Monday, 3 March 2014


LET the train take the strain...wasn’t that what those charged with extolling the benefits of rail travel told us?
Pity no one told ScotRail.
Take the strain? More like make the strain!
Those of you have had the misfortune to experience the ScotRail experience as it were of late will appreciate where I am coming from.
Being of a certain vintage I qualify for the excellent Club 55 deal – anywhere in Scotland return for £19 second class and £35 first.
Considering what a tank of diesel costs to take you from Inverness to Edinburgh, return, it was a no brainer when the Scottish Mail on Sunday newspaper asked me to report on the recent Aberdeen versus St Johnstone League Cup semi-final at Tynecastle Park.
The almost luxury of a first class compartment, free tea and coffee, biscuits and a power point that worked (for once) even if the wifi is invariably crap! What more can you ask for?
All was well on the journey south and several cups of coffee later I alighted at Haymarket in a reasonably cheery mood (well, by my standards I was almost cheery!).
Perhaps had I know what awaited me several hours later on my return I might not have been quite so chipper.
Fast forward to 6.50pm and I could sense troubles ahead.
The platform at Haymarket was awash with red and white – and dozens of drunken Dons fans celebrating their team’s overwhelming victory and a cup final place for only the second time in the new millennium. Fair enough, as a Dundee fan largely deprived of such experiences I could understand their need to push the boat out.
Not even the presence of several officers of law and order could deter the assembled masses from giving vent to their emotions – in song, foul language and yobbish behaviour at the expense of the wellbeing of women, children and puppy dogs!
Almost predictably the travel board was lit up announcing that the Aberdeen train preceding the Inverness express was running several minutes late due its delayed departure from Waverly and this was having a knock on effect to subsequent services.
But, so what, I asked myself? What are a few minutes between friends?
Trouble was when the Aberdeen train eventually drew into the platform it was wall-to-wall, standing room only.
This was not altogether surprising, given that an estimated 12,000 Dons fans had made their way to the capital. But, clearly, no one had told ScotRail!
Perhaps if they had known, the fat cats who are responsible for the smooth running of the country’s rail network might have given due consideration to proving extra services to cope with the demand. Then again, maybe not!
But, I digress. On they poured until even the officers of law and order felt a need to intervene, in a half-hearted attempt to restore a semblance of sanity, with the result that several dozen would-be travellers were advised to “come on, get aff!”
The unfortunate (?) would-be travellers were, however, assured that if they caught the Inverness-bound express due to arrive shortly – and late – they would have the option of changing at Perth and catching the Glasgow-Aberdeen service.
By now several members of the “brain dead society”, who had decided to stay onboard and take taxis from Inverness ...(and further on).
Partial sanity was restored a few miles north of Perth
But even the best laid schemes of mice and men – and ScotRail – gang aft agley.
To cut a long and potentially boring story short rather than put the reader’s health at risk, less than an hour later we were “beached” somewhere in darkest Fife to facilitate a brawl on the preceding Aberdeen train, the upshot being that we eventually arrived in Perth way behind schedule and late enough to ensure that the Glasgow-Aberdeen service had long since departed.
By now several member of the “brain dead society”, who had decided to stay onboard and take taxis from inverness to various points along the Moray coast, had availed themselves of the first class facilities, treating those of us who had paid for the privilege to a mix of foul language, drunk and disorderly behaviour while also demonstrating their dexterity in the art of ridding themselves of excess flatulence!
And, surprise, surprise, there wasn’t a ticket inspector to be seen anywhere! Had there been, he or she might actually have evoked the ruling banning the consumption of alcohol after a certain hour on a Saturday evening. Neither was there any sign of a buffet service.
Perish the thought, but was this yet another example of ScotRail employees failing to carry out their duties?
Partial sanity was restored a few north of Perth when a ticket inspector at last showed face and ejected the members of the “brain dead society” and a buffet car attendant at last materialised.
But the story doesn’t end there. Now, hopelessly behind schedule and without toilet facilities from 11 o’clock due to their disgusting state, we travelled on through the night to be told at Newtonmore, Kingussie and Carbridge, in turn, that as there were no station lights at these far flung Highland outposts would passengers alighting please ensure extra care?
Perish the thought again, did ScotRail have a contingency plan to deal with a medical emergency in the event of an aged and infirm traveller slipping on an icy surface and wedging themselves between train and platform? No, probably not.
Eventually, a few minutes short of midnight, we reached journey’s end – five unpleasant hours after setting out on a journey that is scheduled to take less than four to complete the distance from Scotland’s capital to the capital of the Highlands.
There were no apologies from ScotRail. But, why would there be? This is Alex Salmond’s brave new land, after all, and none are necessary apparently.
But, next time someone suggests I let the train take the strain, I’ll take my car instead.