ROOMIER trains to make inter-city travel more comfortable were unveiled by Dutch firm Abellio today as The Scotsman’s revelation of its winning bid for ScotRail was confirmed.
The offshoot of Dutch national railways will go back to the future by overhauling 40-year-old diesel trains to provide one third more seats and extra space between Edinburgh/Glasgow and Aberdeen/Inverness.
It also pledged cheaper fares for advance booking, from £5 single between cities, two free trips a month for jobseekers and both “scenic” and steam trains on rural routes to attract tourists.
The ten-year franchise from next April will also feature a brand new type of electric train built by Hitachi in County Durham to run on routes such as the main Edinburgh-Glasgow line from the end of 2017.
Up to 80 trains will be ordered, which have more seats and can accelerate faster than the ones they will replace.
Abellio, which saw off Aberdeen-based incumbent FirstGroup, will also honour ministers’ previously-announced pledge for free wifi on all trains, by December 2018.
The 27 inter-city trains which Abellio will introduce in four years’ time after a £40 million refurbishment are like those used by East Coast for London-Aberdeen/Inverness services.
Known as “High Speed Trains” (HSTs), they will become available when they are replaced on the east coast main line by new trains.
They will cut journeys by a few minutes but won’t be able to reach their 125mph top speed on the slower Scottish routes.
Nigel Harris, managing editor of RAIL magazine, applauded the decision.
He said: “Abellio is a good operator, and using the HSTs is a fantastic move. Yes, they are 40 years old, but they are bloody good, and will be as-new inside.”
The decision is also likely to be popular with ScotRail staff, after its train drivers revealed they chose to travel in an East Coast HST to a conference in Inverness rather than one of their own cramped trains.
However, campaigners hoping for new trains for pledged “scenic” services on tourist routes such as to Mallaig and the Borders will be disappointed that this will be limited initially to upgrading existing coaches.
Mr Brown, who announced the Scottish Government’s biggest contract, worth up to £6 billion, hailed it as a “world-leading contract for staff and passengers.”
He brushed aside Labour and rail union calls to be put it on hold pending powers for public sector bids for the franchise being devolved by Westminster.
Mr Brown said he had called for such powers since the franchise process started three years ago, and halting it at the final stage would cause “chaos and uncertainty on the rails”.
But Glasgow Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: “We need an assurance that the optional five-year break in the franchise will allow for a Scottish public sector operator to bid, assuming power is devolved from Westminster to allow it.”
Abellio underlined its commitment to Scotland by also announcing it will move its UK head office from London to Glasgow in April, with 50 jobs. It operates three English train franchises, and buses in and around London.
Its win comes as a second blow to First, which has also lost the Caledonian Sleeper franchise, as Scotland on Sunday revealed in May.
The firm, which has run ScotRail for ten years, said it was “disappointed”, and its bid would have delivered “even greater levels of service and growth”.
Also losing out was National Express, whose bid was led by award-winning former ScotRail managing director Mary Grant.
Other franchise pledges:
- More space for cycles on off-peak trains and bike hire at stations
- Improved catering on trains and on more routes
- Multi-journey “carnet” tickets
- Upgraded first class service on inter-city trains, with advance-booking fares from £7.50 single between cities
- Business centres at stations for meetings
- Offers for passengers over 50
- Greater use of smartcards including for parking
- More tree clearance to improve views on Glasgow-Oban/Mallaig lines