East before First

Ellis Thorpe’s suggestions for radical redesign of Scotland’s national rail system (Letters, 7 July) bring to mind the old comic reply for directions: “Well, I wouldn’t start from here.”

Twenty years of rail privatisation have brought us to a Scotland where 95 per cent of passengers are carried by First ScotRail and 95 per cent of the routes are worked by First ScotRail (source: FSR).

By any yardstick, this is not competition, but privatised monopoly.

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The sole item of realistic rail competition is the Aberdeen-Edinburgh route where East Coast provides fares, comfort and facilities which demonstrate just how poorly First ScotRail serves us travellers.

You’ve published countless letters from me detailing the gulf in standards between East Coast and First ScotRail, so let me outline a different comparison.

I meet the same business travellers every week on East Coast, and the same remark keeps emerging: “Who would travel First ScotRail when we have East Coast?” (and at a fraction of the cost, I can add).

This doesn’t go anywhere towards answering Mr Thorpe’s question on how we reshape our railways to be fit for 21st-century use.

I can only restate that we have to provide better foundations than the existing lowest common denominator trains and eye-wateringly high fares, plus of course an arcane and irrational fares system.

A good start, however, would be real trains.

More than half a century ago, Scotland pioneered the concept of push-pull trains in regular service.

We could do worse than recommence with locomotive-hauled real carriages rather than the current toy trains where first class is above a bogie, and second class passengers are denied room for legs, luggage and bikes and nobody has such a basic item as a power-socket.

Gordon Casely