ScotRail: What I learned on trip to its owner Abellio’s homeland – Vladimir McTavish

In the Netherlands, the trains seemed to run like clockwork – until they didn’t and Vladimir McTavish got a taste of home.

Wednesday, 9th October 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 10th October 2019, 1:52 am
Abellio runs ScotRail services and the train network in the Netherlands. Picture: Pa

I have just returned from a three-night run of shows in The Netherlands. Every time I do gigs in Europe, I am always taken aback by the fact that the audiences have such a good understanding of English that they are able to find my jokes funny.

I’m assuming they found my material funny, as they were laughing, but that might have been because they thought my haircut was ridiculous or because my fly was undone.

The audiences were not solely Dutch, but from all corners of the globe.

In The Hague on Thursday night, the audience was made up of Dutch, French, Russians, Portuguese, Lithuanians and one guy from Glasgow. The following night in Rotterdam, we had Poles, Spaniards, Americans, Greeks, Belgians, Dutch and one guy from Glasgow.

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The crowd in Leiden on Saturday included Germans, Italians, Australians, English, Nigerians, Dutch, Welsh, Irish and one guy from Glasgow.

This confirms two long-held theories of mine that (a) English is comedy’s global language and (b) wherever you are in the world, in any group of more than 20 people you will always find one guy from Glasgow.

Europe’s ironic lingua franca

Also on the bill was a Norwegian comedian who did his entire set in a second language to people who were listening in a second language.

It is highly ironic that Britain, a country poised to leave the European Union and whose people are notoriously bad at learning other languages should, as its parting gift, have left Europe with a common tongue.

We can learn much about modern planning from the Dutch. The quality of life in their cities is second to none. One thing I find most impressive is their non-reliance on the car, people opting instead to cycle or use public transport.

Of course, cycling is much easier in a flat part of the world like Holland than in a hilly city like Edinburgh. Also, it is undoubtedly a good thing that fewer people should be behind the wheel of their car in a country where cannabis is so easily available.

Another reason the Dutch leave their cars at home is that their public transport is so good.

Replacement bus service in the rain

Throughout my trip, I was constantly impressed by the unbelievably efficient Dutch railways. Their network runs like clockwork.

I travelled by train from Schiphol Airport to The Hague, from The Hague to Rotterdam and from there to Leiden. On each journey, the carriages were spotlessly clean and there was a 100 per cent punctuality rate.

What is particularly striking about this is that the Dutch trains are run by the same company that is currently in charge of ScotRail. Indeed, they were awarded the franchise in the hope that their high standards and efficiency would be passed on here.

“Why can’t these guys run a service like this in Scotland?” I kept asking myself.

Or I did until Sunday afternoon, when all the trains back to Schiphol Airport were cancelled and we were provided instead with a replacement bus service. For which we had to queue outside the station in the pouring rain. It was like I had already come home, or had never gone away in the first place.

So, it would seem that, rather than the other way around, the Dutch are getting ideas from Scotland about running a railway service.