IT’S 8am on a Monday in Dalmeny. The working week looms. The weather is filthy; all drizzle and chill echoing the mood of those making their way to Edinburgh. The platform swarms with people on high alert, waiting for the familiar disembodied voice that will decide their morning’s fate. No-one speaks to one another. No-one can afford to be casual, to relax into the wait. They are primed for a singular objective: to board the train.

This seems like a simple enough task. You would expect it to be on one of the principal commuter routes into Scotland’s capital, where people pay thousands of pounds a year for season tickets, but these passengers know better. Contrary to the “world-class rail service” customers have been promised since Abellio took over the ScotRail franchise, the operator has gained a reputation for cancellations, stop-skipping, and chronic overcrowding.

At 08.15, the train arrives. It’s on time, but there are just three carriages. During peak hours, there should be six. No one can remember the last time there were enough carriages that weren’t the 40-year-old, slam-door trains that have been reintroduced on the route. Grotty, creaking things that protest as they bump along the line.

The doors open to people crammed in like overstuffed luggage. The seats are full, as is any available standing room in the aisles. The vestibules beside the bins and the doors are also full. The determination to get to work tests the laws of physics, as this stop’s passengers contort themselves to match any available space.

Faced with the influx, the travellers onboard shuffle around folding into themselves. There have been days when there just isn’t enough space to match the need, due to short-formed trains with fewer carriages than there should be. In December 2018, around 100 passengers were left on the platform here following multiple back-to-back cancellations. Each commute is Russian Roulette: someone’s plans are disrupted because the service does not meet demand.

Many of these commuters choose to live outside of Edinburgh because it’s considerably cheaper to find a decent home, there are good schools and local amenities, and the city is under 20 miles away. People live in Fife but work in Edinburgh because it’s easy to get there – in theory. For those whose only option is to get there by train, things are another matter entirely. For those commuting on the Fife Circle, the reality of getting to work and getting home again has become a reverse nightmare. Judging by tweets to the franchise about packed trains, many are concerned for their safety.

When probed on the safety of crowded trains, ScotRail’s party line is proffered. They insist that their service is safe, referring complainants on to a pre-prepared statement by the Office of Rail and Road. The ORR is the independent body that regulates train safety. The statement says that due to the way trains are engineered, they’re perfectly safe even when travelling at full capacity. The ORR acknowledges this is “unpleasant” and falls “below the expectations of passengers”. Little succour to those whose lives are impacted by daily overcrowding. People like Felicity Paterson.

“My partner and some lovely passengers looked after me until the ambulance met us at Kirkcaldy Station.”

She sent ScotRail a picture of a packed carriage. They responded with “I know that it’s far from comfortable, but it is safe. Our crews are trained safety professionals and would not let the train depart if they had any concerns.”

Earlier that day, Paterson began to overheat and had an epileptic seizure on the overcrowded train.

Passengers like her are doing what they can to alert the franchise to the reality of the situation, though they receive platitudes and stock answers. They tweet pictures of unbearable conditions and those managing the ScotRail account respond with a variation on a theme “if it wasn’t safe, it wouldn’t run”.

When ScotRail was asked if they use passenger photos to monitor performance, they did not respond.

“I really hurt myself falling to the ground with all the luggage around,” Felicity says. “There is nothing to hold onto when you are moving, either, to steady yourself.”

Staff onboard the train were unaware of the incident until the train arrived at Kirkcaldy. That’s at least five stops from where the train was when Felicity took ill. This makes a mockery of CEO Alex Hynes’ recent implications at a public meeting on 28 February that health and safety incidents are not an issue given that ‘every service we operate has two health and safety professionals on board’.

Aside from Felicity’s confidence and dignity being hampered by a public seizure, the cost to her is far higher than the train franchise seem willing to acknowledge, given their generic response.

“I am now a whole year away from obtaining my driving licence, my pass to independence. That is a crushing blow and will have a long term impact.” Drivers must be seizure-free for one year to be given a licence.

For Felicity, a driving license is her family’s ticket to independence: she has one child with epilepsy and another who utilises a wheelchair. Travelling by train is particularly difficult and her hopes were pinned on getting a car. She also recently received an unconditional offer to study adult nursing at Dundee University with the hope of specialising in neurological conditions so she can help those in the way she has been supported by the health service.

Thanks to the seizure, hopes of starting the course in September are now in jeopardy. She received an email response that said new Hitachi trains will eventually free up more carriages. It wished her luck in her studies and hoped she would get back to driving soon.

Both ScotRail and the Transport Minister’s office were approached for comment. They declined to acknowledge or mention the incident or to answer any questions put to them about safety and performance directly.

For most of our recent history, we have judged our transport systems based on how well they perform. The measures that have mattered have rarely centred the human experience of getting around, even though every single one of us has a need to move through the world. This is a political issue, much like fighting for fair access to things like healthcare and housing.

If our transport systems were judged against human metrics, time would have already been called. We would see transport as a right, not a privilege, and would design more sustainable and pleasant systems with people at the centre.

As long as passengers are reduced to waiting times, seats and ticket prices, the trains might run – but getting around will continue to be a lottery.