Direct rail links to Glasgow could end

The new rail franchise could end direct trains to Glasgow.
The new rail franchise could end direct trains to Glasgow.

The new ScotRail franchise could herald the end of through trains from Stranraer and Girvan to Glasgow, community rail partnership SAYLSA claimed this week.

The chairman of the Stranraer and South Ayrshire Line Support Association said this week that the organisation fears this could be the outcome as Transport Scotland issues its Invitation to Tender Document to the five bidders for the new ScotRail franchise due to start in April 2015.

John McCutcheon said Scotland’s transport agency is inviting bidders to consider ending direct links to the Central Belt obligating passengers to change trains at Ayr or Kilmarnock and wait up to 15 minutes for a connection.

Chair of SAYLSA John McCutcheon said “First we saw the abstraction of 60,000 ferry passengers, now we see the potential ending of through rail journeys, I hope the next stage is not the end of rail services to Stranraer completely.

“Whilst it is a prerequisite of such a bid that more trains must be provided than the current six between Stranraer and Girvan and 15 between Girvan and Ayr nevertheless it is hard to see how such a move would encourage people to travel. Faced with changing trains and high fares it is hardly a recipe for economic growth.”

In 2007 Passenger Focus commissioned a study on the Stranraer line and one of the concerns for passengers was changing trains. Indeed being forced to change trains was heavily criticised in the 2014 Rail Consultation document after it was proposed by Transport Scotland.

However Transport Scotland says that it has set bidders for the franchise the challenge of providing ‘something better’ than the current service.

A spokeswoman for the agency said: “The specification for the next ScotRail franchise makes it clear that we are looking for ‘improved services between Stranraer and Glasgow’, with an increase in the number of journey opportunities between Stranraer, Barrhill, Girvan, Maybole and Glasgow.

“We are asking bidders to come forward with proposals that better match local demand and provide a more effective service for passengers between Stranraer and Glasgow.

“This requires bidders ‘to consider, discuss and review options with Network Rail, local authorities and other relevant stakeholders to identify the impact, if any, of accommodating new services’, taking account of the improved journey times and frequency for services north of Ayr from December 2012.

“The challenge that we have set them is to come forward with something better than the current provision.

“It is important to note that our franchise specification also requires bidders to address accessibility and interchange issues across the Scottish network which, of course, includes those services and stations between Glasgow and Stranraer.”

SAYLSA say the ‘official’ route to Northern Ireland does not involve the Stranraer line at all any more, necessitating instead a 45 mile journey by coach on the A77 which has resulted in £0.5m of revenue being lost to the route.

John McCutcheon added: “We wish to see direct services to the Central Belt maintained and enhanced re-connecting with the ferries by way of this new bus link.

“Over the past few years rail services to the Central Belt have become slower and there is a real danger that under this proposal south west Scotland will become further isolated from the rest of the country leading to further economic decline.

“In contrast other elements of the ITT are encouraging with emphasis on quality.

“The next franchisee will be required to drive up use of SMART across all ticket-types and play a full part in developing a smart ticketing scheme which can be used across all Scottish public transport.

“Trains on the Stranraer line will need to be upgraded to allow Wi-fi access – which will be an interesting technological challenge considering the paucity of mobile phone coverage for the 45-minute section between Challoch and Girvan, and provide better facilities for those passengers using re-chargeable electrical devices.

“If the current class 156 rolling stock is maintained it will need an internal upgrade, but the Stranraer line is left out of the new scenic trains initiative, which is mandatory only for the Oban, West Highland and Kyle of Lochalsh routes although bidders could include the Stranraer line if they so wish.

“There is better news for Community Rail Partnerships like SAYLSA and the successful bidder will need to invest heavily in such initiatives.”