CRAG Response to ScotRail Timetable Consultation

CRAG’s Chairman, Lawrence Marshall, sent this response from CRAG to both ScotRail and Transport Scotland, to the “Fit for the Future” May 2022 ScotRail timetable consultation.

Proposed ScotRail Timetable, May 2022

Response from Capital Rail Action Group

Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic has obviously had a great impact on the patronage of rail services within Scotland and elsewhere, the greater challenge to which the rail industry must rise in the coming years is that of addressing the changes needed to bring about a railway fit to make its contribution to meeting the demands of climate change. That would be a railway truly “Fit for the Future”.

The Capital Rail Action Group (CRAG) gratefully acknowledges the increased financial support, totalling more than £400m to date, provided by the Scottish Government during the pandemic. Without it we would not have the secure base from which to now plan a sustainable way ahead.

Prior to March 2019 ScotRail, along with the rest of the railway in Britain, had seen strong growth in passenger numbers. We expect that growth to now resume for leisure travel – and indeed there are already encouraging signs in that direction. We accept that commuting and business travel may well not recover to levels previously seen for some time – although, as road congestion in fact increases in a world adjusting to Covid-19, we can also see a greater role for rail in offering an alternative to road-based travel, especially between and in and around our cities and towns.

Although initial reactions in the media to Professor Iain Docherty’s “Scotland’s Railway after the pandemic” paper of April this year were rather negative, we think that there was much to also be positive about – as this extract (from page 12) shows.

There is a strong potential upside for rail arising from our climate commitments however. Although 30% of the emissions reduction expected from transport by 2029 comes from demand reduction, not all of the requirement to reduce car km by 20% is likely to be accommodated by switching physical travel to virtual communication. Notwithstanding the high degree of uncertainty set out in the analysis above, assuming the overall demand for travel recovers to pre-pandemic levels, then if half of the reduction in car travel was met by a shift to online communication and half of the shift from car to public transport were met by rail, then this suggests roughly a doubling in rail passenger demand.

Despite the substantial falls in patronage due to the pandemic, over the medium term, the decarbonisation imperative suggests that by the dates of our decarbonisation milestones in 2030 and beyond, the rail network will need to carry a materially greater number of people than it has done before. The strategic planning challenge is therefore one of matching service provision and infrastructure enhancement to best accommodate this demand, which may be in different market segments and/or geographies from those that we have become used to.

2029 (and 2030 – for the 20% requirement mentioned above) are not that far away!

CRAG is of the view that we must not only match services to passenger demand – but also be proactive in encouraging the modal shift which our climate targets demand.

By the time of the proposed May 2022 timetable, it will be the Scottish Government which will, in the form of public ownership, be running ScotRail. We therefore address these comments on those proposals affecting our geographical area of most interest primarily not to Abellio ScotRail but rather to the Scottish Government and its transport agency, Transport Scotland.

Edinburgh to Glasgow via Falkirk High

  • We accept that a reduction to half-hourly of the off-peak Edinburgh-Glasgow via Falkirk High service may well be justified given the large number of trains which ran, albeit via numerous different routes, between our two major cities pre-pandemic.

Although a further review of these services is promised for May 2023, we would hope that, should leisure volumes increase quickly, service frequencies could be restored before then – and on Saturdays in particular.

Depending on the level of recovery of commuter traffic, it may in fact be worth also reviewing the quarter-hourly frequency proposed for peak periods. It’s perhaps a bit of a “chicken and egg” situation – but, at least as a short-term measure until modal shift becomes a reality, a reduction in the number of trains using the tracks at peak times might well help sustain the high levels of punctuality achieved during the pandemic.

Edinburgh to Tweedbank

  • We are concerned at the proposed reduction to an hourly off-peak service on the Borders Railway, Monday to Friday. It could be argued that stations between Edinburgh and Gorebridge should, in fact, be served quarter-hourly. We know, however, why that is impossible with the current infastructure provided.

At the very least, therefore, we think that stations between Edinburgh and Gorebridge should be served half-hourly throughout the day until mid-evening. And that train loadings at the busy Borders stations of Galashiels and Tweedbank be monitored.

Consideration should be given to running an additional service ex-Tweedbank, Monday to Friday, at around 0950 – and, on the return leg, an additional service ex-Waverley around 1545.

It is not acceptable for ScotRail to advise potential customers that it is their judgement call as to whether to board a busy train or not – and to wait for the next one if they choose not to board.

Edinburgh to Fife, Perth and Dundee

  • We understand the symmetry of the proposed timetable. It is a shame that the Fife Circle is to be broken, however – albeit occasioned in part by the future re-opening of the line to Leven.

The opportunity to travel directly between stations on the Dunfermline branch to and from Perth is to be welcomed, albeit that this entails an increase in journey time between Edinburgh and Perth of around 20 minutes. This may or may not be without great consequence for leisure travellers – but a fast direct service at peak periods between Edinburgh and Perth must be provided for regular commuters, particularly as longer distance commuting is predicted to increase as home working gives rise to more folk being prepared to travel further on the fewer days they do indeed go into the office.

We do not support the proposed re-routeing of direct services between Edinburgh and Inverness via Stirling instead of via Kirkcaldy. Please see our further comments on this below in the section pertaining to this Inter7City service.

Edinburgh to Stirling and Dunblane

  • We think the proposed timetable generally acceptable – but not the diversion of services between Edinburgh and Inverness to run via Stirling.

We note that connections from stations between Edinburgh and Camelon to (but not from) Alloa are very poor – entailing, with the exception of the 1133, 1604 and 2303 departures ex-Edinburgh (we want the 1938 service to Inverness to run via Kirkcaldy instead), a roughly half hour wait at either Larbert or Stirling. Consideration should be given to pathing the Edinburgh to Dunblane service just in the front of its counterpart from Queen Street at Larbert Junction – rather than the other way round.

Edinburgh to Inverness

  • We do not support the proposed re-routeing of direct services between Edinburgh and Inverness via Stirling instead of via Kirkcaldy. The latter route should be retained – with a service pattern giving a regular frequency of train to Perth via Kirkcaldy to in part balance the proposed hourly stopping service from Edinburgh to Perth via stations on the Dunfermline branch.

Ideally we would wish there to be an hourly direct service via Kirkcaldy to the Highland capital – a frequency which should apply to all Inter7City routes. That this is impossible because the Highland Main Line remains a largely single track railway – whilst huge investment is made in the parallel A9 road – is about as severe an indictment of the Scottish Government’s commitment to tackling climate change and inducing modal shift from road to rail as it is possible to get.

ScotRail, alongside the Scottish Government, have invested significantly in the procurement and refurbishment of former InterCity HST sets – with their end-loaded power cars and comfortable and attractive Mark 3 coaches. It seems a pity to not run these on the most scenic route between the national and Highland capitals. With apologies to Linlithgow and the somewhat distant Kelpies at Falkirk, the route via Stirling can hardly match the majesty of the Forth Bridge, the beauty of the run alongside the Fife coast and the pleasing scenery of the branch between Ladybank and Hilton Junction. A great train for a great Scottish journey.

Whilst we understand the extra costs involved in running these HST sets, we do not support their proposed partial substitution by class 170 trains on this or any other Inter7City route. A vigorous marketing campaign to attract leisure travel on these routes – coupled with the full deployment of the already available fifth coach for these sets – is what is required, including the First Class offer.

Edinburgh to North Berwick and Dunbar

  • We think the proposed timetable generally acceptable, especially when Dunbar will also be served by TPE and LNER services.

However, we think that there is a need for an additional service between the proposed 1536 and 1642 departures for North Berwick from Edinburgh.

If the railway is to make its contribution to meeting the challenges of climate change in an area of the country where large-scale housebuilding is ongoing along the length of the line in East Lothian then ultimately a half-hourly service during the day will be the minimum required.

Glasgow to Edinburgh via Airdrie and Bathgate

  • We think the proposed timetable generally acceptable.

Glasgow to Edinburgh via Shotts and Carstairs

  • We think the proposed timetable generally acceptable – although we note that the almost complete cessation of the limited stop service on the line reinforces the disconnect between Queen Street and Central stations for passengers making through journeys between, for example, Edinburgh and Ayr.

Consideration should also be given to stopping the proposed 1550 ex-Edinburgh service via Carstairs at Curriehill – as well as the proposed 1658 service via Shotts.

We hope that these comments are useful to you. The past 18 months have been a real shock to the system for those of us who wish to see rail play an ever greater role in the transport needs of our country. But play a larger role it must if we are to meet the challenges of climate change – and a timetable fit for that future is one we hope can be developed in the coming few but crucial years.

Yours sincerely

Lawrence Marshall


Capital Rail Action Group