New high-speed trains take us back to the 1970s

Crit­ics claim pas­sen­gers in the north and north-east are be­ing fobbed off with old stock dressed up as new mod­ernised trains. Jon Hebditch finds out more

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - NEWS -

Rail bosses have been accused of treat­ing north and north-east pas­sen­gers as “sec­ond-class ci­ti­zens” as they un­veiled their “new” high-speed trains – which are decades old.

ScotRail held a high-pro­file event at Aberdeen sta­tion to wel­come the first of 27 In­ter­city 125s which will op­er­ate from May on ser­vices link­ing the Gran­ite City and In­ver­ness with Ed­in­burgh and Glas­gow.

Bil­lions of pounds are be­ing spent re­fit­ting and op­er­at­ing the 1970s car­riages to put in more seats and lug­gage space and pro­vide power sock­ets.

But crit­ics said the changes would in­clude halv­ing the num­ber of toi­lets and mak­ing it harder to take bi­cy­cles on the train.

And politi­cians con- trasted the vet­eran rolling stock with a scheme to bring 70 brand-new elec­tric trains to the cen­tral belt.

To com­pound the sit­u­a­tion, just as rail chiefs were trum­pet­ing the “great step for­ward” one of the lo­co­mo­tives they have bought caught fire in Devon.

The first train will be based in Aberdeen, from where it will travel the net­work in the north-east for driver train­ing over the com­ing months be­fore en­ter­ing ser­vice next year.

North-east jour­nal­ist and rail cam­paigner Gor­don Casely said he had been given an un­der­stand­ing by rail in­sid­ers that toi­lets and bike spa­ces would be re­duced in the re­fur­bish­ment.

He said: “The un­der­stand­ing from Abel­lio ScotRail is that the ex­ist­ing two toi­lets per car­riage are be­ing re­duced to just one.

“Bike spa­ces are ap­par­ently up from four per ex­ist­ing train to eight per 125.

“But anal­y­sis of this shows that six spa­ces are for end-to-end jour­neys, leav­ing just two spa­ces for jour­neys be­tween in­ter­me­di­ate sta­tions.”

ScotRail has said no de­ci­sions have yet been made on the re­fur­bished in­te­rior.

North-east Con­ser­va­tive MSP Tom Ma­son said: “Pas­sen­gers in the north­east should not be treated like sec­ond­class ci­ti­zens.

“I think peo­ple in Aberdeen will rightly won­der why they have to make do with 1970s stock while those in Glas­gow and Ed­in­burgh ride in first­class lux­ury.

“If th­ese re­ports are cor­rect on toi­lets and bike spa­ces, then I think pas­sen­gers will have some se­ri­ous ques­tions that need to be ad­dressed.”

Ross Grant, trans­port spokesman at Aberdeen City Coun­cil, said: “While we wel­come the in­tro­duc­tion of th­ese trains to the city which will mark an im­prove­ment on the cur­rent stock be­ing used, let’s be clear, at 40 years old, th­ese trains are far from ‘new’.

“The trans­port min­is­ter may well be de­lighted with this. “How­ever, as with so many other things, it seems Aberdeen is not good enough to re­ceive new trains while at the same time Ed­in­burgh and Glas­gow are to ben­e­fit from brand new elec­tric trains.”

Each of the trains is es­ti­mated to have clocked up 10 mil­lion miles over its work­ing life so far – the equiv­a­lent of go­ing to the moon and back more than 40 times.

ScotRail Al­liance man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Alex Hynes hailed the new stock as “the start of a new era”.

He said: “We’re go­ing to re­fur­bish them to a much higher qual­ity than to­day so that by May 18 we will ar­rive with faster jour­neys, more ca­pac­ity, more com­fort, more fre­quency to re­ally pro­vide a level of rail travel that has never been seen be­fore on Scot Rail.

“The minute we put th­ese high-speed trains into ser­vice more peo­ple will travel with us . . . this is all part our plan to build the best rail­way Scot­land’s ever had.

“We are just work­ing through the fi­nal de­tails in terms of bike spa­ces and toi­lets and the on-train ca­ter­ing of­fer, but I can ab­so­lutely guar­an­tee that it will be no worse than it is to­day and we’re work­ing on some re­ally ex­it­ing plans to de­liver a level of com­fort on ScotRail that we have never de­liv­ered be­fore.”

Bill Reeve, di­rec­tor of rail at Trans­port Scot­land, said: “Th­ese are trains that are be­ing heav­ily re-en­gi­neered, re­built inside, brought to the stan­dard of mod­ern trains.”

North-east trans­port body Nes­trans chair­man Peter Argyle said: “Com­bined with the in­tro­duc­tion of a new lo­cal ser­vice be­tween In­verurie and Mon­trose, this an­nounce­ment sig­nals the start of a step change in rail pro­vi­sion in the north-east.”

“The minute we put th­ese high-speed trains into ser­vice more peo­ple will travel with us”

Will the trav­el­ling pub­lic be de­lighted and en­thralled by the ar­rival of a new fleet of high-speed trains serv­ing Aberdeen and In­ver­ness, fol­low­ing a grand un­veil­ing by op­er­a­tor Scotrail?

We must treat the word “new” with cau­tion: re­plac­ing ex­ist­ing stock with al­most 30 In­ter­city 125s cer­tainly makes them new to the High­lands and Grampian.

How­ever, the ac­tual trains on their way here are old work­horses that have been ply­ing their trade else­where in the UK for decades and have put mil­lions of miles on the clock al­ready.

A ma­jor re­fur­bish­ment is un­der way to try to make them look as good as new, but it was not enough to ap­pease some who re­gard them as other peo­ple’s castoffs. It will only fan the flames for those who gen­uinely feel as though the north and north-east are treated like sec­ond­class ci­ti­zens when it comes to trans­port is­sues in Scot­land.

To rub salt into the wounds, the sen­si­tive sub­ject of elec­tri­ci­fi­ca­tion ar­rived on the pub­lic plat­form, as it was also re­vealed that the cen­tral belt is tak­ing de­liv­ery of 70 new elec­tric trains.

To top it all, due to some per­ceived sleight of hand by bosses, rail en­thu­si­asts claimed fewer toi­lets and bi­cy­cle spa­ces will be avail­able on 125s. Both is­sues are guar­an­teed to send blood pres­sure soar­ing among rail trav­ellers. Let us hope rail bosses are right and pas­sen­gers will love the pow­er­ful train up­grade, im­proved ac­cel­er­a­tion and makeover.

But the sig­nals so far seem to in­di­cate “pro­ceed with cau­tion”.

“Rail en­thu­si­asts claimed fewer toi­lets and bi­cy­cle spa­ces will be avail­able on 125s”

Pho­to­graph by Colin Ren­nie

FAST WORK: ScotRail Al­liance man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Alex Hynes, left, hails the ‘start of a new era’ along­side Trans­port Scot­land’s di­rec­tor of rail Bill Reeve as they wel­come the ar­rival of the first of the new high-speed trains into Aberdeen.

A high-speed 125 train leaves Aberdeen Sta­tion back in 1978 – now Scot­land’s pas­sen­ger rolling stock is be­ing up­graded for 2017

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