POTENTIAL operators of the ScotRail franchise have been told they must offer a 42-minute “express” route between the Capital and Glasgow.
The requirement, which will cut eight minutes off the current quickest journey time between the two cities, is part of criteria handed to bidders for the franchise, which will be taken over by 2015.
Five shortlisted companies have also been told that they must develop an integrated “smart ticketing” system, which will allow passengers to switch between trains, buses and ferries.
The new franchise operator will be required to have wi-fi on all trains and improve storage facilities for bikes, both on trains and at stations.
Transport minister Keith Brown said the specifications included a “heavy emphasis on quality” as well as affordability, with fare rises to be tied to inflation.
He added: “The specification I have set is challenging, but it will deliver real benefits to passengers, as well as meeting the needs of the taxpayer for greater efficiency in the use of our resources.”
Transport Scotland has said the new operator must also improve comfort on trains, offer more Scottish food on board, introduce measures to encourage more off-peak travel and offer more generous reimbursements to passengers experiencing delays.
“Scenic trains”, with panoramic windows and quality catering on tourist services on routes such as Glasgow to Oban and Fort William could be brought in.
Transport Scotland said: “The trains would make the most of Scotland’s internationally-renowned tourist routes.
“ It’s about providing a showcase for Scottish catering and reflecting local Scottish produce. We hope the trains will become justifiably famous.”
First Group, which has operated the current ScotRail franchise since 2004, and National Express are among the firms shortlisted to bid for the £6 billion franchise. The others are Dutch state-owned rail firm Abellio, German-based Arriva and MTR, the operator of the Hong Kong metro.
John McCormick, chairman of the Scottish Association for Public Transport, said plans for a more integrated transport system were “particularly welcome”. He added: “The shortlisted bidders have extensive experience of running metro-style operations worldwide and we expect this will bring new ideas for integrated transport in Scottish cities.”
Speaking about plans for tourist-friendly trains, he added: “The new franchisee has a golden opportunity to provide more luxurious carriages with good visibility, catering and multi-lingual commentaries to attract tourist traffic.”
Firms are required to submit their proposals by spring next year with the winner to be announced in the autumn. The new franchise will then come into operation in April 2015.