Scotland’s new fleet of high-quality high speed trains will lead to more local services and happier customers, ScotRail’s managing director has promised.
Alex Hynes said improvements will be felt across the service with the introduction of the first high speed Inter 7 City service from Aberdeen to Edinburgh next week.
The route, which will stop only at Dundee on its way to the capital, will initially shave 10 minutes off travel times.
Mr Hynes was speaking at this week’s press launch of the new service, which saw members of the media, politicians and specially invited guests enjoy a trip down the east coast mainline.
In an unintended glimpse of the ScotRail east coast experience, passengers were delayed on the line for almost 40 minutes north of Kirkcaldy following apparent brake problems.
The ScotRail boss insisted fares would not rise as a result of the new rolling stock, pointing out costs are set by the Scottish Government.
The new service, which will start on Monday, will see a four or five-carriage service run from Aberdeen to Edinburgh Waverly, via Dundee.
Mr Hynes said: “Our three-car diesel trains which we currently operate are perfectly fine but they weren’t designed to intercity levels of quality or long distance journeys.
“We wanted to provide to our customers a top quality intercity rail travel and that’s why we brought the high speed trains to Scotland, so we can deliver on that promise.
“Customers will see these trains rolled out across the intercity service between now and the end of next year.
“The routes will generally stay the same but what we will do is cut journey time.”
Mr Hynes said the move would lead to improvements in local services, with an increase in the number of seats and trains expected.
“We have upgraded the quality of the project but the combination of the other changes we’ll be making means there will be a lot more local services too, particularly in the north east of the country where there will be a huge uplift in local services,” he said.
“We currently have 800 carriages in the rolling stock fleet, which is going to increase to 1,000.
“They will either be brand new or refurbished, between now and the end of next year.
“Starting in December customers will be able to see more and more of the intercity trains and increase in the number of seats.
“Travel time has been cut down by 10 minutes but we have ambition to cut it by more. We have some tough targets on the franchise agreement.”
Opinion – The day we took the train
There’s no denying a quick sojourn down the east coast mainline is one of the most beautiful in Europe.
But picturesque window views and friendly staff can’t hide the fact that over the years, the east coast – and in particular anywhere north of Kirkcaldy – has been poorly served by its public rail network.
Whether its the perennially cancelled trains in Fife, the woefully few journeys between Broughty Ferry and Dundee, or the sheer age and weariness of stock, its about time those living on the east coast experienced something new and high quality for a change.
That’s not to mention the overcrowding during festival season, or the packed-like-sardines-experience of going to Murrayfield.
Scotland wants to travel by train, so says MD Alex Hynes. Stats would show he is correct. Passenger numbers are on the up, so it is only right those paying not inconsiderable amounts for the pleasure of doing so are treated to something better.
We may have the idyllic vistas, but when it comes to rail travel Scotland pales quite significantly in comparison to our European cousins, where rail travel between the larger cities is as simple as ein, deux, tres – and just as cheap.
There is no denying the new high speed trains have been well refurbished.
That ours broke down on its maiden public test is unfortunate, but any who-ha regarding the fleet’s age – Mr Hynes was forced to defend the decision to use carriages some of which are 40 years old – is by-the-by. Each felt safe, quiet and comfortable and in this modern age where smartphones and laptops are designed to break after so many years, it is refreshing to know something so old is still able to be put to good use.
I was told, during our 40 or so minute wait between Cupar and Kirkcaldy, by a colleague from the industry press it was a good sign our vehicle had come to a complete stop, as it meant a fault had been detected in plenty time.
That there was a magician on board, entertaining guests, powerless to magic us further down the line is a metaphor probably best left alone.
Scotland and the east coast doesn’t need magic to get us where we need to go. It needs carefully considered – and fundamentally – properly invested infrastructure if we are to become the modern European country we so often espouse to be.
Sorting out the trains, and making sure they take us places on time and comfortably, is just the ticket.