ScotRail's lack of Inter7City trains makes rail travel to Highlands a dismal prospect – Alastair Dalton

Had we not been focused on preventing Storm Arwen from blowing us off the road, our first experience of driving the new section of A9 dual carriageway between Perth and Dunkeld would have increased the appeal of the road for family trips north.

As and when further dualling is completed, reducing journey times and congestion, its advantages over the parallel railway line to Inverness are likely to be further bolstered.

It remains to be seen how much of the remaining 70 miles will be finished, and when – but forget the 2025 target, even if it hasn’t officially been scrapped.

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However, far more is due to be spent on making the A9 four lanes – some £3 billion if the project is completed – than the rail line, which is still largely single track.

With the frequency of trains limited by that capacity restraint, you would think ScotRail would focus instead on ensuring there were sufficient seats to encourage more passengers back to train travel and maximise its attractiveness.

After all, a key element of current operator Abellio’s winning bid for the franchise back in 2014 was to promise a refurbished fleet of inter-city trains to provide much-needed extra carriages on often overcrowded routes, such as between Inverness and Edinburgh and Glasgow.

I’ve chronicled the sorry saga that ensued, chiefly caused by delays with the upgrade of the trains by another firm, now complete.

But, two years after this 40-year-old fleet, renamed “Inter7City”, were due to have been fully introduced, I was amazed to discover that one third – nine of the 26 – are still not in service.

An Inter7City train at Glasgow Queen Street - but they still only operate half the services between there and Inverness. Picture: John Devlin

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ScotRail chiefs have said: “Our Inter7City service will provide more seats, better services, and more comfortable journeys for our customers.”

But it’s now admitted that “we don’t have a set timescale” for the remainder to be operating.

In addition, those running on the Inverness route can only operate with four rather than five carriages because the platforms aren’t long enough in the Highland capital.

It turns out the trains operate just half of ScotRail services between Inverness and Glasgow, and only two thirds of those between Inverness and Edinburgh.

Others services are still three-coach trains with fewer seats – far too few on some occasions.

A Monday morning three-carriage train on October 4 was “full almost to overflowing” leaving Inverness for Edinburgh, with some passengers unable to board at intermediate stations, according to an irate traveller who spent the three-and-a-half hour journey in “appalling discomfort”, standing in close proximity with others.

He said it should have been predicted because of the Loch Ness Marathon the previous day, when a strike halted ScotRail trains on the line.

I can’t believe that was an isolated incident. ScotRail admitted that “no one wants to travel on a busy train” but said passengers should be ready to flexible “if the train they planned to travel on is too busy”.

In this instance, it would have meant travelling on a service taking an hour longer and involving a change of train, or waiting two hours for the next direct service.

It’s ironic that a company – and ministers – desperate for more people to travel by rail, rather than take to the roads, are still making it such a dismal prospect, months before the franchise ends.

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