Chamber makes case for London link

A NORTH-EAST business organisation has slammed suggestions that direct cross border rail services between Aberdeen and London be discontinued as “completely unacceptable”, describing the prospect as “a major step backwards in the provision of a national rail service”.

Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce made the comment in its response to Transport Scotland’s Rail 2014 Consultation into the future of rail services in Scotland.

Currently, Aberdeen is served by East Coast and Cross Country services. One option put forward for debate in the Transport Scotland document is that all cross-border services could terminate in Edinburgh, with northbound passengers changing on to trains operated by the Scottish franchise.

However, the suggestion has met with a furious response from the Chamber, which claims that the proposal would severely restrict travel choices north of Edinburgh and have serious implications for the region’s economic and tourism potential.

The suggestion that cross-border services terminate at Edinburgh is one which has caused some surprise, not least because the new generation of Hitachi Inter-City trains which are set replace the current Intercity 125 units have been designed specifically to operate on both diesel and electrical power to enable them to run on non-electric lines such as those north of Edinburgh.

The Chamber has however welcomed improvements to the £100m joint investment in sleeper services by the Scottish and Westminster Governments. Maintaining an overnight sleeper service between Aberdeen and London, the Chamber said, must remain a priority because it “provides an essential alternative to air travel”.

It also called for passenger convenience and comfort to be incorporated as an integral element of the new post-2014 franchise agreement, citing problems experienced by members such as such as a poor catering, including a lack of onboard catering on early morning trains; overcrowding; a lack of luggage facilities and no WiFi facilities.

Chamber Chief Executive Bob Collier said “We strongly believe that the overriding ambition of Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government should be to deliver the best possible rail service for the whole of Scotland.

“This region is reliant on good connectivity with the rest of the country to ensure that our economy, which is a major contributor to the wider Scottish and UK economies, can continue to grow. A modern, efficient rail service is an integral part of that and we strongly oppose any suggestions – such as discontinuing the cross border or sleeper services – which would further reduce what is already an unacceptably poor rail service to the North and North-east of Scotland.”