Rolling Stock Improvements
- welcomes the new Invernet services and news of a new morning train from Caithness with a ferry connection.
- is concerned that these advances may be diluted by new free bus competition for older and disabled passengers, and the deteriorating state of the trains.
- wishes to see the free bus concession extended to trains on the FNL.
- wishes to see trains which are "fit for purpose" provided for the line.
FoFNL recognizes that
- rail cannot compete with road for end-to-end timings until major infrastructure work is carried out to shorten the route and to increase line speed.
- that the FNL was competing well on price for local users through the excellent Highland Railcard.
- that the Minister for Transport has diluted this through the introduction of free travel on directly competing buses for elderly and disabled passengers.
FoFNL therefore believes that
- rail must become hugely competitive on comfort and the overall journey experience.
- the current rolling stock fails to do this because it is cramped, has insufficient space for luggage and cycles, and has been allowed to deteriorate internally to such a state that a total refit is long overdue.
FoFNL understands that
- the prospect of any better class of rolling stock being cascaded to the FNL is unlikely.
FoFNL therefore believes that
- all parties should now start to think about the design of a completely new train fit for the purpose of providing passenger services on long rural lines with substantial tourist use, including the FNL.
- even if this process were accepted and expedited, it would be several years before such a train could be designed, built and accepted into service.
In the meantime FoFNL urges the following requirements for the refurbishment of the currently used Class 158s or the return (refurbished) of the more popular Class 156s.
- the main selling point of rail vis-a-vis road on the FNL is comfort and the avoidance of stressful travel on dark or icy roads.
- seats must be comfortable, with the appropriate pitch and with ample leg room. 158s currently have too vertical a pitch and seats slope downwards tending to tip a passenger onto the floor. Leg room is woefully inadequate.
- passengers would prefer a higher proportion of seats at tables and fewer airline seats, but both styles have their advocates; thus airline seats should not be eliminated entirely.
- seats should be aligned with windows and seatbacks should not be so high as to block the view down the coach.
- 1st Class is not required on the FNL.
- luggage space needs to be considerably increased. Many local users are travelling long distances and tourists are often accompanied by suitcases and awkwardly-shaped backpacks. At-table seating allows substantial extra luggage space (especially for suitcases) between seat-backs.
- space for 6 cycles should be provided, ideally in one place for ease of boarding and alighting. (Currently 156s have 6 spaces but 158s only 2.) This is particularly important given the John o' Groats to Land's End market and the increased popularity of organised cycling holidays using rail for part of the day's journey. Limiting cycle spaces to 2 prevents families from using the train, and this is compounded by the low frequency of services on the FNL north of Tain.
Taken together, these requirements mean taking a considerable number of seats out of the 158s.
- two toilets are the minimum requirement per 2-car unit. Class 156s are deficient in this respect. The type of toilets recently fitted to Class 159s should be fitted to 156s or 158s.
- retention toilets should be the norm, preventing the unsightly and unhygienic mess on the tracks.
- one of the toilets should be DDA-compliant, and the disabled seating should be immediately adjacent to it, and to the disabled access door.
- corridors and connections between units working in multiple should be sufficiently wide for catering trolleys.
- rotten floors should be replaced and new linoleum and carpeting fitted.
- luggage racks and all interior fitments should be made and fitted so that they do not become loose and rattle.
- air conditioning should work reliably in hot and cold weather.
- passenger information displays (visual and audio) are useful, especially for unfamiliar passengers, but are not seen as an essential requirement.
- the fitting of CCTV cameras is welcomed.
The Government and First Group have recently introduced new class 185 trains with an improved standard of seating, leg room and space for luggage and bicycles for the longer distance TransPennine routes. FoFNL believes that the eventual new train and the refurbishment stopgap should both provide at least class 185 levels of comfort.
Reduced to a simple equation . . .
. . . COMFORT, COMFORT, COMFORT
Compilation of this paper has been hindered by the difficulty in discovering just what class(es) of trains is/are likely to be available. The Committee would be interested to hear the views of as many members as possible on this subject, which is so vital to the success of the line. Please email email@example.com or contact the Editor by 31 July with your comments.