Call to save direct trains to Glasgow

One of the new hybrid trains proposed for the Stranraer line
One of the new hybrid trains proposed for the Stranraer line

A crisis meeting is being sought in an 11th-hour effort to stop the effective ending of direct rail links with Glasgow after 138 years.

Elected members from Wigtownshire and SAYLSA, the line’s community rail partnership, are to ask for a meeting with the Scottish Government’s Transport Minister after plans by the Dutch firm to end direct links with Glasgow.

Since Abellio took over the Scotrail franchise last autumn, the three direct trains from Stranraer to Glasgow have come under threat,

Elected members also have “discriminatory” concerns about Glasgow-bound disabled passengers having to go via North Ayrshire to change trains for the city if the direct service is axed.

By December 2017 Abellio wants to cut the three direct trains to the city, retaining only one late evening train going north and one going south. Instead, it plans to introduce a two-hourly service to Kirmarnock and increase connectivity to Dumfries and Carlisle.

Travellers for Glasgow with mobility difficulties would have to take the train to Troon or Prestwick Town and then change.

At a Wigtownshire Area Committee meeting of Dumfries and Galloway Council on Wednesday Councillor Roberta Tuckfield asked why the disabled should have to use another line.

Stranraer councillor Iain Dick said that increasing the service to Kilmarnock was “ridiculous”, pointing out that, since reduced fares were introduced, the increase in passenger numbers on the Stranraer-Glasgow service was the biggest in any rural area in Scotland. Councillor Geddes, Mid Galloway, insisted that the transport minister visits Stranraer by rail to meet them.

Galloway Conservative MSP Alex Fergusson said: “I commend the area committee for pursuing this question, as Abellio’s originally optimistic- looking statements hid a very real threat to the quality and frequency of the Stranraer service.

“The ongoing lack of integration between ferries and trains is a constant frustration and, until it is properly addressed, there will always be a threat to the line.”

South of Scotland SNP MSP Aileen McLeod said: “I welcomed the introduction of two-hourly services and the tourist trains initiative when the new franchise was announced and I feel both will be good for the line and for Stranraer. However, I also recognise the concerns regarding the loss of two of the three direct services.”

Dr Mhairi McKenna, chair of SAYLSA, said: “We have been lobbying for the retention of some through services at sensible times for some time now and we would like to thank Dumfries and Galloway councillors for listening to our requests.

“Both locals and visitors need a good level of direct trains and we are hopeful common sense will prevail.”

In the longer term the Partnership is seeking the commitment of the Scottish Government towards bi-mode (dual electric/diesel power) hybrid trains.

SAYLSA development manager Richard Carr said: “France has had these trains for 10 years and for Stranraer they would be our preferred choice.”

Dumfries & Galloway MP Russell Brown said: “I commend Wigtown area Committee for putting pressure on the Scottish Government’s Transport Minister Derek MacKay MSP to retain the current number of direct trains from Stranraer to Glasgow. As it stands, the introduction of a two hourly service from Stranraer to Ayr is an improvement, but that comes at the loss of direct service from Stranraer to Glasgow.

“I am currently in discussions with Abellio to arrange a meeting whereby we can go into detail about what they plan for Dumfries & Galloway and in particular services to and from Stranraer. Once I learn more I will be sure to share any new information with Wigtown area Committee.”