Call for more Lochaber input after rail changes announced

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The transition of ScotRail services into public ownership from April could provide the opportunity for better utilisation of the rail network around Fort William in order to alleviate congestion on the local roads network.

That is certainly the hope of the West Highland Community Rail Partnership (WHCRP), which was commenting after last week’s statement from Scottish Transport Minister, Jenny Gilruth, confirming the rail changes.

Ms Gilruth invited elected members and rail unions to take part in a ‘national conversation’ on the future of rail services, to help shape what she called the creation of an affordable, sustainable, customer-focused rail passenger service in Scotland, in a post-pandemic world.

Scottish Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth made the announcement about the change to the country's rail services last week. NO F07 Transport Minister
Scottish Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth made the announcement about the change to the country’s rail services last week.

She also outlined the need for the changes to take account of women’s safety on public transport and there will be consultation with women and women’s organisations on how public transport can be improved to make it safer and more enjoyable for them to use.

Ms Gilruth also referred to the need for railways to play their part in the challenge of reducing car kilometres by 20 per cent by 2030 to help meet climate change targets.

WHCRP secretary Hege Hernaes, from Glenfinnan, told the Lochaber Times it had been known for some time that Abellio’s ScotRail franchise was coming to an end on March 31, and she said the partnership very much welcome the change to public ownership.

‘We are under no illusion that this takeover in itself will be a magic formula for improving services, but we do hope that it will bring a clearer focus on passengers, lineside communities and the environment,’ she added.

Hege Hernaes, pictured at the autumn exhibition in Glenfinnan, has welcomed the changes as an opportunity for the Lochaber area to improve things. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F42 Glenfinnan rail exhibition 01
Hege Hernaes, pictured at the autumn exhibition in Glenfinnan on the construction of the West Highland Line, has welcomed the changes as an opportunity for the Lochaber area to improve things. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos

‘For Lochaber, we consider it essential that the West Highland Line Review Group is now allowed to reconvene. The group was set up by Transport Scotland in 2018 in response to pressures from local rail user groups who felt rail services fell far below expected standards.

‘As it was nearing completion, the review was abruptly paused as a result of the pandemic and still remains paused while the rail industry focuses on preparing for the government’s takeover of the network.

‘The review group saw the rail industry working with local stakeholders to collect evidence and bring forth ideas for a better railway service. This work must now be allowed to conclude so that the government can act on the group’s recommendations in relation to safe access to stations, improved passenger information and better timetabling.

‘For WHCRP it is important to see better utilisation of the rail network around Fort William in order to alleviate congestion on the local road network and making the most out of existing infrastructure.

‘Particularly if combined with more energy efficient rolling stock, this will go some way towards meeting carbon emission targets and also fulfilling latent demand for local rail journeys.

‘It is our hope that these aspirations will have strong advocates among our local councillors and that the advertised National Conversation will listen to the voices from rural Scotland.’

John Hutchison, chairman of Kilmallie Community Council, said three items arose from the planned changes.

‘Given that the sleeper will continue to be run by parties other than ScotRail can we have confidence that it will be actively marketed,’ he said.

‘From time to time the suggestion of a short-hop rail bus arises, to run from Corpach to Fort William, around commuting times.  Will more local ownership mean there is scope to have this idea properly investigated once and for all?

‘It would be good to think that the new ScotRail will give the WHCR Partnership a stronger role in service design.’

However, Councillor Allan Henderson (Caol and Mallaig) was less than enthusiastic about the takeover of rail services.

‘Unfortunately for me this is not a marriage made in heaven. Network Rail is still involved as infrastructure partners so there is little chance of dramatic improvements other than safety requirements such as tunnels, rock cuttings and the scheduled Glenfinnan viaduct work,’ he told us.

‘The Scottish Government are reluctant partners and haven’t had much success with nationalised companies, or at least ones being run under their umbrella.

‘I fear that services will be very limited in the winter as they move towards a demand- led service, although this would give them an opportunity to trial short-hop trips from Glenfinnan to Fort William, or similarly, Spean Bridge.

Lochaber councillor Allan Henderson says doing nothing about the Corran Ferry is not an option. NO-F48-Allan-Henderson
Lochaber councillor Allan Henderson.

‘This would need to be closely monitored with bus usage as we need to be careful that marginal services are not jeopardised.’

Mr Henderson added that local representatives will need to make strong representation to make sure scarce rolling stock does not disappear south in the winter months.

And he concluded: ‘More attention needs to be paid to the Mallaig line timetable tying in with ferry connections and not being dictated by what happens in Helensburgh. This change gives that opportunity to review all services.’

 

CAPTION:

Fort William railway station, pictured.

NO F47 Fort rail station

 

Extra pics:

Scottish Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth made the announcement about the change to the country’s rail services last week. NO F07 Transport Minister

Hege Hernaes, pictured at the autumn exhibition in Glenfinnan on the construction of the West Highland Line, has welcomed the changes as an opportunity for the Lochaber area to improve things. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, alba.photos NO F42 Glenfinnan rail exhibition 01

Lochaber councillor Allan Henderson. NO-F48-Allan-Henderson