April 2017
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Save the Highland Bike-Rail dream!

Getting bikes from the central belt to Inverness and Aberdeen has always been a problem, both for individual commuters and holidaymakers, and for the tourist industry.  Transport Scotland and ScotRail/Abellio had promised big improvements in 2018/19, with the introduction of refurbished 4-coach and 5-coach InterCity 125 High Speed Trains (HSTs).  But the bike space promise has gradually been whittled down – and now we discover that for many journeys there will be fewer spaces even than at present.  Meanwhile some redundant toilets will be locked away, just transporting air!

Currently nearly all ScotRail trains between Edinburgh or Glasgow and Inverness are Class 170 Turbostars, with 4 official bike spaces (2 spaces in each of 2 coaches), although Virgin does run a few HSTs.

ScotRail presentation at Scottish Parliament

In a presentation at the Scottish Parliament [25.2.15] John Dietz, from the ScotRail franchise mobilisation team, told us to expect “at least 20 cycles” per train on the new ScotRail HSTs.

Since then we have already been told about, and argued against, some reduction in spaces, but now, with work on the refurbishment about to begin, we discover that capacity will be…

  • 2 bikes in a vertical-hanging rack (converted from a toilet) in one of the coaches.
  • 3 bikes in each of the 2 power car luggage compartments. But these spaces will only be available for end-to-end journeys (e.g. Edinburgh-Inverness direct) and will not be accessible at intermediate stations. [This also means that these spaces are unavailable on many Edinburgh-Inverness journeys, since every other service between Edinburgh (or Glasgow) and Inverness is not end-to-end, but involves a change at Perth. So, as we understand it, the 6 power car spaces will only be available for roughly half of all Edinburgh or Glasgow to Inverness journeys].

So there will be a total of 8 bike spaces, of which 6 can only be used at the termini – i.e. for all trips other than end-to-end there will be only 2 spaces compared to 4 at present.

In other words, there will only be 2 spaces*, instead of the present 4, to serve Dunkeld & Birnam, Pitlochry, Blair Atholl, Dalwhinnie, Newtonmore, Kingussie, Aviemore and Carrbridge on the Inverness line; and Broughty Ferry, Carnoustie, Arbroath, Montrose, Laurencekirk, Stonehaven and Portlethen on the Aberdeen line.   Additionally, stations south of Perth – Inverkeithing, Kircaldy, Markinch, Ladybank, Bridge of Allan, Dunblane, and Gleneagles – will also have bike capacity halved for anyone wishing to travel between there and the north, although they have other services for journeys which are more local.

*NB we have since learned that when the HSTs are introduced there will also be some new local services, probably including Inverurie-Montrose and Arbroath-Dundee/Perth.  This will provide other bike space options for some of the above journeys, but certainly far from all.

It’s not just Spokes who is surprised and shocked by this development.   For example, Sustrans Scotland Director John Lauder has tweeted “This is baffling & contradicts what I took from meetings in late 2016. Transport should support tourism” – and he added that bike tourism was worth £345m to the Scottish economy in 2015.

Bike/rail capacity to the Highlands is a major concern, not just for commuting and leisure cyclists, but also for the tourist industry.  Our most popular ever tweet, with 175 retweets, many from tourism interests, was the threat to bike capacity on the Oban line – as a result, Transport Scotland/ScotRail promised to look again – though we still don’t know the outcome.

WHAT COULD BE DONE

Further detailed information (register to see the plans) reveals that several former toilets are to be locked away, with the space used to carry nothing but air – surely an opportunity to greatly increase bike spaces for trips between intermediate stations!!   A mere 2 bike spaces for the many attractive intermediate tourist and commuter stations is hopeless.

Nor are we convinced about the ‘end-to-end’ power-car bike restrictions.  Virgin currently operates some (8-coach) HST trains up to Inverness, and although their bike compartment is in coach A rather than the power car, it is nonetheless locked.  Since bikes have to be pre-booked, the guard knows in advance when it needs unlocked, and this works fine with Virgin.  Surely ScotRail is capable of doing similar, at least at main stations such as Perth.   Furthermore, any feared time delay could be avoided by measures such as…

  • allocating cycle reservations to a specific power car.
  • booking the related seats in an adjacent coach.
  • platform markings showing where to wait.
  • guards/station staff speaking to passengers with cycle reservations and/or making a public address system announcement.
  • the guards knowing in advance about the cycle reservationsm as with the existing Virgin HSTs.

 

WHAT YOU CAN DO

  • [Most important] If this concerns you, please write now to your MSPs. Do this soon, as refurbishment is about to begin. Find your MSPs here. Point out that the situation could be resolved by Transport Scotland, who control the rail franchise.

  • Publicise this story on facebook and by retweeting our tweet.

  • Come to Pedal on Parliament and take the opportunity to speak to MSPs who are present. [22 April Aberdeen, Inverness, Edinburgh; 23 April Glasgow].

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