March 2016

Cuts coming to train bike spaces

[Update – ‘Opposition mounts‘]
Spokes has written to Derek Mackay MSP, Minister for Transport and Islands, about plans by Transport Scotland which will worsen cycle carriage capacity on two of Scotland’s key routes for bike/rail travel – Edinburgh-Falkirk-Glasgow main line and the West Highland Lines – including a drastic capacity cut on the latter.

Will future holidays be limited to 2-person families? [pic @moosling]

Will future holidays be limited to 2-person families? [pic @moosling]

On the West Highland Line, Glasgow to Oban and Fort William currently 6 bikes can be booked, and these bookings are often fully occupied, especially in the tourist season, with further potential visitors left disappointed. Yet the trains are to be replaced by refurbished Class 158 trains with only 2 reservable bike spaces (plus 2 non-reservable spaces in the wheelchair area if the space is free). Thus even a small family of 2 adults and one child could not be book space, let alone a group of friends.

Cycle tourism is an important contributor to the economy of the West Highlands and Islands and the slashing of this provision will impact on the income of many small local businesses. A 2013 report for Sustrans by Transform Scotland found that annual expenditure by leisure and holiday cyclists in Scotland is at least £106m, possibly as high as £228m, and even higher if mountain biking is included.

Transport Scotland has not even consulted on this change. Had they done so we would have argued that, since these trains are also to be used on the Far North Lines from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh and Wick/Thurso, retaining 6 bookable bike spaces could have boosted cycle tourism in those areas (where current on-train bike capacity is more limited).

Edinburgh-Glasgow Class 385 trains, 2 bicycles per 4 coaches

Edinburgh-Glasgow Class 385 trains, 2 bicycles per 4 coaches


On the Edinburgh-Falkirk-Glasgow main line, the current Class 170 trains have 2 bike areas (each with 2 official bike spaces).  Despite train length being increased from 3-coach to 4-coach, with many more seats, the new Class 385 electric trains will have only one bike area (with 2 official spaces) plus an awkwardly shaped ‘flexible space’ outside the universal access toilet. (In both the old and new trains the official bike areas can squeeze in one or two extra bikes, at the guard’s discretion).

Class 385 2-bike space (like the existing trains, guards have discretion to fit in extra bikes)

Class 385 – the single official 2-bike space (though, like the existing trains, guards have discretion if they can fit in one or two extra bikes)

The one remaining official cycle storage area will have fold-up seats (unlike on the current trains) causing irritation to seated passengers if a bike gets on subsequently.

During the consultation Spokes had argued for a carefully designed flexible space in every carriage, to accommodate pushchairs, bikes, bulky luggage, etc.  However, inflexibility will now be built-in, with just the one ‘flexible space’ in one carriage of the new trains – namely the circulation space outside the universal access toilet – on one side too short for a normal adult bike and on the other side making access to the toilet less convenient.

Transport Scotland retreat

As well as condoning these tragic cuts in bike capacity, Transport Scotland has also announced that it will no longer attend the national rail/cycle forum which meets quarterly to discuss bike/rail issues in Scotland.

Transport Scotland is the body which implements the government’s transport policy – so this casts further doubt on the government’s seriousness in its ‘vision’ for 10% of all journeys to be by bike in 2020 – a vision now termed a ‘commitment’ in the Infrastructure Investment Plan accompanying the recent Scottish budget!!

Facilities at stations

Abellio/ScotRail wishes to encourage travel to and from stations by bike and is introducing bike hire at a limited number, as well as improving bike parking – plans which we very much support.

However, given that bike hire is only likely to be available at perhaps 15-20 of Scotland’s 350 stations in the next few years, this does not cater for many other existing and potential bike/rail trips, nor for people (such as holidaying families) who have other reasons for needing to take their own bike – and so on-train bike space remains crucial to catering for and encouraging cycle use.

What you can do

It is not too late for Transport Scotland to re-think these disastrous decisions on two of Scotland’s most important routes for bike/rail travel. The Edinburgh-Glasgow Class 385 electric trains and the West Highland Class 158 diesels are not yet at the stage of internal fitting out.

If you are concerned, please help…

  • Email your MSPs  If possible give examples of why bike/rail matters to you.  It is important to ask MSPs to speak to the Transport Minister and get him to order a rethink, because the decisions come from Transport Scotland more than from ScotRail.
  • Raise this with election candidates and at hustings.  Ask what the candidates will do now, given that work will soon be underway.
  • If you have contacts in the tourism industry, or local businesses that will be affected, especially in the West Highlands, tell them what is happening.
  • Retweet relevant Spokes tweets including about …  this articlethe Holyrood electionthe Spokes hustings

Further information

  • Contact our Bike Rail liaison officer, Ewan Jeffrey.   Email:  bikerail[AT]
  • Our press release
  • For wider bike/rail issues see our web page.
  • Our letter to the Minister is here.  Note that since it was written it has been clarified that, in addition to the one official bike space, 2 bikes will also be allowed in the ‘flexible space’ near the universal access toilet – however this is far from ideal, as described above.  What with also the fold-down seats in the official bike space, overall provision is inferior to now – despite the trains having one more carriage.


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