To encourage cycling let the train take the strain

To encourage cycling let the train take the strain

by Liam Kerr
article from Thursday 27, April, 2017

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.

Except not.

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

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User Comments

It is not just the HST's but the West Highland line (6 bikes officially per unit (156) - often 2 units per train) where replacements are 2 bikes per unit (158) But to the HST's, a low budget conversion with miniml work to the Class 43 Power cars (remove the ATO module) they are fitted with a 3-bike rack, in the space that, for coach A can accommodate 5-6 bikes. For clear reasons the access to the sliding door at intermediate stations needs to be managed (doors have come open & fallen off in the past) Access could be via the through gangway but Class 43 power cars gained their reputation as 125mph 'trams' though the noise and ride qualities experienced by guards, when they had to use accommodation in the power car. The conversion of the Mk 3 coaches involves removal of the toilets and luggage racks to install the sliding door cassettes. At one end the controlled emission toilet is installed to the tank at that end. Clearly the cost to pipe a second CET (or install a second system) means that the opposite end has a redundant toilet. Chiltern railways found a useful resolution to this by stripping out the luggage rack and toilet to leave a generous large vestibule space at one end of the coach, which in turn helps to reduce dwell times at intermediate stations, through improved passenger movement on and off the train. The design has been done and approved, but the Scotrail conversion opts for the lower cost of putting back the same panels and leaving the foot and end off the toilet in one carriage to load bikes vertically in a way which may well compromise the limits set by HSC Manual Handling Regulations for the maximum lifted weight of a cycle with the awkward condition of arms outstretched. This detail can be resolved but with some very different design detailing. Of serious concern is the illustration of a proposed system, identical to the useless, dangerous to use, and failing to secure bikes units seen on Voyager trains. Even I cannot lift a 19Kg bike on to the hook, and I'm a 100Kg 2 metre tall male with reasonable upper body strength! A solution is available - which has been in use on rail vehicles since 1989, and with a couple of small tweaks will not require the user to lift the whole weight of a bike to stow it, and use the weight of the bike to keep it in place and stable We know - informally - that the current daily HST service carries up to 30 bikes between Inverness and Edinburgh (where 8-10 minutes is available to unload). Scotrail's own ROGS safety case enables the local decision to be made to enable up to 14 bikes on each 3 coach unit * based on 2 bike spaces per unit as the wheelchair spaces are 'officially' inviolate (PRM-TSI = 2 per train) As the budget is committed, and obviously tight, this extra work has an extra cost 27 trains will have 56 power cars (2 spare) and a mix of 4 and 5 coach trains, which may also have some spares, so perhaps 130 coaches? The power cars should be simple to fit out for 5 bikes by changing the frame used. The coaches could use the design used for Chiltern, which may be cheaper to install, but obviously uses new panels. A budget for this needs to be proposed. The vestibule detail will be a beneficial feature for the high speed services, keeping station dwell times down. It could be flow-tested on a Chiltern vehicle. Scandalous is the wasted opportunity available on the Edinburgh routes to Fort William (6 officially but 10 would fit) and Inverness and Aberdeen. The Inverness and Fort William trains offer a clear benefit of early arrivals (and later departures) that open up connections for ferry services, and bringing the departure for Fort William forward (this train waits for an hour in Edinburgh) would also provide a connection for Oban and ferries that will get you to the islands before lunchtime! A further cycle carrying service is available (and used) on several Stagecoach Express services - the X7 Perth-Aberdeen was reported to be carrying 40+ bikes/week, and Citylink routinely carries bikes Ullapool-Inverness with Hitrans helping to facilitate this. I have a long term aim to get bike spaces reservable on all Scottish Citylink routes - especially where these open up access to Argyll, and Skye, places with no rail services. Happy to brief on this if you want to discuss

Posted on Thursday 27, April, 2017 by Dave Holladay