Unfair Fares for Highlanders
At New Year, First ScotRail was to be congratulated on introducing lower priced Advance Fares to/from Dalwhinnie, Newtonmore, Kingussie and Carrbridge to match those available for Aviemore. These stations now have the full range of cheap tickets and the Club 55 ticket usable on almost any train but not on East Coast's Highland Chieftain. East Coast's withdrawal from collaboration over the Club 55 scheme is a major blow to the Highlands, because it has two of the most conveniently timed departures from both Inverness (07.55) and Edinburgh (16.33). It is even more of a blow for travellers from north of Inverness who have to find a connection from or to the Far North Line. The restrictions in force make it very difficult, if not impossible, to journey from the FNL to Edinburgh or Glasgow and back in a day on one of the cheaper tickets. The railway industry is handing this traffic over to the buses without a fight. What is it that the pundits say about competition actually improving the service for passengers? Not here it isn't!
Consider a proposed day visit from, say, Dingwall to Edinburgh:
- You cannot travel on the 06.50 from Inverness (due 10.04) because there isn't a connection that early from the north at Inverness (there is in our enhancement proposals)
- You cannot travel on the 07.13 from Dingwall because the Club 55 is no longer valid on East Coast's 07.55 from Inverness. You could buy a separate East Coast cheap ticket and arrive at 11.17, but it would only be valid on their train. The connection at Inverness is only 9 minutes and the EC train will not wait if ScotRail is late
- You may travel on the 07.42 and change at Inverness (depart 08.45) and Perth (11.00) to reach Edinburgh at 12.22
- You can travel on the 08.19 and change at Inverness onto the 09.41 and reach Edinburgh at 13.23. You will have a 49 minute wait at Inverness, having missed the previous train by 7 minutes
Coming back from Edinburgh:
- You could catch the 13.35, change at Inverness from 16.54 to 17.13 and get home to Dingwall at 17.47
- You might catch the 14.35, change at Perth and arrive in Inverness at 18.21. The "connection" north is not until 21.08 reaching Dingwall at 21.40
- You cannot travel on the 16.33 unless you have a full fare or an East Coast only Advance fare ticket. After arrival at Inverness at 20.06 you might need another ScotRail ticket to get you to Dingwall. If the East Coast train is seriously late (as sometimes happens) you would not be allowed to travel on the next ScotRail service if you had an East Coast only ticket
- You cannot travel on the 17.41 and arrive at Inverness at 21.01 for the 21.08 connection to Dingwall unless you have a full fare ticket. Peak hour restrictions ban use of the Club 55 ticket on any train leaving Edinburgh or Glasgow between 16.43 and 18.10 Mondays to Fridays. No matter that this is the last train with a connection north of Inverness (except on Fridays and Saturdays). There may be a very limited quota of Advance singles for this train if you book early
- If you travel on the last train of the day at 19.44 which is due in Inverness at 23.10, it is only on Fridays and Saturdays that there is a connection to Dingwall at 23.30, arriving at 00.01
Is it any wonder that passengers faced with all these restrictions give up and go by bus or car or do not travel at all? For a hassle-free day return, the passenger only has one option: to go on the 07.42 and enjoy a mere 70 minutes in Edinburgh, returning on the 13.35! Otherwise you have to pay a lot more for a full fare ticket.
Two things need to happen:
- ScotRail should permit all passengers travelling north of Perth to use the 17.41 services from Edinburgh and Glasgow
- East Coast should be grateful that they have these two prime paths on the Highland Main Line and resume co-operation with ScotRail to permit use of the Club 55 standard class ticket on these two services
Editor's note: The problem with the Highland Chieftain is that it is run by an English franchisee. The Department for Transport has made it quite clear that it would prefer the franchises for which it is responsible not to run beyond Edinburgh, hence its, so far unsuccessful, attempts to curtail East Coast at Edinburgh. Unfortunately, because it is an English franchise, the Scottish Government has no control over it. A classic "Catch 22" situation.