3 August 2016
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant is taking Abellio Scotrail to task for the number of train cancellations at one of the UK’s most remote railway stations.
Mrs Grant took up a complaint from constituent Bob Shorter, of Dulnain Bridge, near Grantown-on-Spey, who was with a party of ten people due to travel on the 21.21 train from Corrour to Tulloch on the West Highland Line on May 28th this year.
The railway station is one of the most remote stations in the UK, at an isolated location on Rannoch Moor. The station is not accessible by any public roads – the nearest road is estimated to be more than 11 miles away. It was made famous by Ewan McGregor’s “I hate being Scottish” rant in the film Trainspotting when Renton, Spud, Sickboy and Tommy go out for a day in the mountains.
Mr Shorter was left stranded by such a cancellation, saying there was no warning on train websites. Mrs Grant subsequently discovered that six trains due to stop at Corrour had been cancelled in full and one more in part in the three months from 10th March to 10th June this year.
Moreover, Phil Verster, Managing Director of Scotrail Alliance, in a letter to Mrs Grant, admitted that there had been 16 times when trains were cancelled or altered on the line from/to Mallaig from the start of the year due to staff shortages, train faults, exceptional weather conditions, including flooding, and the failure of the swing bridge at Banavie.
“Our hill walking group had planned to walk into Corrour by various routes, meet up at the restaurant to eat our evening meal, and then take the train out to Tulloch,” explained Mr Shorter.
“Two caught an early train in and were then told the evening train was cancelled. They shortened their walk and took an earlier train back to Tulloch.
“They alerted all others that they could and people walked elsewhere. However two of us had set off and could not be contacted. One of our members managed to contact the estate who kindly released the gate code and my wife drove in the 16 miles to meet us.
“As a result we are disappointed in the Abellio franchise let by Scottish Ministers.”
Mr Verster asked Mrs Grant to pass on his apologies to Mr Shorter for the inconvenience he and his companions were caused.
The Managing Director said on the day the train was cancelled due to train crew shortages across the network.
“Where possible we do try to provide replacement transport,” said Mr Verster in his letter to the MSP.
“Corrour is in the unique situation that it was only accessible by train but it has come to our attention that there is a road through the Corrour Estate but this has a locked gate.
“This road also leads to the station and the station restaurant. We have now reached an agreement with the Estate Manager that whenever there is any disruption on the West Highland route, he will ensure that the access gate is left open to allow us to provide replacement taxis to and from the station.”
Mrs Grant said she was pleased that at least there was now a temporary solution for other walkers who found themselves in a similar position but said the situation highlighted the problems with rural train services across the region.
“Loch Ossian and the surrounding area is a real draw for walkers from across the region and obviously for tourists at this time of year,” explained Mrs Grant.
“To return to the remote station to find no train and no alternative transport provided is just unacceptable and poses safety risks. I know that there have been other complaints from people visiting the area and from those running businesses there.
“Really it is just not good enough and I have written again to Mr Verster asking what the Alliance is doing to tackle staff shortages. Surely there must be enough people seeking jobs to fill the gaps?”
“I am also concerned that cancellations due to what is called ‘shortages across the network’ mean that the Highland region is suffering due to lack of staff elsewhere.”