Brown welcomes rail u-turn

Dumfries and Galloway MP Russell Brown has welcomed a likely U-turn by the new ScotRail Franchise providers over plans to axe direct rail services between Stranraer and Glasgow.

The cuts in the number of direct services was proposed by Abellio as a result of the Scottish Government only including in the franchise the need to increase services but not ensure they were direct between Stranraer and Glasgow. As a result, companies bidding for the franchise were able to axe direct services and instead simply increase the number of trains from Stranraer to Ayr.

However, Abellio have now indicated that two direct trains could run from Stranraer to Glasgow and four in the opposite direction.

Russell Brown had met with Abellio and written to the Transport Minister over the issue and has welcomed the u-turn. However, he has expressed concern that the direct services will go via Kilmarnock, adding around 30 minutes to journey times. The MP has also questioned how how sustainable the services will be in the future and is urging the Scottish Government to build in to the franchise a clause that direct services cannot be axed in the future.

Russell said: “Whilst I welcome this partial u-turn by Abellio who have responded to local concerns it should never have got to the stage where the Scottish Government issued a franchise document that allowed a company to come forward with proposals to axe direct services in return for increasing the overall number of trains from Stranraer. It was inevitable that the failure of the Scottish Government to make direct services a requirement of the franchise would mean that companies would propose a reduction in direct services and despite the u-turn from Abellio, there is no guarantee these services will be retained in the future. The Scottish Government need to build into the franchise a clear requirement for direct services to be guaranteed so that in the future we don’t find ourselves having to campaign again on this issue in a few years’ time.”

“I am also concerned that as almost all the proposed direct services will go via Kilmarnock rather than Ayr, we will actually see longer journey times and disappointingly there will still be no direct services on Sundays, with only four on a Saturday”.

Meanwhile, a delegation from Dumfries and Galloway Council will meet with Scottish Transport Minister Derek McKay on Thursday in the Scottish Parliament to discuss the new franchise, including the Stranraer to Glasgow line and the Nith Valley line between Carlisle and Glasgow.

The delegation will include Stranraer and North Rhins Councillor Marion McCutcheon, Chair of Wigtown Area Committee and Councillor Colin Smyth, Chair of the Council’s Economy, Environment and Infrastructure Committee.

Councillor Marion McCutcheon said, “The Council wrote to the Minister for Transport setting out the concerns of both Wigtown Area and Economy, Environment and Infrastructure Committees. Both Committees expressed concern that the loss of direct services between Stranraer and Glasgow would lead to a reduction in passenger numbers, and would impact on less able passengers who would have to change platforms at Ayr. They were also concerned about increased journey times, and on the “visibility” of Stranraer from the Central belt.

“The Minister has agreed to meet with a small delegation from both Committees on Thursday to discuss our concerns. Although it looks like local pressure has already achieved results, there is still a lot of work to do to secure the long term future of the Stranraer to Glasgow line and to make it attractive for people to use rail services to and from Wigtownshire. Stranraer was the only area to have direct services reduced as a result of the new franchise and it’s not ideal that journey times are so long for those direct services to and from Glasgow. When we meet the Transport Minister we will be urging the Scottish Government to do more to encourage the use of services to and from Stranraer.

Councillor Colin Smyth said, “There is a general feeling that our region isn’t going to benefit hugely from the proposed new franchise. There are a number of positives in the franchise such as the introduction of extra services from Stranraer but we have had to fight to retain direct services to and from Glasgow and that isn’t good enough.”

“The extra services on the Nith Valley line between Dumfries and Carlisle were also positive but it was disappointing that most of the improvements on this line won’t be completed until the end of 2017 under the new franchise and we will be urging the Transport Minister look at ways to bring forward these improvements”.

“I am seriously worried that the electrification of services in the rest of Scotland but very little investment in the South West, will leave our region even more marginalised than it currently is”.