From ScotRail shambles to the serenity of Scottish Citylink - Liam Rudden
#Scotfail. It's a hashtag that pops up in my Twitter feed from time to time and one that I could relate to last Sunday when I realised just how inadequate the rail service between Scotland's two main cities is in 2021.
The problem just now stems from the never-ending industrial action forced on the RMT union currently fighting for 'pay justice and equality for workers'. For the sake of travelers, commuters and tourists alike, it really is time that Albellio, who currently operate the franchise, got off the buffers. It’s an embarrassment for Scotland to have such a shoddy service. That said, as they are to be stripped of the franchise in March 2022, three years early, I can see that there is very little incentive for them to rectify the issue expeditiously.
But back to Sunday. With all regular services between the Capital and Scotland’s largest city cancelled, the hourly ‘low-level’ service, which takes one hour 15 minutes to do a journey that would normally be completed in 48 minutes, was left take the strain.
Having missed the 3.41pm by a minute, I bought tickets for the 4.40pm - another quirk of our railway system highlighted by the ticket seller, it was cheaper to buy a return from Eskbank to Glasgow rather than purchasing a ticket from Edinburgh. Worth noting and thanks for the tip.
Joining the double length train just after 4pm it was empty. Five minutes before departure it was standing room only, people squeezed together in the vestibules and encroaching on the aisles and leaning over those seated. Many also apparently ‘exempt’ from wearing a mask while others opted for the option of a chin warmer.
Now, regardless of changing rules, they haven't yet, the dangers of such crowding in the case of a sudden stop or, god forbid, a derailment are surely obvious to see.
ScotRail s response, a perfunctory we have five rules for travel... repeated ad infinitum. Rule 5 is that if you don't feel comfortable travelling, get off. With no attempt at enforcement of the rules by either the rail company or British Transport Police, I did just that and headed to the bus station where an air-conditioned, spacious and socially distanced Scottish Citylink 900 took just four minutes longer than the train to get me to Glasgow, and at a fraction of the cost.
It’s a decade or two since I last took a bus along the M8, in the intervening years the experience has changed beyond all recognition, compared with the train it’s positively serene. Roomy comfortable seats, USB chargers by your hand – something ScotRail has yet to offer – and a regular 15 minute service. There’s even a toilet on board, just in case. Having shared my travel tale with friends it appears I’m not the only one now opting for the bus ahead of the train when heading west.
One comment that sticks with me from my conversation with a ScotRail representative back at the Waverley, however, is this, when asked about the on board safety of the train’s conductor faced with squeezing their way through crowded carriages I was assured the employee could cordon off half a carriage to create with a 'safe working environment'... just think about the implications of that.