* Prices may differ from that shown
I have used this service on a number of occasions and it has always been special. To anyone who even remotely appreciates the romance of travel, this is a journey you should make at least once.
My most memorable journeys on the service involved 'incidents' which in no way detracted from, but rather, enhanced the occasion. The first was in 1997, when I took my son on a sailing holiday in the Great Glen (Loch Ness, Loch Lochy, the Caledonian Canal). We travelled from Devon with the intention of joining the Fort William service at Crewe, which involved a change at Birmingham New Street. On arrival at the latter, we found the connecting train had been cancelled owing to football hooliganism further down the line, and were just wondering what to do when we were summoned to the information desk. As my son and I were the only ones travelling on to Fort William, we were put in a taxi and taken some thirty miles to join the train at Stafford, where the Station Manager was standing waiting for us on the steps. The train was specially stopped just for us, hence it was a two minute pause, we climbed aboard, and the train continued. What great service! We then enjoyed the ambiance of the almost unique lounge car for the rest of the evening in which we much enjoyed hot and cold snacks and an ample supply of beverages - it is one of very few carriages on the rail network with movable seats - which it still has today. You meet a different kind of fellow-passenger in the lounge car - usually one that loves the railway, Scotland, and the whole experience, so it is an occasion for good socialising.
I cannot say that one necessarily has a great sleep on the sleeper - it lurches and rattles rather, and on that occasion the loading of mail at Preston was particularly disturbing - but the novelty of the experience more than makes up for it, and one is conscious of the whole unseen night world of the railway, which is something special in itself. There are mysterious bumps and shunts in the early hours as the train is split and rearranged, and, as if by magic, one wakes in the morning to find the train has shrunk but is crossing some of Britain's most spectacular and remote scenery - the grandeur of Rannoch Moor. Breakfast of any kind is a must, and should be eaten while passing through this wonderful scenery, the diesel locomotive chugging cheerfully up the gradients and over amazing viaducts as the train is dwarfed by the grand vistas of mountains.
Inevitably, we arrived at Fort William to the patter of rain, but, amazingly, it was the only rain we had for what proved a most memorable holiday. Those who travel in the summer to Fort William can often add to the whole of this great travel experience by continuing, on the West Highland Line, to Mallaig, aboard the steam-hauled 'Jacobite', passing even more spectacular scenery including crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct, and thence across the sea to Armadale on the Isle of Skye, where cosy log chalets can be rented from Lord MacDonald's fine estate.
Which leads me to my second anecdote - on another occasion my wife drove up to Skye several days ahead of our son and I, and we again travelled up by train, spent a little time in Glasgow and Fort William, and somehow managed to miss the last ferry to Skye from Mallaig. Comment was "Och, ye'll never get to Skye tonight", but down at the harbour a large motor launch was manoeuvring and I commandeered it (for a price) and leaving dumb-struck locals gaping ashore, we sped off to Armadale - my wife called it my 'Bond' moment when she arrived in time to see the boat creaming towards the pier.
Do not expect great comfort on the night sleeper - the rolling stock is getting rather old, the cabins are rather small, and the sound of the motion can disturb one's sleep - but do expect a great experience, and make the best of socialising in the lounge car and make sure you roll up the blind in the morning in time to see the train arrive at Crianlarich junction before crossing wonderful Rannoch Moor.
Living in Scotland all my life, Scotrail is the only experience I've ever had of the railways. And I'm glad to say that the experience has, almost invariably, been positive.
I am a regular commuter on the North Clyde Line between Coatbridge and Glasgow. The trains are extremely reliable, even in the peaks. I've never been late because of Scotrail. The service provided onboard is generally good, and the trains (especially the newer ones) are comfortable for the short journey. The ride into Glasgow is quick, and much easier than sitting on a congested motorway. It's also much cheaper than trying to park your car in the West End! Crowding is an issue on some of the trains in the height of the peak, but on the whole it's not bad.
I also use them for longer distance runs as well, to Aberdeen and Inverness. The service on these trains is exemplary. The frequent trains to the North are invariably clean and pleasant, with very helpful onboard staff. The Turbostars are comfortable, and have nice large windows so you can enjoy some of Scotland's finest views.
The catering is generally good for a cup of tea or coffee (the prices for which are better than those in the stations), although they are still pretty expensive. If you do choose to get a sandwich or biscuit, expect to pay a lot more than you would anywhere else.
Scotrail have a way to go yet. There's still cases where staff don't deal with delays well, and a few station staff at my local station (Blairhill) can be very rude. But it's not fair to let a few members of staff spoil affect the overall review, because the majority of them are friendly and very helpful.
And some of the older trains could do with a refurbishment or renewal, although this is mostly what the company have inherited from the previous operators.
Travelling by train with Scotrail is a pleasure, and I would recommend Scotrail to anyone.
I have used First Scotrail (Scotrail before First bought over) for the last 8 years so I should be able to give a decent review of their services! The train service I use is mainly for commuting, originally to school and now to university. My average journey time is around 20-25mins. The service has generally been very good with only the odd train having serious delays, this was improved vastly when First took over.
Scotrail provides a very good train network that links up the majority of densely populated areas in Scotland. However, if travelling to some of the more remote areas then the train probably isn't a good economical decision. Some of their fares for remote areas up North are horrendous.
And that leads into the worst part, the ticket costs. Scotrail are just so blooming expensive. £5 it costs me to travel 50mins into uni and back! Their prices have been increasing steadily for as long as I can remember and it is becoming less and less inviting to take the train. In fact, the only reason I choose to get the train is to beat rush hour traffic on certain days of the week. If I don't need to be in early I just jump in the car.
Scotrail's service between the major cities is very good though and much more economical price wise than the silly fees for the small commuter journeys. I regularly get the train from Glasgow to Edinburgh to watch the rugby and get the luxury of sitting in first class, just don't tell anyone you haven't actually paid for the first class ticket!
All in all, they do provide a pretty good service but would be a lot nicer if their prices weren't so high!
First Scotrail is the rail company who currently have the franchise for all domestic passenger services for all of Scotland. The people who are the actual owners of the franchise are the First Group who also operate a large amount of the bus services within Scotland.
I live in a town situated about 30 minutes by train from Glasgow and so I fairly regularly use the local train services for getting about with a large amount of train stations offering a good variety of destinations on a fairly regular service.
The trains are all fairly well maintained and clean with plenty of comfortable seating on offer but on regular occassions you will find that you will not have a seat available especially during rush hour as the but this is due to the line being exceptionally popular both with commuters for work and shopping.
The trains are normally fairly punctual on the line which I travel regularly and I have also used the services to travel from Glasgow to Edinburgh and Glasgow to Stirling and have found good punctuality on these services too.
The staff on the trains are normally friendly, helpful and cheery which is something which I like as I hate being served anywhere by people who don't seem interested in being there.
Prices on many of the First Scotrail services are expensive but this is the same as anywhere in the UK and when put in a comparison to other areas the prices are actually considered reasonable.
- Good punctuality
- Clean and well maintained trains
- Regular services
- Quick services
- Helpful and cheerful staff
- Easy and varied ticket options
- Fairly good value for money
- Buses are still cheaper option for nearly all if not all travel in Scotland
First Scotrail offers a good service at competitive prices when compared to UK train averages. The trains are clean and comfortable and offer good travel times and a punctual and regular service.
When Scot Rail was taken over by First travel, I, aswell as many others were hoping this would mean an end to service disruptions, cramped train carriages and overall a better service.
I have been using First Scot Rail trains for well over 5 years now and I have travelled to different parts of Scotland using them. I have been somewhat satisfied with the service provided.
One favourite line of the company seems to be using 'signal problems' as their excuse everytime there is a late train. The same message is read out, week after week, the same empty apology, nothing seems to be done about it.
Whenever essential maintainence is carried out (usually on Sundays) or there is a fault, a bus service is provided. While I dont mind my journey taking a little while longer and the hassle of finding the correct bus, I do mind that full fayre's still apply even though a new form of transport is being taken. There should be a discount offered to customers travelling during this time.
I have comes across staff who make sure each journey is as plesant as possible and this review is in no way a direct attack on them but on the company.
How long will people suffer before these problems are addressed?
To be honest I'm not convinced about Scotrail and the wider UK train network overall. The recent news that UK trains are the most expensive yet most overcrowded in Europe did NOT come as a surprise. Travelling on them can only by matched by those times that you find your head caught in a mincer! I have to get the train to Glasgow every morning but perhaps Scotrail think it would be better if I walked? Perhaps they make their trains slightly too small to fit all the passengers because they actually care about us; they love their customers and want them to be superhuman walking machines that can stride out the breadth of the country!
The underlying problem is that in this supposedly free market economy there's no competition for Scotrail to do anything about it so Alex Salmond will just hand over the contract to this inept bunch of jumped-up rag and bone men.
Does the CEO of Scotrail go to work on the train? I doubt it. Any why? Because it's simply a horrible experience. And yet, yes, yet they still see fit to increase their prices year-on-year at a rate far removed from that of inflation. The reason is always to improve 'the service' although I'm pretty sure that 'the service' has remained at the same sub-zero level for the last few years. Obviously just under £200 a month isn't enough for a seat these days. Perhaps seats might be included in the next 'upgrade' of 'the service'.
Although ScotRail operate hundreds of urban, suburban and rural passenger services throughout Scotland and a narrow slice of northern England every day, this review concentrates on what could be described as their flagship services: the Caledonian Sleepers. Since I moved to Glasgow, I've learnt to love the awesome convenience of sleeping my way to London and back: single day business trips in the capital aren't only possible, they're also enjoyable because there's no early morning or late evening airport stress.
Britain has just six overnight sleeper routes, five of which are operated by Scotrail and the sixth being run by sister firm First Great Westen - the Night Riviera between London Paddington and the south-west of England.
Six nights a week (Sunday to Friday) Scotrail operate The Lowland Sleepers (London Euston <-> Edinburgh and London Euston <-> Glasgow) and The Highland Sleepers (London Euston <-> Aberdeen, London Euston <-> Inverness and London Euston <-> Fort William). The last of these has become so legendary amongst rail travellers in the UK that is has earned its own nickname - "The Deerstalker" and has been described as a trip every train lover should take at least once. The magnificent highland scenery between Glasgow and Fort William is breathtaking and leisurely departure/arrival times mean that (especially in the summer) passengers get an amazing view to wake up to. It's also an incredible way to begin a holiday in the mountains or islands.
The Lowland Sleepers are basically one train that divides/joins en route at Carstairs; the Highland Sleepers likewise but which divide and join at Edinbugh. The Lowland Sleeper departs its termini between 23h00 or 23h30 and arrives around 07h00. The Highland Sleeper leaves its various departure points a little earlier in the evening to cover the greater distances. The sleeper travels more slowly than daytime trains so as to ensure you get a full night's sleep. Early arrivals at the termini are scheduled to let you stay in your berth a bit longer without being disturbed.
The Caledonian Sleepers are, quite simply, the most effortless and sophisticated way to travel between London and Scotland. If you are a business person seeking to maximise time away from home, they are superbly efficient. If you are a lover of old fashioned travel, they are also decidedly romantic. You can enjoy a full day and a leisurely evening meal at home or in the city before going to bed on the train and sleeping soundly to your destination.
The sleepers offer three kinds of accommodation: reclining seats, single sleeping compartments or double sleeping compartments. Single compartments are no different from doubles, except that the upper berth has been folded away and "first class" amenities such as room service and a more substantial breakfast are offered. Pairs of compartments can be conjoined so that a family of four can travel in one space. Berths command a supplement of £36 (in a shared compartment) or £51 (solo) on top of your basic train ticket. However there are many cheaper advance tickets, including the popular inclusive "bargain berths" that can only be bought on ScotRail's website: these cost £19, £29, £39 or £49 each way for less popular mid-week trains and they sell out fast. Reclining seats cost no more than the basic train ticket, but as with the rest of the train reservations are essential. For comparison, these seats are similar to first class day time travel in the UK, with approximately 30 seats per carriage and normally just one carriage per train.
Boarding the train you'll be shown to your compartment or seat by the attendant. They're on hand throughout the night and can be summoned from inside the compartment. You have luggage space above the top bunk and below the bottom one, but large suitcases may be problematic. A small amenity kit with toothbrush, paste and water is included for everyone. The linen is good quality and the compartments are air conditioned and temperature controlled from your control panel. There is a combination of cabin, reading and night lights. A blackout blind also stops the bright lights of station stops from waking you, and the inquisitive gaze of commuters in the early morning from watching you wake up.
I've always slept like a log on the sleeper, although some friends have found the ride and noise disturbing. Light sleepers may find the noise intrusive, but the coaches are smooth riding and well sound proofed. Passengers near the end of the train may experience a jolt as portions are added to or removed from the train in the early hours. Likewise you may experience louder than average noise if your berth is above the bogies at either end of the carriage. Be sure to ask for a berth numbered between 5 and 20 (1 - 4 and 21 - 24) are over the bogies.
A few cars away you will find the lounge car - this serves drinks and light snacks with some seasonal promotions showcasing Scottish produce and meals. The lounge is always popular, so don't be surprised if you can't get a seat. It is, however, the perfect place to wind down and enjoy a nightcap before bedding down. It stays open late and is open to all sleeper passengers.
If you're not travelling on a mid-week bargain berth, the sleeper can be expensive. However, the relative cost of accommodation should be considered against the cost of a hotel; and the door to door experience of your journey is infinitely better than if you go by plane.
Travelling up to uni I use the scotrail service from Edinburgh to Dundee, and they're always there, and can provide a bus service if needed. The seats are comfy enough, although I've had to stand most of the time. They never put enough carriages on the trains at peak times and special occasions.
The ticket prices are fair, although they do seem to go up every now and then, but everything does so it's only economy. It's also much handier to have a railcard as you get 33% off your ticket price. Handy.
They're constantly working to expand their lines and make more of Scotland accessible by train, with a new extension on the Edinburgh to Bathgate line - to reach into Glasgow, and opening up the Borders line again. They're also constantly bringing in new trains and improving customer service as well as trying to allow for more people travelling at peak times, even if they don't always get it right.
The chances are you have been on one of these trains or at least seen one.
Now I know that Dooyoo call the trains Scot rail but they have since changed names and are now known as First Scot Rail.
**About First Scot Rail**
As I have said that they are previously known as Scot rail until the 17th of October 2004 when they became First Scot Rail. Since they merged back on the 17th of October First Scot Rail have promised that they will improve services, stations and much more. They have a huge budget to spend on the services that will hopefully see more people using the services. First Rail aim to be the best low cost service in Scotland within the next 5yrs.
This varies so much depending on where you get the train really depends on the condition of the train. As I live in Edinburgh I often use the service to and from Motherwell and any time I have been on that particular service the trains have been very clean and tidy. I feel that if your lucky enough to get the train at the beginning of a route then you will be delighted how clean the train is. Unless there is something special going n you are normally guaranteed a seat onboard these trains. The seats are fairly comfortable for a short distance but I would pity anyone that has to sit on them for hours. Luggage can be taken onboard all of the first Scot rail fleet however there is limited room available for storage and often people will sit there cases on seats which really annoys me.
Within the trains you will normally have a carriage that will permit smoking, I would advise all non smokers to ensure that they are well away from this carriage of the train as the smell is terrible. Often on busy trains you cant see in to the smoking carriage purely because of the amount of smoke. If your going to have a cigarette whilst on the train please remember and check that your in the smoking carriage.
You will have to be desperate to want to pay the prices that they want for there products. Most services will have a trolley dolly walk up and down the aisle selling a wide selection of biscuits, crisps, hot and cold drinks and sandwiches. Prices vary anything from 95p for a small box of crisps up to £3.50 for a poor quality sandwich. There hot drinks consist of very weak tea and coffee I would really suggest that you take a flask with you. Paying for your snacks is nice and straight forward they accept cash, credit cards and debit cards. Something to keep in mind is that the staff dont often carry that much change so try and take plenty of change with you.
All trains within there fleet have a toilet that you are able to use whilst onboard at no charge. I would seriously advise you to empty your bladder before getting on the train as most of the time the toilet is not very clean and there is usually terrible smell within there toilets. If you find your self needing to use the toilet you will need to hold on very tightly as when the train is in motion your likely to getting thrown about in the toilet. There toilets have a very difficult door system to operate you need to press buttons to open the door and close it then you need to select another button to lock the door. The sink within the toilet is very small just like the overall size of the toilet.
First Scot Rail have to be the best rail company when it comes to luggage that they allow there customers to take onboard.
*Animals are permitted to a maximum of 2 dogs, cats, small animals etc.
* You can have 3 pieces of luggage of this 3 you are allowed 2 larger cases and one piece of hand luggage.
*Prams are permitted folded or unfolded.
* Each passenger can carry one item that is no longer than 1 meter.
If you go over your allowance you will be subject to charges which is half the fare to a maximum of £5 single and £10 return. I think thats really fair so if you want to move house from Edinburgh to anywhere that is covered by Scot rail you are better jumping the train.
Most trains have the space for one or two bikes to be stored in. Now on short journeys you are permitted just to arrive at the station and hope there is a place available for you to put your bike in. Now if there is not you will not be able to travel as they are not allowed to depart any station until the bikes are in placed in the designated area. Alternatively you can call the booking line and advise them you will be taking your bike with you, doing this will guarantee you a place for your bike. Please note there no charge for you taking your bike on these trains. ***Note make sure you secure your bike as thieves operate on trains***
**Reserving a seat**
Yes you can now reserve seats onboard any First Scot rail service. To reserve a seat you must book your ticket the day before prior to 18.00hrs (6pm) Doing this will allow you to book any seat that you want and that way you are guaranteed to get the seat you want. There is no extra charge for reserving a seat.
Wheelchair user will be given help at any manned train station by staff that are specially employed to board any traveller that requires help. Often when I am in Edinburgh Waverly I will see rail staff getting yellow ramp out which will allow wheel chair bound travellers to board the train. I think its great that they have staff that will help people on board but a few things that really annoy me is that disabled customers are left sitting on the platform until the entire train has be boarded and help is not always available at every station. I believe that all customers should be given the same treatment and what I mean by that is that every station should have staff that can help disabled customers aboard.
Staff at most of the stations are very helpful and knowledgeable, most of the staff are more than happy to answer any questions that you may have or even point you in the right direction. Staff aboard the train are not as chatty as I would like them to be they tend just to make sure that all is well on the train and walk up and down. I guess they are still helpful should you need to ask them any questions. One thing I like about the staff that are onboard the train is that they know exactly what time they expect to stop at all train stations and they are very knowledgeable about there route.
Now this is the part that has changed so much over the past few years as technology allow them to offer different ways to but tickets.
*In person~ At any manned railway station you can but tickets in advance or on the day from the counter. They are happy to accept cash, debit and credit cards. Oh and they still accept cheques
*Online has to be the easiest way to buy tickets, you are able to book and buy them online as far in advance as 8 wks. Online you can pat using any debit or credit card. Once you have paid for them you can either have them delivered to your home address or you can collect them at a station of your choice.
*By telephone is a another good way to book your tickets as you can ask any questions that you have before paying for them. My moan about this way is that often you can be placed on hold for a while you wait to be transfer to an operator. Via the telephone you can pat using and debit or credit card.
*On the train you will always be given the chance to buy a ticket should you ever find yourself aboard the train without any ticket. The conductor will walk through the train shouting those famous words Tickets please Tickets Please at this stage should you not have a ticket all you need to do is ask the conductor for one and he will charge you the fee. CASH ONLY.
As you are possibly aware there are so many different routes that First Scot rail cover, There is no way I could details every possible route so I will detail the main ones and mention the others. There are a total of 40 different routes available to every single one of us, most of the trains will connect with others trains at different stations.
*Main route Edinburgh to Glasgow~ Departing every 15 minutes at peak times you can get to Glasgow within 53mins. During the journey you can expect to stop at no more than 9 different location before arriving in Glasgow queen street. During 7am and 8am Monday to Friday expect this train to be very busy as workers commute to work. Trains run from 05.55am to 23.30hrs Monday to Saturday. Last train arrives in to Glasgow at 00.28hrs. On Sundays the service runs from 05.55hrs until 23.30hrs but please ensure that you check that the train is stopping at your required station as most trains on Sunday do not stop at every station.
*Glasgow to Aberdeen~ One of the bigger routes covered by this company is this service which will take you via many lovely places including Dundee, Carnoustie, Arbroath before finally arriving in lovely Aberdeen some 3 hrs later. During the day this route can be very nice as you pass some lovely places in Scotland at high speed. This service runs 7 days a week, Monday to Saturday you can catch this service from 05.55hrs to 21.42hrs. On Sundays this service runs from 05.55hrs until 21.40hrs.
*Other routes include~
~ Edinburgh to Aberdeen which will take you 2hrs 5mins. This service will take you over the Forth bridge which alone is well worth the journey.
~ Edinburgh to Bathgate a quick service here which runs very frequently and will take approx 30mins which is great considering it can take you 40 minutes by car at peak times.
~ Glasgow to Fort William one of the most amazing routes to take is this one, even though it will take you the best part of 4hrs. I am very sure that the 4hrs will go past so quick as you see the super scenery of Scotland.
~ Glasgow to Gourock one of the local routes for people that live in Glasgow. It will take a whole 41 minutes for this journey. This route runs from 05.55hrs until 23.50hrs daily which is super.
This is just the tip of the ice berg when it comes to the number of routes that they offer, I thought I would share a few with you.
First Scot rail offer so many different prices from family rail cards to senior citizen discount.
*Travel passes, depending on how much you use the service will depend on how much you pay.
* 10 day flexi pass is another great way to get a good deal, the only problem with this is that it only covers you to travel to and from your selected station. A few prices below
Edinburgh to Glasgow flexi pass~ £73.00 standard class or £112.00 for first class
Edinburgh to North Berwick~ £37.00 for standard class
Edinburgh to Musselburgh~ £13.00 for standard class
Glasgow to Falkirk ~ £39.00 standard class or £58.00 first class
Glasgow to Stirling~ £39.00 standard class
10 day flexi pass will permit the holder to 10 day travel free of charge during the period and of course on there selected route. You can many of these 10 day passes on line.
* A standard ticket from Edinburgh to Glasgow return will cost you £8.20 (adult) and £3.70 for children
*Children under 5 travel free of charge when accompanied by a full paying adult
*Season tickets are also available from Scot Rail a season ticket from Edinburgh to Glasgow will cost you £2508 per year this will allow you to travel to and from Glasgow as many times as you little heart will allow. Season tickets are getting more popular as more and more workers are using the service to commute to and from work.
* Rail cards are a super way to save money on many journeys through out the year.
*Over 60 then all you will pay is £20.00 for the yearly rail card which will give you up to 1/3 off any rail ticket any where in the united kingdom.
*Family rail card is the best thing since sliced bread as you can travel with up to 4 adults and 4 children and the best part is that you do not have to be related. So if your family are going ion a nice day out why not invite your friend too s they can get the discount with your card. So what you get is a 1/3 off for adults and up to 60% off the price of childrens tickets. There is a annual fee of £20 which is defiantly worth it.
*young persons rail card is once again a £20.00 charge but not only do you get 1/3 off any ticket price you also get discounts in many restaurants in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
*highland railcard cost £7.50 and is only available to local residents as this will give you a massive 50% discount on any Highland, North Highland and Kyle routes
*Group discount is also available to any group that has at least 10 passengers, discount varies depending on the route taken.
A super connection between Scotland and England that will deliver you in to England or Scotland in the morning. Departing Scotland at around 23.00hrs and arriving in London at 0.700hrs you can expect to pay in the region of £49.00 (single). The £49.00 charge applies to a twin berth accommodation. On board you can expect hot and cold food to be available in the lounge. Basically they has a carriage that is a restaurant which is open till midnight daily and serves some lovely food. Prices at the restaurant are a little pricey, but the quality of the food is so much better than on the normal services.
Caledonian sleeper helpline~ 08457 55 00 33
Disable access questions ~ 0845 605 7021
Customer service~ 0845 601 5929
Lost property~ 0141 335 3276
Sales~ 08457 55 00 33
87 Union St
National rail~ http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/index.html
By far I have to say that I am delighted to say that I am able to use such a great service, Ok so they often run a little late or they wont turn up all together but surely we can forgive them once or twice. The prices of these trains are low enough for us all to afford and I am confident that in a few years we will see more people on the railways and less people in cars. Its great that people are allowed to take there bikes on board the trains at no cost at all. This will help Britain get healthier eventually. I would recommend this to any one.
Thanks for reading
© Marcellep Dooyoo Oct 2005
Scotland is a land of breathtaking beauty but for most holidaymakers one person in the party doesn't see much of it - the driver. For the fit outdoors type the solution is to get on yer bike, but for the rest of us slobby couch potatoes a rail rover is a brilliant way to get about. There are advantages and disadvantages to a rail holiday, and I'll try to list them based on our recent experience of using a "Freedom of Scotland" rover ticket. Disadvantages. Let's start with the negative (so that we finish on a high note): 1. Planning. Many of the best lines (Kyle, Mallaig) have a fairly limited service of just 3 or 4 trains a day, and can take up to 4 hours each way. To make best use of your ticket requires almost military planning. If you're brave, you can just "play it by ear", but we preferred to plan an itinary and make sure we had B&Bs booked for each place we intended to stay. 2. Luggage. Many trains get quite full, especially in Summer and a lot of your fellow passengers will be loaded with bikes and rucksacks. Luggage space is limited on most trains and it can be a struggle to find space. Of course, you also have to carry your luggage around with you. 3. Photography. The views are breathtaking, but photographers don't get much chance to take piccies. Some drivers make unscheduled photo stops, but mostly you're restricted to nipping out at stations and trying to get a shot through the window. 4. Other people. If possible, it's best to go outside peak season - we went in September and the trains were generally quite empty (we always had a table to ourselves). At the height of Summer the trains get full and standing at times. There's also the usual inconsiderate traveller (loud walkmans, mobile phones, feet on seats, etc) but this tends to be less than on your average commuter route. Advantages. 1
. Facilities. All Scotrail trains have at least one toilet and most have a trolley service serving drinks and snacks. The trolley prices are a bit pricey (but no more so than motorway services) but the quality is fine and they provide a great at-seat service. 2. Routes. Some of the rail routes are very different to the road routes and in the case of Kyle and Mallaig take much more scenic paths. There's a certain sense of awe trundling over Rannoch Moor with no other sign of human life. 3. Relaxation. Letting someone else do the driving is far more relaxing, especially on Scotland's tricky roads. 4. Value. A rail rover lets you cover an awful lot of miles for not much money. You can certainly cover enough distance to save a lot over the equivalent petrol costs. Summary. Scotland has some superb rail routes, and arguably the best value and most reliable train service in the UK. The freedom of Scotland rover, which allows rail travel anywhere in Scotland, plus some ferries and buses, costs GBP 69 for 4 days out of 8 or GBP 99 for 8 days out of 15. Cheaper but more restricted rovers are also available, check www.scotrail.co.uk for details. Although Scotland is a natural choice for a rail holiday, Rovers in general are the hidden gems of the railways. There are many rover choices (Freedom of Wales is another good choice), including an all-lines rover for the real enthusiast! A summary is available at www.mimir.com/railrover. Rovers aren't always well publicised in the privatised era, but they're worth searching out.
A couple of months ago I tried to book a ticket online through the Scotrail web site, which apparently lets you book online. I was booking two weeks in advance (ample time normally) for an apex return Aberdeen to Edinburgh. At the moment they are £19. The booking procedure itself is very straightforward, giving you details of outward and inward journey times, you simply choose which times suits you best and the dates, and then it will give you options of whether you want Apex or full fare. I chose the times, gave my credit card details and thought it would just be a case of sitting back and waiting for the tickets to arrive through the post. Several hours later I receive an email informing me that no apex tickets for those times and dates were available, the fare would therefore be £29 and to simply reply to the email to confirm this. I was sceptical of this so decided to phone the telesales section instead. I subsequently found out that the fare quoted in the email was not available when travelling on a Friday, being Easter weekend no special fares were available and I would have to pay full fare with no guarantee of a seat, but I could travel any time I wanted to! This of course would be providing I could get a seat that wasn't already taken! If I had replied to the email I no doubt would have been going round in circles trying to get my ticket booked, and ultimately would have ended up paying full fare anyway. I've since spoken to a work colleague who tried to book an apex as I did and went round the same houses, and it wasn't a bank holiday. In their favour at least I received an email the same day telling me the fare and times weren't available, but what's the point in having an online booking service that doesn't flag these issues up whilst your booking? If they're trying to offer an alternative to the telesales centre, I ended up having to phone them anyway to get accurate time and fare infor
I’ve ranted about this before (in my essay as part of my Standard Grade English course) but it needs reinforcing. ScotRail and the British Railway system are kaput. Once, Britain had a railway system to be proud of. Trains ran frequently and were (usually) on time. But in the 1960s, politicians were stupid, reducing the railway down to next to nothing. People have tried to revive the railways and have (to an extent) succeeded. There are many train companies that operate, transporting millions of commuters and tourists every day. People were happy. That’s ‘were’ – past tense. The Paddington Rail Disaster. That says enough. People were killed. Several survived, but all are still traumatised by their experience. Rail safety was stepped up. Yet, another crash occurred at Hatfield. More people died. More were traumatised. The general public were afraid. Plans were revealed for an almost mass replacement of tracks across the country. We wish they replaced more than that. The main problem lies with the layout of the network. It is laid out in a wheel fashion – in England, London is the centre, with spokes radiating outwards to other destinations. In Scotland, the centre is a triangle of Edinburgh, Stirling and Glasgow. The problem is that the travelling time is increased for the consumer. Say you were in Fort William, and you wanted to go to Inverness. You could travel by train. Your route would consist of travelling down the West Coast spoke to Glasgow, then up another spoke (along the East Coast) to Aberdeen, then on to Inverness. Total travelling time amounts to about half a day. You could take the bus, straight from Fort William to Inverness in about an hour, maybe two. That’s why the railway companies are losing out to bus companies, meaning that the railway companies have to overcharge other passengers, etc. etc. The trains are awful. New Turbostars have been bought and ar
e actively used. They are very comfortable, but they run on diesel. The tracks in Scotland are not electrified except around the Triangle. I saw a train starting up today. What a sight! Black smoke billowing out everywhere, turning the white paint of the station roof pitch black and forcing the waiting passengers into coughing fits. Disgusting. The railway system is severely restricted to super highly populated areas in Scotland. Looking at a map of somewhere in England, I was surprised to see that a village had a train station. Here, towns with about 10,000 people are not worthy enough of having a railway line. My town used to have a railway line, and a station. Now, only the embankment and an old hotel called the ‘Station Hotel’ serve as a bitter reminder of better times and the politicians’ war. Budget cuts, they said. Well, not it’s time to get your act together, politicians, and show us what’s really important – us, or you.
As I work in Stirling, I regularly use the Scotrail services in Central Scotland between Dunblane and Stirling. When I first began to use the services on Thursday's, Saturday's and Sunday's, the trains were very unreliable, often being delayed or cancelled. The trains departure times were very close together, so you would get maybe 2 trains in the first 20 minutes in the hour and maybe another 25 minutes later! Also, 1 train per hour on a Sunday was very inconvenient. Scotrail has since improved it's service with more services available per hour and on Sunday's. The new Turbostar Trains are extremely comfortable and well designed for the elderly or those with prams. The large area near the door is very good for access but the step down between carriages is not very handy for the Scotrail staff with trolleys!! Also, the doors activated from a solar or movement panel are not very good! Also, to see Scotrail upgrading and redecorating new trains is good, but they really need to upgrade some they have left. Scotrail has improved their service fantastically and to see more redecoration of older trains and more stops in smaller stations such as Bridge of Allan would be even better! KEEP IT UP, Scotrail.
Rail has to be the best way to explore Scotland. Rail can be expensive but there are travel passes that can work out quite good value. The Explore Scotland travel pass costs from £69 for 4 days travel out of 8 days. This includes all Scotrail and Strathclyde rail services, selected Citylink services and all Caledonian Macbrayne Ferries. passes can be bought for 8 days and 12 days. The Highland Rover tickets costs £39 for 4 out of 8 days. This covers Scotrail, City link and some ferries in the highlands and to and from Glasgow. The Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh has to be the most beautiful rail journey in Britain. Second would be Fort William to Mallaig. So sit back and enjoy no stress of map reading and mis-directions. Have a look at www.scotrail.co.uk for details of these and other tickets. Scotrail also do all-inclusive day trip tickets to various places of interest such as Brodick Castle. My top-tip for long rail journeys is to take your own food. The buffet cars or trolleys are limited and expensive, and everything seems to taste the same regardless of what you ask for.
Scotrail has consistently been one of the best train companies in terms of reliability since privatisation. This is due in part to the fact that it runs all the trains in Scotland, with the exception of those comming from London. Therefore it does not have to worry about problems caused by other operators breaking down etc. quite as much. Things are starting to get even better as well, with the introduction of nice shinny new trains. At the moment these Turbostar trains only run between Edinburgh and Glasgow and Edinburgh and Aberdeen. But these are some of the busiest routes, and the benefit is felt through out the network as the trains that did do these routes are now on different ones, allowing the really old ones to be scrapped. The trains cut some of the journey time, and have all kinds of mod-cons, such as power points in first class for you to plug you laptop in. This is the sort of thing that is needed if trains are to become more popular.