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
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”
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