In October 2014 it was announced that Abellio, a Dutch company, had been awarded the Scotrail franchise for the next 10 years. There are many exciting developments that come with the new franchise, including new trains, increased bike parking and scenic trains. However, I could see no sign of increased bicycle spaces on the trains which is the main thing that would benefit cyclists using the railways.
A brochure summarises the key improvements. There is a commitment to introduce locomotive hauled trains on some routes and there is even a picture of such a train in the brochure . I think this is one of the most promising aspects of the franchise as these trains provide more capacity and more comfort than the current rolling stock. There may even be potential to add additional bicycle spaces, although this is not stated in the brochure.
It would be a shame if increased bicycle spaces were not provided, particularly as the brochure recognises the tourist potential of Scotland's railways. There is promise of a "Scenic railway service" on the West Highland, Far North and Kyle lines. The details of what this will be are not contained in the brochure, but any enhancement of the tourist potential of these routes should consider adequate bike provision. In particular, my experience of the Far North line in the summer is that the bike spaces are often not enough because of the huge number of cyclists who use the line when doing Land's End to or from John O'Groats.
There will be 3500 additional cycle spaces at stations, which is clearly aimed at encouraging people to cycle to a station and take the train to work. This is a good thing, but I think that many cyclists who use the railways would regard more bikes being carried on the trains as more of a priority than bike parking at stations. I am optimistic that Abellio, being a Dutch company, will see the benefit of increasing bike spaces on the trains.
The locomotive hauled trains also increase the possibilities to enhance catering facilities- there is mention of "galley catering", which presumably means a kitchen. Currently the catering is restricted to what can be accommodated on the trolley that is wheeled through the train. A kitchen facility could mean cooked meals and the brochure states that "some of Scotland's best and local food and drink brands" would be offered, but no further details are provided.
The new franchise is full of promise and I am optimistic about what is proposed. I think that Scotland's scenic railway routes are long overdue better rolling stock, particularly as countries like Canada, America and Australia have trains that are as special and as attractive as the landscapes that they pass through. I really do hope that the provision of bicycle spaces on the trains is given consideration as bicycle tourism is an increasing market and more people will come to enjoy Scotland as a result.
What do you think of the new proposals?
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.