Britain’s first rail carriages reserved for bikes and outdoor equipment are to run on one of Scotland’s busiest tourist lines from next summer, The Scotsman has learned.
An extra coach is expected to be coupled to ScotRail trains to ease overcrowding on the West Highland Line between Glasgow, Oban, Fort William and Mallaig.
A similar experiment may be tried on lines between Inverness and Kyle of Lochalsh and Wick.
Transport minister Humza Yousaf said the Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency was finalising work with ScotRail to secure five single-carriage class 153 trains.
These will be reconfigured to accommodate cyclists and their bikes, and other outdoor sports fans and equipment.
Such changes to “maximise the experience and efficiency from a cyclist’s perspective” will be discussed with interested groups.
Mr Yousaf said: “It is our aspiration the first dedicated carriage for cyclists and other sports enthusiasts will enter service by summer next year. This unique initiative, a UK first, is supporting improved transport connectivity and active travel choices.
“It also brings benefits to local economies, tourism, the nation’s health and the environment.”
A Transport Scotland spokesperson added: “This will very much be a trial, and help to inform the future rolling stock requirements, so the Scottish rail fleet can support growing cycle tourism sector over the next 30 or 40 years.”
A ScotRail spokesperson said: “We’re looking forward to working with our key partners on how we can boost tourism and bring wider economic benefits, along Scotland’s most scenic railways.” Frank Roach, partnership manager of the Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership co-ordinating body, said: “Cycle tourism is growing in our area and the train is a great way to get to the start of your ride.”
John Lauder, director of cycle path developers Sustrans Scotland, said: “This gives residents of Scotland and visitors the opportunity to access some of the most beautiful parts of Scotland by bike.
“Cycle tourism offers a richer experience for the visitor, while having a much lower impact on the environment.”
Ian Budd, convener of the Friends of the Far North Line, said: “It is always difficult for train operators to find a balance between providing cycle accommodation and maximising space for passengers, including those with reduced mobility, and this idea neatly solves the problem.
“The line is very popular with cyclists touring the area and taking the John O’ Groats to Land’s End challenge.”