A business leader has warned that ScotRail’s new timetables could jeopardise sustainable tourism in Highland Perthshire.
Proposed changes to rail timetables in May will see fewer stops at smaller stations including Blair Atholl and Dalwhinnie.
Rhona Metcalfe chairs the The Atholl Glens – a business, community and tourism association in Highland Perthshire.
She is also standing as a Conservative candidate in this year’s local elections.
“As an organisation, it’s very difficult to promote sustainable tourism if we say to everybody that you’ve got to come here by car.”
Blair Atholl residents ‘struggle to get to work’
ScotRail ran a public consultation on a timetable shake-up aimed at providing a more reliable rail service.
Under the changes, just five trains from Perth will stop at the village of Blair Atholl on weekdays, compared to the current number, nine.
However, the number of trains running from the village to Perth will increase from five to six from Monday to Saturday.
A ScotRail spokesperson said the new timetables had been designed around when people wanted to travel.
And he added there was a balance to be struck between providing fast journey times to Inverness, Perth, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, and serving smaller stations.
But Rhona says the service to Blair Atholl makes it “extremely difficult” to commute to Perth.
“You would struggle to get to work. You would either get there far too early, or too late.
“And then you would struggle to get home again.
“It means if you want to work outside the village, you have no choice, you must go by car.”
In addition, she says there is no incentive for people travelling into the village to take the train rather than drive along the A9.
“We have a number of establishments that need day to day employment.
“It’s very difficult to get anybody into the village unless they have a vehicle.”
Timetable proposals are ‘missed opportunity’
Murdo Fraser is a Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife.
He is concerned about the reduction in service for intermediate stations between Perth and Inverness.
“We see very few stops now at Blair Atholl, Dalwhinnie or Carrbridge.
“Particularly for Blair Atholl, which falls into my constituency area, that’s a real missed opportunity.”
The MSP claims the timetable changes fail to promote the use of public transport.
“We’re trying to encourage better connectivity for people living in rural areas.
“And we’re also trying to encourage more tourist traffic to use rail rather than having to resort to using the A9.”
He adds that better rail links would boost tourism – Highland Perthshire’s “biggest employer”.
“What we’ve seen in recent years is clearly the tourist industry has been under a lot of pressure.
“There’s a particular need to make sure that we have all the infrastructure in place that will support the tourist industry, which is in a very fragile state having been through a couple of very difficult years.”
ScotRail says it listened to public opinion
The ScotRail spokesperson said the operator had taken public feedback on board “to ensure that the new timetable from May 2022 is better placed to serve the local communities on the route”.
“We recognise that any timetable changes may work better for some than others.
“But we’re confident that this new timetable will provide foundations to start the process of recovering from the pandemic.
“And as passenger numbers increase, we will keep the timetable under regular review.”