Jane Ann Liston: Too much strain taking train

Despite the cost, rail travel remains a popular option. Picture: Allan Milligan
Despite the cost, rail travel remains a popular option. Picture: Allan Milligan
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There’s work to be done to get the rail network we deserve.

Nobody likes paying more for something, especially during straitened times. The forthcoming rail fare increases in January, however, will be less in Scotland than those in England and will only apply to peak-time tickets, meaning no increase for off-peak travellers. And while there are grumbles about the suitability of some of our trains for the longer routes, Scotrail rolling-stock is generally acceptable and certainly much better than some trains, such as Pacers, which are still used in parts of England.

Despite recent fare increases, passenger numbers are higher than in the middle of the last century, notwithstanding the network being a third of the size.

In general, people like travelling by rail, with it attracting even car drivers away from behind their steering wheels in much greater numbers than road-based public transport, so encouraging and expanding rail travel makes good environmental sense.

The figures prove the popularity of rail, with the reopenings from the Eighties on being used by two or three times the number predicted: Edinburgh-Bathgate, Stirling-Alloa, Bathgate-Airdrie via Livingston through to Glasgow and Helensburgh to name a few.

This is not to say that everything on Scottish rail services is perfect. Despite the measures taken to address the nonsense of several tickets costing the same as one for the same journey, there are still anomalies whereby a shorter route avoiding the busier lines costs more than a longer one between the same places via the Central Belt.

The reductions in the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP) are deplored, as was the cancellation of the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link (EARL), although at least the proposed Edinburgh Gateway station will provide a link between the airport and the trams.

And there are still lacunae, or missing parts, in the system, where destinations people want to visit are marooned from the rail network. After 50 years of isolation, Midlothian will finally be reconnected when the new Borders line opens.

Noises are being made to extend Alloa to Kincardine and thence to Dunfermline; one would hope that attention would next turn to Reston and Haddington in East Lothian, and Leven and St Andrews in Fife.

Though Railfuture opposed the fragmentation of the rail network brought about by privatisation, we recognise that wholesale renationalisation is not going to happen overnight and we have to work with the system as it is now. The rail network in Scotland has been allowed to expand, to the envy of passengers in England who are now trying to catch up, and with proper investment there is no reason why it should not continue to improve

• Jane Ann Liston is secretary of Railfuture Scotland, an independent body campaigning for better rail services for both passengers and freight.