ScotRail facing fines over failure to deliver on ‘Harry Potter’ scenic rail routes

They were supposed to boast delicious local food and drink, “tourism ambassadors” and Harry Potter-style butter beer tasting to further enhance some of the world’s most scenic rail routes.

Scotrail 156 super sprinter crosses the head of Loch Awe on the Glasgow-Oban line,near Dalmally
Scotrail 156 super sprinter crosses the head of Loch Awe on the Glasgow-Oban line,near Dalmally

But ScotRail has failed to meet a commitment announced almost five years ago to transform passenger enjoyment on the West Highland and other lines with “scenic trains” – and undisclosed fines are being racked up for the delay.

Travellers on routes to Oban, Mallaig, Kyle of Lochalsh and Dumfries should have been feasting from food hampers on tablecloth-covered tables, learning about the passing landscape from expert guides and offered seats in a “premium carriage”.

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Themed events were to include Harry Potter “with locally brewed ‘butter beer’”.

However, the Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency said: “Penalties continue to accrue for failing to deliver this committed obligation”.

A tourism ambassador should have been on every train from December 2017 – supplemented by multilingual students in the peak season – along with services to Wick, Thurso and the Borders.

The rest of the package, unveiled when Abellio won the ScotRail franchise in 2014, was due by last December. ScotRail was unable to say when this would happen. It said a “Great Scenic Tasting Box” was due to be unveiled this week that would feature an “exceptional range of food and drink from throughout Scotland” including cheese, chocolate, whisky and gin.

The train operator said it had also “upskilled our hospitality team to a tourism ambassador level of service”.

A ScotRail spokesperson said: “We are committed to enhancing the customer experience on our scenic routes and we are working with Transport Scotland to add to an already fantastic service.”

However, the plans received a decidedly lukewarm response from campaigners.

Friends of the West Highland Lines chairman Doug Carmichael said: “The eventual arrival of the tasting box sounds very enticing. But to those who travel on trains with the trolley service missing from many services because of staff shortages, somewhat cynically, it will be a ‘wait and see’ how this is managed and operated on what are now over 30-year-old, past-their-sell-by-date trains.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “Once fully delivered, the scenic trains package will enhance the passenger experience.”