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Highlands and Islands Greens
Highlands and Islands Greens

Retain ‘Chieftain’ Through-Rail Service and Invest in Sleeper Service

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

As part of our response to the ‘Rail 2014’ consultation, Highlands and Islands Greens have urged Transport Scotland to retain the Chieftain through-rail service, and for greater investment in the sleeper service.

“We are dismayed by the spectre of a cessation of the cross-border services terminating at Edinburgh”  said Myra Carus, vice-convenor of the Highlands and Islands Green Party.  “The whole point of a through service – and indeed, its fundamental attraction to business and leisure users alike – derives from the assurance from knowing that, once aboard, one can relax and enjoy the entirety of the journey, right through to one’s final destination.  Breaking the journey, and having to change trains, instantly and completely removes this appeal, and conversely may well generate considerable anxiety that a connection may be missed at Edinburgh.

“We are similarly concerned by the possible threat to the sleeper service.  Anyone familiar with the sleeper service to Inverness knows its all-year-round popularity.  Tourism is fundamental to the economy of the Highlands, and directly and indirectly influences the lives of many of us.  Axing or even downgrading the service will seriously affect levels of tourism.  Similarly, many family members visiting each other make much use of the service, and would be seriously inconvenienced if the service were lost.  And the sleeper is far more attractive than the plane, particularly as travelling comfortably by night avoids wasting much of the day waiting at airports.”

Notes

The full H&IGP reponse to the consultation included the following:

  • Cross-border services:  We are dismayed by the spectre of a cessation of the cross-border services terminating at Edinburgh.  The whole point of a through service – and indeed, its fundamental attraction to business and leisure users alike – derives from the assurance from knowing that, once aboard, one can relax and enjoy the entirety of the journey, right through to one’s final destination.  Breaking the journey, and having to change trains, instantly and completely removes this appeal, and conversely may well generate considerable anxiety that a connection may be missed at Edinburgh.  For climate change reasons, it makes no sense to lessen the competitiveness of rail, which would be the immediate and very obvious, damaging effect of withdrawing this service.  The London-Inverness journey already takes over eight hours – a long time.  Having to change trains at Edinburgh would necessarily significantly increase the duration of the journey.  As it is, the train service struggles to compete with the air lines.  Axing the through service will drive many business, as well as leisure, customers onto planes, because they could not risk missing their connections and being late for scheduled meetings, whether in Inverness or London.
  • Sleeper service:  We are similarly greatly concerned by the possible threat to the sleeper service.  Anyone familiar with the sleeper service to Inverness knows its all-year-round popularity.  Tourism is fundamental to the economy of the Highlands, and directly and indirectly influences the lives of many of us.  Axing or even downgrading the service will seriously affect levels of tourism.  Similarly, many family members visiting each other make much use of the service, and would be seriously inconvenienced if the service were lost.  And the sleeper is far more attractive than the plane, particularly as travelling comfortably by night avoids wasting much of the day waiting at airports.  From the environmental perspective, and as the consultation paper recognises, “Rail travel is considered as one of the greener forms of travel”.  We share this view: travelling by plane can generate four or more times more carbon dioxide emissions than the train.  The Scottish Government should therefore be investing in the sleeper service.  As the consultation paper also says, authoritative research shows that “improvements in on-train facilities making them more attractive, could lead to an increase in demand for the Sleeper Services”.  Such investment should be the Government’s priority for the sleeper service, not threatening its existence.  We therefore welcome the suggestions contained in the consultation document for upgrading the rolling stock.  We also call for the cessation of the requirement that a single passenger may be required to share a cabin with a stranger (albeit of the same gender).
  • Freight shuttle-service:  We have called for the creation of a freight shuttle-service between Perth/the central belt and Inverness.  We welcome the existing daily ‘Tesco/Stobart’ freight train into Inverness, but we consider a discrete shuttle service (for cars as well as lorries) would have major environmental, economic and social benefits, particularly in removing many lorries from the A9 (and so save unnecessary expenditure on dualling the Perth-Inverness section of the A9).
  • Rail halt at the new Beechwood campus:  We have called for the creation of a rail halt at the new Beechwood campus and business park – two miles outside Inverness – and an associated passenger rail shuttle service into Inverness (the existing Inverness-Perth rail line runs directly through the campus site).  These would offer very obvious benefits.  Students and business-park employees would jump at the chance of a quick a rail journey into town, which would also boost much-needed trade in the town centre.  The campus would be an ideal site for one of The Highland Council’s proposed ‘Park and Ride’ car parks.  Car drivers and their families would have a relaxing, congestion-free journey into town, and save on city-centre parking fees in the process.  We suggest that, because of the incline on the existing track at Beechwood, a separate halt be built off the main line.  Such a development provides a golden opportunity to demonstrate the wider practical benefits of ‘going green’, by making public transport more accessible and helping tackle climate change in the process.
  • Carnets:  We are very supportive of some operators’ carnets ticketing schemes.  We would like these to be made more widely available, and recommend that their mandatory provision be called for and regulated by the Government
  • Franchising system:  We have no specific views on the mechanisms for procuring rail services, including franchising.  But any system-selection criteria must, at its heart, be based on the notion that the service is run for the benefit of passengers, and not, for example, to satisfy a system for the allocation of ticket revenue to train operators.
  • Passing sections:  The number of passing sections on the rail routes from Inverness (ie N,S,E and W) should be increased.