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Oban expects a boom in cyclists following the introduction of a new ‘active travel carriage’ to services on the West Highland Line.
ScotRail’s Highland Explorer train has a dedicated space on its new Class 153 carriages to store 20 individual bikes, along with bulky hiking gear.
Running twice a day between the town and Glasgow Queen Street, hopes are high it will encourage people to leave their cars at home.
A special welcoming ceremony was held at Oban Railway Station last week attended by local dignitaries, members of North Argyll Cycle Club, and local piper Jamie MacGregor, who greeted the new train with a spirited skirl.
Andrew Spence, chief executive of BID4Oban Ltd, was joined at the event by town ambassadors Kay McDonald and Joe Reich.
Mr Spence said various partners had been involved for two years and to see the train arrive was a testament to the hard work that had gone in.
He said: ‘This is the first carriage of its type in the UK and given the huge increase in cycling in recent years we are confident it will be well used.
‘We have invested in mapping various routes in and around Oban that are aimed at all abilities. This enables our visitors to travel to Oban or other stations along the way and take advantage of some fantastic cycling experiences.’
Also welcoming the train were councillors Elaine Robertson, chairperson of the Oban, Lorne and the Isles Area Committee, along with Kieron Green, Jim Lynch and Andrew Vennard.
They were joined by Carron Tobin and Karen MacCorquodale, representing the Argyll and the Isles Tourism Cooperative (AITC).
Councillor Robertson said: ‘The new service will not only make it easier for adventurers to store their equipment, it also supports climate friendly Argyll and Bute actions promoting sustainable travel. This new service is an important step forward.’
Iain Jurgensen, chairman of Argyll and the Isles Tourism Cooperative, said: ‘This is responsible tourism in action and hats off to ScotRail for making this investment.
‘This is a game changer for active travel in tourism across mainland Argyll and out to the islands – and as it is a pilot it now needs all the support it can get.’
Sustrans, working with ScotRail and AITC, produced Rail & Trail, a new initiative
promoting leisure cycling and the Caledonia Way.
Members of the North Argyll Cycling Club helped map out cycle routes around Oban and the Caledonian Way which are included on the Rail & Trail map.
With funding from NatureScot, AITC also commissioned Markus Stitz, founder of Bikepacking Scotland, to devise a series of gravel loops and routes that can be enjoyed from the stations travelling up to Oban.
Markus boarded the first carriage with his bike and commented: ‘The area has such a vast potential for cycling and offers stunning scenery and history alongside.’
Grace Martin, Scotland director at Sustrans, said: ‘We’re looking forward to continuing our work with ScotRail and local stakeholders to encourage more residents and visitors to travel to and from the area sustainably.’
People can book onto the Highland Explorer online, by phone or at ticket offices.
For more information visit www.scotrail.co.uk/scotrail-highland-explorer
Watch The Oban Times’ video from launch day: youtu.be/yamfwj_Et5E