‘Scenic trains’ planned for new ScotRail franchise

A ScotRail train waits at Crianlarich station. Picture: Contributed
A ScotRail train waits at Crianlarich station. Picture: Contributed
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“SCENIC trains” with panoramic windows and quality catering are planned for the next ScotRail franchise to provide a world-famous tourist experience on Scotland’s most dramatic lines.

Bidders for the new ten-year contract from 2015 will also have to improve comfort and speed up trains on other lines, the Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency said today.

The new tourist services, on routes such as Glasgow to Oban and Fort William, would be “emblematic of the best of Scotland”, the agency said.

They could include “premium carriages” with more comfortable seats, bigger windows and passengers served the best local produce.

Transport Scotland said: “The trains would make the most of Scotland’s internationally-renowned tourists routes,

“It’s about providing a showcase for Scottish catering and reflecting local Scottish produce.

“We hope the trains will become justifiably famous.”

The agency said it would be up to the five bidders for the £6 billion franchise - Scotland’s biggest public contract - to decide whether to provide new trains or refurbish the current ones for the service, which could include higher fares.

However, the current train service would be also improved, such as with wifi, at no extra cost to passengers.

Transport Scotland said bidders would also have to improve passenger comfort on long-distance trains on other lines, such as Edinburgh/Glasgow to Aberdeen/Inverness, which could include replacing the current carriages with more powerful trains that could accelerate faster to cut journeys. Better seating and more luggage space would also have to be provided.

However, this could slower, mean stopping trains on some lines having their journeys increased by up to 10 per cent to accommodate more expresses.

Other measures in the new franchise include more cycle space, disabled passengers being able to travel with the minimum of advance notice, and smartcard tickets across the network.

Expected new stations during the franchise include Reston and East Linton on the Edinburgh-Berwick upon Tweed line, and Winchburgh in West Lothian on the main Edinburgh-Glasgow route. An improved service between Stranraer and Glasgow will also be required.

There will also be more generous reimbursement to passengers suffering delays, and higher penalties for ScotRail not meeting performance targets, of up to £1 million.

Aberdeen-based incumbent FirstGroup is bidding against Dutch railways offshoot Abellio, Arriva, Hong Kong-based MTR and previous ScotRail operator National Express, whose offers must be lodged next April. The winner will be announced next autumn.

Readers of Wanderlust magazine have twice voted the Glasgow-Oban/Fort William/Mallaig routes as the “best line” for scenery for the stunning views of some of Scotland’s finest lochs and mountains.

That has placed the West Highland journey above world-renowned routes such as the trans-Siberian railway and Peruvian line to Machu Picchu.

Observation cars ran on the routes in the 1950s and 1960s, and are common on other tourist railways, such as in Canada.