Is that this how Scotland’s nationalized railway is supposed to look?

Central station

Central station

  • One other stoppage on the railways highlights the battle over pay, waged most ferociously by these with probably the most leverage, but additionally with most to lose as effectivity and altering journey patterns threaten employment situations.

  • Renewed public management of railways brings excessive expectations of what might be achieved, however restricted prospects of them being met – not least as a result of a lot cash shall be required to switch diesel trains, and on some tough strains north of the Central Belt.

  • These are among the many targets for decreasing carbon emissions in Scotland, that are reckoned by one suppose tank to be missing the massive and troublesome choices required.

Your ScotRail practice could or could not depart on time. It relies upon if the crew have been to be on time beyond regulation or not. That is ScotRail’s second 24-hour strike by RMT transport union members, so as to add to all these one-day stoppages in protest at different rail firms.

Is that this how a newly nationalized rail service is supposed to look?

The primary RMT strike over ScotRail’s pay provide was earlier this month, on the day the SNP convention departed Aberdeen.

Members moved from a imaginative and prescient of a greener, smooth-running Scotland within the P&J Area to the town centre, and a clunking re-engagement with a really completely different actuality on the rails.

After they do run, trains south of Aberdeen are all diesel. There’s numerous work to do, and some huge cash to seek out, if ScotRail is to fulfill expectations of the general public possession that started simply over six months in the past, and if it is to banish diesel from the fleet, as supposed, inside solely 13 years.

There’s stress on Jenny Gilruth, Scotland’s transport minister, to ship cheaper fares, extra carriages, and free tickets for younger individuals, simply as they will get free journey on buses as much as the age of twenty-two.

She’s being advised to re-open rail strains, as they’ve achieved within the Borders, Alloa, they usually’ll quickly do in south-east Fife.

If Aberdeen is to change into, because the First Minister ambitiously claimed, “the online zero capital of the world”, it’ll want some greener rail choices. It will not get electrical trains linking to Dundee till 2030, and there is a case being made for reinstatement of a rail hyperlink with Peterhead.

It could be good, on a strike day or every other, to have the choice possibility of a direct Citylink coach service between Aberdeen and Inverness. However no such service exists. Extremely, you must change on the Broxden interchange close to Perth.

I used it just lately, with overseas vacationers who have been left with little shelter and fewer data, whereas unable even to get into Perth metropolis centre. The Broxden automobile park has change into a pivot level for Scottish highway journey, however is definitely one of many nation’s most dismal locations.

An almighty squeeze

Striking rail worker

Putting rail employee

Simply one of many large issues for Scotland’s rail, as with a lot of the remainder of Britain, is that it is coming again into public possession, or a minimum of management, at a time when there’s an almighty squeeze looming for public funding.

Expertise tells us that long-term infrastructure, reminiscent of rail, is the primary and best space of ​​public spending to squeeze.

The opposite notable, present drawback is that the pandemic has upended the marketplace for passenger journey. And whereas most different markets are re-conforming to roughly their earlier form, rail appears to have modified completely.

Strikes this 12 months usually are not solely as a result of earnings are failing to maintain tempo with value inflation, however as a result of employees have good motive to suppose that large modifications are on the way in which, they usually will not be snug for employees.

ScotRail has the bottom degree of passenger restoration of any of the most important British franchises. In April to June, it had solely 61% of the numbers it was carrying earlier than the pandemic.

It’s making solely 75% of the income from that point – an enchancment, a minimum of, on the 9% of income within the depths of lockdown, when huge public subsidy was required to maintain any trains working.

Journey for leisure has picked up considerably since popping out of Covid restrictions. However commuting has not. Use of season tickets throughout the community throughout spring have been at solely 34% of pre-pandemic ranges.

Many individuals haven’t returned to workplace work. Those that do are sometimes doing so for fewer days per week, having fun with the pliability to depart residence later within the morning and keep away from peak time fares. ScotRail says {that a} excessive proportion of its prospects have moved properties or jobs since 2020.

Reliability, security and clear bathrooms

Scotrail train

Scotrail practice

The notion of peak time is tough baked into railway ticketing, whereas air and bus journey has tailored to pricing fashions by which ticket costs adapt to demand.

We have been advised there shall be an finish to the absurdities of return tickets being cheaper than single journeys, and saving cash by shopping for a ticket for a station past your vacation spot as a result of that is cheaper.

We have awaited a Scottish model of London’s Oyster Card for thus lengthy that the Oyster Card has itself been changed by smarter methods to get the very best deal merely utilizing a fee card.

You may know what I imply should you use Lothian Buses, however you will not discover a lot that joins up. A seemingly easy journey requires not solely completely different tickets however completely different apps.

Surveys counsel that passengers have a reasonably excessive satisfaction ranking with Scottish trains. They’re in search of reliability, security, clear bathrooms and for a few of them (primarily males) pace.

That makes it harder to clarify why the huge bulk of railway spending for now, and fairly just a few years to return, shall be on enhancing resilience towards excessive climate and taking carbon off the tracks.

It is one thing that passengers are solely more likely to discover after they breathe the cleaner air at Glasgow Queen Avenue station, however they may pay a lot of the value.

The hydrogen take off

Train at Central station

Prepare at Central station

Alex Hynes, managing director of ScotRail, was in Inverness just lately, and took time with journalists to clarify some large challenges forward.

They embody the substitute of diesel on strains working north of Perth and Dundee. Choices are presently being thought-about for easy methods to put an overhead cable on tracks between Inverness and Perth. It may be potential as far north as Tain in Easter Ross.

However on the Kyle of Lochalsh line, between Inverness and Aberdeen, and from Tain north to Caithness, completely different choices must be thought-about.

Hydrogen is one. Germany is already working hydrogen-powered trains. They’ve been trialled in Britain. We have now moved sharply this 12 months, thanks largely to Vladimir Putin, from hydrogen being a distant want on the horizon to an business that is about to take off.

It isn’t clear and inexperienced, nevertheless, if it is ‘blue hydrogen’ and being sourced from fuel. ‘Inexperienced hydrogen’ requires renewable energy to derive it from water, and that’s expensive.

Wider gauge trains on the continent, together with larger bridge and tunnel areas, enable for designers to place hydrogen within the roof area above passengers heads. British trains could have tow hydrogen tanks in an additional carriage.

The Highland strains specifically have some exceptionally tight bridges and tunnels. Changing Victorian bridges to create area for electrical cables is awfully costly and disruptive – as anybody in Glasgow can see from the year-long substitute of only one bridge the place Pollokshields meets Strathbungo.

Price of electrification

Scotrail train

Scotrail practice

The problem for planning forward is that the expertise and the relative costs preserve altering. Electrification is at present’s expertise, and works greatest in city areas.

Hydrogen may be very costly now, however the value of sourcing it and working trains on it might fall sharply. Battery energy has already seen that occur, as the gap vary of trains – as with battery vehicles – has risen sharply. However they aren’t but capable of plan on batteries getting trains as far north as Wick and Thurso.

Alex Hynes claims that Scottish railways are doing higher than England at decreasing the price of electrification, at £2m per observe kilometer in contrast with England’s £3m.

That is an enormous enchancment on the late and over-budget electrification of the primary Glasgow-Edinburgh line by way of Linlithgow.

The ScotRail boss has just lately been discovering out how Denmark’s railways have gotten that price right down to £1.5m.

Amongst his subsequent duties is to begin ordering new fleets: Subsequent 12 months battery-electric, the 12 months after for rural strains, and the 12 months after that, substitute of the intercity fleet. They’re changing not simply the trains, however at possession rather than leasing trains.

The fact hole

It is a colossal job to attain these internet zero targets, and that is simply rail. The simple possibility is for the First Minister to attend the COP27 local weather change gathering in Egypt, to observe up on the profile she gained final November in Glasgow.

However a current report from the Reform Scotland suppose tank factors out that large, troublesome choices usually are not being made, which danger unpopularity, nevertheless it argues they may change into important – no extra new buildings heated with fuel, no new fuel cooking hobs, and pay -as-you-drive highway pricing.

The report recognized 45 Scottish authorities targets for reaching that internet zero imaginative and prescient, whereas noting the shortage of monitoring or accountability for failing to hit them.

It sees a niche between rhetoric and actuality in what shall be required for modifications to particular person life and freedoms.

The suppose tank’s Alison Payne observes: “With out clear and accountable monitoring of those objectives, there’s a hazard they change into nugatory.

“There’s a lengthy approach to go, however we will attain the tip of the journey by taking bolder steps now.”

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