, Jamie Greene, Rachael Hamilton, Johann Lamont
Current Status: Achieved Cross Party Support