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Midwest Rail Rangers Visit England, Scotland & Wales: ScotRail

Midwest Rail Rangers Visit England, Scotland & Wales: Part 6 of 8


By Robert Tabern - President, Midwest Rail Rangers &
Kandace Tabern - Educational Officer, Midwest Rail Rangers

Published: December 15, 2018

In May 2018, Midwest Rail Rangers President Robert Tabern and Midwest Rail Rangers Education Officer Kandace Tabern spent two weeks exploring the various train lines of England, Scotland, and Wales... everything from heritage steam locomotive trips... to taking the Eurostar at nearly 200mph for a day trip to Paris, France. Robert and Kandace will be sharing their candid experiences with you over the course of the next eight months in a series of TrainWeb articles that document their journeys. Hopefully this will inspire you to someday ride the rails of the United Kingdom if you haven't got the chance yet.  Below is a map of what railroad routes the Tabern's were able to cover:


ScotRail provides over 94 million passenger journeys each year, with over 2,300 intercity, regional and suburban rail services a day, more than 340 stations, and just under 800 trains.
The ScotRail branding was created in September 1983 in order to provide a distinctive name for the British Rail network with-in Scotland. ScotRail was established to be responsible for all passenger services that operated wholly with-in Scotland. It also operated services just across the Scotland-English Border to Carlisle… as well as on the Caledonian Sleeper to London (starting in March 1988). The ScotRail sector of British Rail was privatized in March 1997. Services were then operated by National Express, a public transport company headquartered in Birmingham, England that operates bus, coach, train, and tram services in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Spain, Portugal, and other countries across the world. From October 2004 until March 2015, the contract to operate ScotRail went to FirstGroup. Of FirstGroup’s four train operating companies, ScotRail was the second largest (in terms of number of passenger journeys conducted in 2013-14). However, since April 2015, a company called Abellio has operated ScotRail; they actually now hold the contract through March 31, 2025. (It should be noted that Abellio did not win the bid for the Caledonian Sleeper overnight train service to London; this was given to a separate franchise called Serco to operate).






While the name ScotRail is just about 35 years old, the history of railroading in Scotland itself goes back much farther than that.  In fact, the first railway in Scotland was the Garnkirk and Glasgow, which opened in 1831. The first inter-city railway was the Edinburgh and Glasgow, which opened in 1842. By 1850, Scotland’s major cities were linked to each other and to the English rail network. The second half of the 19th Century saw a rapid expansion… and by 1900… virtually every town of more than 2,000 people on the Scottish mainland had a railway station. At the same time, trains became more comfortable, faster and more frequent whilst the cost of travel declined relative to wages. Nevertheless, books that we read indicate there were probably never more than 100 million or so journeys made per year within Scotland, illustrating how most people had little need, financial means or desire to travel long distances. Railways did, though, play an important part in moving freight, especially heavy loads such as coal, iron and steel, and played a vital role in World War I.

After World War I, the independent Scottish railway companies were merged into the London Midland and Scottish and London and North Eastern companies. A separate Scottish company had been considered, but rejected as being probably not financially viable. Since the 1920’s and 1930’s saw a decline in passenger and freight business, this was probably a correct judgement.






Meanwhile, after World War II, the railways were nationalized. Unfortunately, railways in Scotland were not covering their operating expenses – and a series of closures were introduced. The pace of such closures accelerated after the Beeching Report of 1963, though some of the recommended closures did not take place after Ministers of Transport refused consent on grounds of hardship… a concept which was open to wide interpretation. Freight services were also withdrawn from the majority of stations and concentrated on larger depots and private sidings. At the same time, steam was replaced by diesel, with most of the Glasgow suburban and commuter network being electrified, in addition to both of the main lines to England. This allowed acceleration of Anglo-Scottish services, with the Edinburgh-London service down from seven-to-eight hours in the 1950’s to four-to-five hours today. However, the reduction in the cost of air travel and high rail fares rising above inflation has seen the market share of rail in the Edinburgh/Glasgow to London route down considerably in recent years, as even with the time taken to travel to airports and check in, rail is unable to compete on journey time (unlike on routes such as London to Manchester).

The Beeching Axe fell across the South West of Scotland by the closure in 1965 of the direct railway from Dumfries via Castle Douglas and Newton Stewart to Stranraer which resulted in prolonged journeys via Ayr. This closure adversely affects journey times from London to Stranraer for the connecting ferries to Larne and Belfast.

The closure program slowed down after the Transport Act of 1968 made it possible for the government to directly subsidize loss-making lines… and the last major closure was the direct Edinburgh-Perth line in 1970. Since then a number of lines have been re-opened, and stations opened on existing lines.

This year has definitely been an exciting one for ScotRail, as 70 new “Class 385” electric trains have been rolling out ever since the summer months (more and more equipment will be added every month through the beginning of 2019).  Hitachi was hired to build 46 three-car sets and 24 four-car sets. The end result will be a 25 percent increase in the number of cars in ScotRail’s fleet, including 100,000 extra seats for passengers that will be added each weekday. The new trains will also knock down the operating time between Glasgow and Edinburgh to just 42 minutes. ScotRail has also been promoting the fact that the trains are also greener than their predecessors, as they are 18 percent more energy efficient than the diesel trains they are replacing. The new trains are part of the Edinburgh-Glasgow Improvement Program, which has been introducing electrification to the line.
Even though or travel schedule was quite packed, we did have the chance to take one quick round-trip on ScotRail between Aviemore and Kingussie. Unlike our other seven rail journeys, this one was not planned… it was a spur-of-the moment decision after seeing the train run very close to our bed and breakfast in Aviemore. Without there being much to in the evening in town that night, we checked the timetables and quickly discovered we could do a quick round-trip down to Kingussie and back. There was just enough time to grab dinner at one of the pubs in Kingussie and walk around a historic cemetery there. We wish we had more time to ride --- but maybe next time!





Our 2 remaining "Midwest Rail Rangers Visit England, Scotland & Wales" TrainWeb trip reports will include:
  • January 2019 -  Strathspey Steam Railway  (Part 7 of 8)
  • February 2019 - The Jacobite Train   (Part 8 of 8)



ScotRail Official Website


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