In September this year Scotland will have an exciting new railway. It will link Edinburgh with the Scottish Borders which last had passenger trains over 40 years ago. This will be the longest new railway to be built in the UK for over 100 years, so this is a huge project and will have many benefits for commuters and tourists. However, it is a bit of a let down to find out that the trains will only take two bicycles.
The Scottish Borders are a beautiful part of the country with many temptations for cyclists, however it is difficult to access unless you have your own transport. There used to be railways in this region, but they were largely cut in the 1960s and this has made it a challenge to explore by bicycle unless you are on a multi-day trip. The Borders Railway should be a good news story for cyclists, but it now appears that there will be very limited cycle capacity on the trains.
Abellio, the new operators of the Scotrail franchise, have stated that Borders Railway trains will carry at least two bicycles. This is a backward step as most trains on other Scotrail routes take 4 or even 6 bicycles. Even 4 or.6 spaces can prove insufficient, particularly with the increased popularity of cycling and using trains to access routes. Many other countries devote much more space for bicycles on their trains.
Staff will be trained to provide ad hoc extra space for bikes when required, but it doesn't give enough reassurance that you will actually be able to get your bike on the train. This uncertainty and hassle may result in many people giving up on the idea of cycling trips to the Borders. There is a massive opportunity to capitalise on the cycle tourism potential of the Borders, but this does not seem to be a priority.
Yes, there is a challenge to get the right balance in the use of limited space on trains. Space is required for luggage, bicycles, disabled passengers and prams. But space is limited because the rolling stock is inadequate and new trains with a design that takes account of all of these things is the solution.
Abellio operate trains in the the Netherlands where they also have limited space for cycles on trains. Instead they have substantial cycle storage at stations and encourage passengers to keep a second bike at their destination stations. This strategy appears to be based on commuter cycling where passengers travel between the same two stations everyday. This may very well prove successful with commuters using the new Borders Railway, however, it does not support leisure cycling where the principal is to bring your bike on the train in order to travel to a station where you have never been before and may never return to- you have no reason to store a second bicycle in such a destination. The strategy also assumes that people can afford to own and maintain two bicycles.
News reports indicate that rolling stock plans are not yet finalised, so there is still a chance that space for bicycles will be increased. I hope so as I have been looking forward to using the new railway with my bike.