OVER the period of Storm Gerrit and beyond, ScotRail’s customer service teams have performed outstandingly. Unfortunately, they couldn’t give customers their most basic need, ie to get them from A to B within a reasonable time.

This year, for the first time in many years, our son was able to come home for Christmas using trains, because he didn’t need (as normally applies) to get home by the end of Boxing Day so as to get to work the next morning. We’re sure that his usual need is not unique.

His travel plans went awry on December 27 due to the closure of most of the rail network due to Storm Gerrit and cancellation of all trains on the Highland Main Line. Inevitable. Even trunk roads were closed.

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However, based on previous experience it might have been expected that rail services would collapse indefinitely in the wake of the forecast storm. Anyone needing to be somewhere for work or similar reasons by a certain date (such as our son) might have changed their travel plans so as to be home before the storm hit as a precaution.

Except that such people couldn’t. As ever, there was no chance to travel earlier on Boxing Day because ScotRail stubbornly refuses to run even a skeleton “get you home” service on December 26, let alone a full timetable. That has of course affected his travel plans for several years regardless of weather.

Retrospectively frustrating is the fact that Boxing Day 2023 came and went with weather which would not have closed the network, and trains sitting in depots doing nothing.

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I have since discovered that not only were long-distance coaches operating on Boxing Day but there were also some inter-city routes on which coaches were available on Christmas Day. So why won’t ScotRail run trains on Boxing Day? I have begun to wonder what the point is of subsidising ScotRail’s operations with taxpayers’ money when they don’t deliver basic travel needs even in the absence of “acts of God”.

Maybe we need a national conversation about this drain on Holyrood’s budget? Would closing the network (or at least large parts of it) and replacing it with coaches represent better value for money?

Andrew McCracken
via email

THE latest piece of “research” from Reform Scotland (The train routes where it’s faster to go by car, Dec 28) is somewhat superficial, to say the least. As is so often the case, the press release does not accurately reflect the findings in the actual report.

The research focuses on train travel versus car travel. It does not consider other forms of travel or mixtures of modes of travel. A number of major centres of population have been selected – Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, Perth, Stirling, Inverness – plus Dumfries, Dunfermline and Stranraer.

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It turns out that, for journeys involving the first seven of these, it is almost always quicker to go by train than by car. There is one exception – Edinburgh to Inverness – and this is probably due to the number of stops the trains make. Elsewhere, the important role transport links have in holding communities together is mentioned, but it should be pointed out that there is a trade-off between connectivity and short end-to-end journey times.

The journeys that are quicker by car involve Dumfries, Dunfermline and Stranraer. Again, there is one exception – Dunfermline to Edinburgh, because it is a direct service. The reason for the other journeys taking longer by train than by car is that these places are not on the main rail network. So you need to go first to a hub. For Dunfermline, that may be Inverkeithing or Haymarket; for Dumfries and Stranraer, it may be Lockerbie or Carlisle. Because of this, a better bet might be to go by coach. For example, there is an excellent coach service, frequent and well used, between Dunfermline and Glasgow. The journey time is one hour and 15 minutes and travel is free for the young and the elderly.

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With regard to the comparison between Dumfries to London or Aberdeen, the journey times are essentially the same, around five-and-a-half hours in general.

There is no evidence in the report for the statement in the press release that there is “a huge number of journeys which are significantly faster by car than they are by train”. Nor is any evidence presented of a sufficient demand or need for those journeys that do take longer by train.

The report does acknowledge that good work has been done and that there are financial constraints on how fast progress can be made, but overall it seems like a contrived piece of fault-finding, rather than a constructive suggestion of what should be done to meet a demonstrable need.

There is always a requirement to keep looking at current provision with a view to updating and improving, but this report fails to show that the situation is as bad as implied by the headline. Local knowledge and consultation is essential in developing the best strategy for meeting local needs, which is why local authorities have transport as one of their responsibilities. The Reform Scotland report provides no evidence that a national commission would be a better way to do things.

Julian Smith