More commuters, fewer seats for squeezed ScotRail

ScotRail passengers will have to contend with fewer carriages and less space as trains are sent south. Picture: Neil Hanna
ScotRail passengers will have to contend with fewer carriages and less space as trains are sent south. Picture: Neil Hanna
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COMMUTERS face being crammed into fewer carriages because ScotRail is set to lose a number of trains.

Four trains will be moved to England in April, at a time of rapid passenger growth and new lines being opened. The ScotRail fleet is likely to be further stretched from September by having to cover the new Borders Railway.

The single replacement train will comprise old-style coaches hauled by a locomotive. This is also expected to be significantly more expensive to operate than the rest of the diesel fleet, whose engines are under the carriages.

Dutch firm Abellio, which takes over ScotRail in April, said the routes affected would be Edinburgh to Dunblane, Glenrothes, Perth and Dundee, and Glasgow to Stirling and Alloa. Some trains on these lines will have fewer coaches, known as “short forming”.

However, there could be a further squeeze in September, when the Edinburgh-Tweedbank line opens to the Borders.

The 30-mile route is expected to require up to five trains from the current fleet.

The revelation comes as ScotRail passenger numbers are increasing at 3 per cent a year, with 86.3m carried in 2013-14. The total has increased by 38 per cent over the last decade. ScotRail is already so short of carriages it has had to hire locomotive-hauled trains since 2008 for busy routes such as Fife to Edinburgh. When locomotives were first brought back, on the Edinburgh-North Berwick line ten years ago, they cost more than the route’s entire fare revenue.

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The class 170 diesel trains being moved south, which are leased to ScotRail until April, are being transferred to Thameslink Great Northern. This is because Eversholt Rail Group, which owns them, was able to negotiate a better deal with Govia, which runs the English train operator.

The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency, which is in charge of the ScotRail franchise, refused to say when it was told of the move. But it said it was before Abellio won the franchise last October “so the bidders were unable to offer to take the same length of lease as Govia”.

A spokeswoman said it had worked with Abellio and Govia to sub-lease back to ScotRail five of the original nine trains that were due to go. She said: “These plans, along with the hiring of an additional locomotive-hauled train and better utilisation of diesel stock freed up by recent electrification schemes, ensure Abellio ScotRail will have the necessary rolling stock for the franchise launch on 1 April.”

However, Robert Samson, the manager of watchdog Passenger Focus, said: “Although some trains will be kept and some slightly older ones brought in, we would hope to see no reduction in satisfaction with cleanliness and comfort of carriages.”

An Abellio spokesman said: “There are only two services per day where seats are expected to fall slightly short of expected demand. Abellio ScotRail will work to mitigate this impact by informing passengers of the alternatives.”