Alastair Dalton: Passengers are getting a raw deal during station overhauls

Rail passengers have really felt the disruption from the upgrading of Scotland's railway lines - and they are now being made to feel it again as major stations are re-built around them.
Queen Street Station's concourse has re-opened after this closure last year, but very little else. Picture: John DevlinQueen Street Station's concourse has re-opened after this closure last year, but very little else. Picture: John Devlin
Queen Street Station's concourse has re-opened after this closure last year, but very little else. Picture: John Devlin

The way shops and cafes have been shut on some concourses months before work has started is reminiscent of the bad old days, when the way the railway was run was to suit itself, not the public.

At a time when the industry needs to be going out of its way to remain an attractive option for getting about, the basic amenities making for pleasant travel appear to be being closed down for the sake of administrative and commercial convenience.

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The ScotRail Alliance with Network Rail should be doing everything it can to ensure the railways are welcoming to commuters and new customers alike after significant disruption in the last year stopped passenger numbers increasing following 14 years of continuous growth.

Instead, the focus appears to be getting on with the job, a bit like builders treating your home like a building site.

The most glaring example is Glasgow Queen Street, Scotland’s third busiest station, where passengers breathed a sigh of relief at the re-opening of the main concourse after five months of tunnel work, only to find all the shops had been closed.

Both branches of WHSmith, along with cafes, fast food restaurants and bars have all lowered their shutters, with just a couple of coffee carts left in their place. To add insult to injury, the cash machines remain behind the ticket barriers.

That was seven months ago. No work has started, and it’s unlikely to any time soon, albeit an update is due today. Even if the programme had stayed on schedule, there will be virtually nothing open in the station for another two years, and that could now be considerably longer.

The place might look great when it’s finished, but that’s cold comfort for hungry travellers.

It might be argued that those in search of a newspaper, magazine or food could nip out to nearby shops, but that relies on them knowing where to go, not having heavy luggage, having enough time before their train, and it not pouring with rain.

Network Rail said they had to cancel all the leases before work starts, but that suggests zero flexibility to enable retailers to serve passengers. After all, the station will continue to operate largely as normal during its reconstruction.

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The situation may be worst at Queen Street, but passengers are being left similarly bereft at Dundee, where the station’s redevelopment is well underway.

It remains to be seen whether a similar fate will also befall travellers who use Inverness station, when it, too, embarks on a wholesale revamp this autumn.

What’s happening at some of Scotland’s larger stations is ironic considering the effort ScotRail has put into encouraging the opening of shops and cafes in dozens of smaller ones.

Stations should be thriving, inviting places - just look at the rejuvenated, bustling Glasgow Central, and Waverley and Haymarket in Edinburgh.

Queen Street and the others should continue to enjoy that atmosphere during, not after their overhauls are complete. That will also help keep them - to British Transport Police’s pride - remain safe havens from the often unpredictable flow of city centre nightlife.