Election fever is in the air as I write these words, although "fever" is perhaps a slight overstatement. The general shape of the next Scottish Government is clear, and it will be pursuing the same transport policies as the present one: the faces may change a bit, but the facts won't. Less clear is the European Referendum, and this is not the place to express wonder at the degree to which Westminster-based politicians are capable of under-estimating the intelligence of the voters. For the time being it is safest to assume that nothing will change.
We are a year into the new Scottish franchises, and in ordinary circumstances it would be proper to see how well the various promises made to passengers have been delivered. However these are not ordinary circumstances for either Abellio ScotRail or Caledonian Sleeper. In both cases a very large part of the promise was new rolling stock, and by the nature of things new rolling stock takes a few years to be delivered. What does a new franchise-holder do to keep everyone happy during those few years? The simple answer, of course, is do the day job better than the last lot. Passengers notice that kind of thing. It's true that they also notice new staff uniforms and differently-painted trains, but these are soon forgotten if the delivery of service is poor. How have Abellio and CS done at the day (or night) job?
It's easier to deal with the Sleeper - fewer trains are run and a greater proportion of their passengers are likely to be familiar with the service. CS are moving towards the introduction of Class 73 locomotives - a welcome improvement but one which has not been without its challenges. Once they are bedded down and teething problems sorted out they should - no, will - be more reliable than the locomotives they replace. The new passenger accommodation is at the mock-up stage and input to design improvements is being given. Our initial reaction to the proposed designs has been generally favourable. The existing rolling stock is tired, but is well-kept and passengers are tolerant if they know Christmas is just round the corner.
Abellio has a different nut to crack: its services are far more varied and thus the number and diversity of problems is much greater. As often happens on the GB-wide railway there seems to be much more focus on the BIG schemes near the BIG cities: one has only to look at London's Crossrail (not yet completed) and the hungry panting optimism of those (some of them really quite sensible) urging Crossrail2 to see that anyone seeking better services in, say, Cornwall is likely to have an uphill struggle. Up here the scheme to electrify the main route between Edinburgh and Glasgow (EGIP) is well under way, and Queen Street is being massively improved. Scottish Ministers are keen to have some High Speed work done while the chaps with shovels are busy in the south of England. With all this going on, and new - I use the word with a degree of licence - inter-city rolling stock promised for a few years' time it's hard to see what is being done today for passengers elsewhere in Scotland. FoFNL has made detailed responses to various consultations, but reality kicks in when the grand BIG city schemes are seen to crowd out the small, not-very-exciting things costing only a few million pounds (chicken-feed compared with Crossrail or EGIP) which can't be justified by the small passenger numbers. On that logic most country roads should be closed (it saves on maintenance, old boy) because not very many cars use them. The remoter parts of Scotland need infrastructure improvements, and doing a bit of necessary (and welcome) doubling on the HML doesn't cut the mustard for folk in Caithness. We need action from Network Rail in CP6 (starting in April 2019) and we need to see plans for the action right now.