Seven years ago Pandora wrote a piece looking at ScotRail's possible rolling stock picture well into what was then the future. It was revised in 2017 and can be read on the FoFNL website (www.fofnl.org.uk/archives/Rolling-Stock-Needs-in-Scotland-2017.pdf). With the development of alternative technologies it seemed a good idea to incorporate these, and this was done - mercifully unpublished - later that year. 'Mercifully' because the speed at which these new technologies has advanced is breath-taking. It is not often that Pandora isn't optimistic enough. My thoughts have crystallised following a highly informative Conference in Glasgow in March, and it's worth risking what I hope will be a final look at where we are going.
The First Minister, ever keen to go one better than Westminster, has announced that the passenger railway will be diesel-free by 2035. That's no diesel passenger trains in Scotland. Let's overlook cross-border services which are not in the remit of Scottish Ministers, but there aren't all that many (less than 5% of all services in Scotland). None of this bi-mode nonsense from them, where either a diesel engine (and its fuel) or an electric motor is hauled around dead while the other one powers the train. See camel, see committee. So what has happened?
A huge increase in research (and its useful outcome - development) into battery- and hydrogen-powered trains. In 2018 I spoke of a battery range of 40km - now we're talking about maybe 200km. Hydrogen takes up a lot of room - maybe a whole carriage - but it can deliver journeys of several hundred km. Neither battery nor hydrogen is particularly good at delivering the big power needed to start a heavy train, so the rolling stock into which these power units will have to be fitted will be light-weight multiple units. They are useless for freight and not brilliant at longer, faster passenger trains. For these the only solution is electricity, and that means 25kV overhead.
So where does this leave us? The HSTs now gradually coming into service on the Inter7City routes won't last more than about 10 years. The lines north of Haymarket to Aberdeen, from Dunblane to Inverness, from Perth to Dundee and from Inverness to Aberdeen will have to be electrified by 2035. In fact they'll have to be electrified by about 2032 if newly-ordered electric trains (locomotives? multiple units?) are to be trialled and enter service by 2035. The last bit (Inverness to Aberdeen), although unlikely to be able to make a stand-alone business case for putting up the wires, is necessary so that the 'figure of 8' Inter7City system remains a holistic diagramming reality. It's crazy not to electrify the rest of the Fife Circle too while we're at it.
Now that nobody publishes proper timetables any more (a gripe to which Pandora might return) it's harder to look up the route mileage of all that, but it won't be greatly different from 1200km. Transport Scotland has been electrifying at the rate of about 100km/year for ages, so putting up the knitting at the required rate is no more than carrying on for another 10 years. (How different, how very different, from the home life of their own dear DfT cousins. The Conference guys showed us a graph of the volume of wiring put up by the UK over the last 40 years, much resembling a heart monitor: peaks and troughs. Germany, on the other hand, just had a boring - and laudable - flat line. Just like Scotland. But I digress.)
Once that's all done what is left? Inverness to Kyle and Wick/Thurso. Glasgow to Oban, Fort William and Mallaig. Glasgow to Stranraer and Carlisle via Dumfries (and other bits nearby). Borders Railway. All are suitable for battery or hydrogen; all will benefit from new order multiple units with great big windows and nice comfy seats and lots of tourist-friendly luggage space and - let's think really outside the box now - a buffet just like the big grown-up trains have. Every single passenger has a Mk.1 bum which will, if all goes to plan, occupy a seat. Let these bums assist in the process of finding a good seat - a seat whose comfort is comparable with the competing seat: the one in his/her car.
Transport Scotland knows all this far better than Pandora does. Transport Scotland is as excited by new motive power technology as Pandora is. Transport Scotland will not be slow to emulate the First Minister in showing the way to others. Transport Scotland has a slide and these were its bullet points. No more need be said.
I have a dream...