By Phil Marsh

Scotrail rail revolution declared as 39 carriages ‘to be retained by ScotRail’ instead of going elsewhere

Published: 25th March 2016

A brief history of the Bombardier Class 170

More seats will be available for rail passengers in Scotland in future, the Scottish Government claimed on 15 March.

That’s because there is a plan to retain some three-car Class 170 diesel trains for ScotRail instead of sending them to England in 2018 after Scottish electrification. The 13 diesel multiple units total 39 carriages.

Scotland’s Minister for Transport and Islands, Derek Mackay MSP, made the announcement in Stirling on 15 March as part of a campaign in advance of the parliamentary purdah period that will ensue between the rising of the Scottish Parliament on 24 March and the Scottish election on 5 May.

ScotRail will introduce 200 new services, providing 20,000 more seats per day, the Scottish Government’s agency Transport Scotland announced. Currently ScotRail runs 2,300 daily services.

Ross Martin, chief executive of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI), said: “These enhancements to services are another step in the right direction, shifting the focus more clearly towards the role of the rail network in 'driving economic growth', the central focus of the SCDI membership, and we therefore warmly welcome them.”

Dr John McCormick, chairman of the Scottish Association for Public Transport (SAPT), said: "Our association has long advocated fast, regular interval train services throughout the Scottish rail network. The new timetables to be introduced by Abellio ScotRail will achieve this, and are a major step towards giving Scotland a world-class rail system.”

According to the Transport Scotland statement, improvements have been made possible by the Scottish Government’s decision to retain more Class 170s than originally expected. The trains were due to come off lease in 2018.

“These extra trains create the capacity to make timetable service improvements – with input supplied by local stakeholders to find the best fit for local priorities,” the statement said.

“More rolling stock will allow ScotRail to run more frequent services both for commuters and city to city passengers, whilst the increased flexibility offers significant time savings on popular routes,” Transport Scotland added.

From 2018 there will be more services confirmed for Tayside, Stirlingshire, Perthshire and Aberdeenshire, it added. “There will also be increased peak capacity across Fife and the Borders, relieving some of the pressure on commuter services, along with more commuter options linking local towns between Glasgow and Edinburgh via Cumbernauld and Falkirk.”

Mr Mackay said:

“We have initiated a revolution in rail services across Scotland. From 2018 passengers will benefit from more seats, more services and faster journey times as a direct result of the increased funding that we are putting into the rail network.

“The retention of these units will complement the arrival of our new High Speed Trains, which will allow for new and improved intercity connections. They will also make our rail network more resilient, creating opportunities to run faster services on key commuter routes and offering better connectivity for regional areas.”

In words that might make some English commuters wince, the Scottish Transport Minister went on: “This funding is in addition to the £475 million investment in Scotland’s rolling stock over the lifetime of the franchise, meaning Scotland’s rail passengers have never been better served, both in terms of the quality of the trains they travel on, and the number of services running on the network.”

Typically 20 per cent more seats will be provided on most train services for Midlothian and the Scottish Borders, Transport Scotland stated. Better journey times and more trains in 2018 would benefit many parts of Scotland including Inverness, Aberdeen, Dundee, Perth, Stirling, Glasgow and Edinburgh. More capacity would also benefit passengers between Edinburgh and stations in Fife.

There would also be timetable improvements for Stirling, Bridge of Allan, Dunblane, Gleneagles, Invergowrie, Broughty Ferry, Monifieth, Carnoustie, Arbroath, Montrose and Inverurie.

Phil Verster, managing director of the Abellio ScotRail and the ScotRail Alliance, described the announcement as representing a fundamental change.

Mr Verster added: “This transformation means that we can set about delivering on our vision of a railway that connects people with jobs, businesses with customers and communities with the opportunity to grow and prosper. A railway that delivers for Scotland – not just because of what it is, but because of what it allows our country to do.”

Dominic Booth, Managing Director of Abellio UK, said: “This is the best railway in the UK and it is getting better.”

The timetable and capacity changes follow consultation between ScotRail and stakeholders, including regional transport partnerships which cover the country. Further consultation is planned.

Class 170 history

The Class 170 diesel multiple unit trains were built by Bombardier in 2003, initially as a production run of 47 two and three car trains for Scotrail, Southwest Trains and South Central. Each train was tested after building and had to run for a fault-free 1000 miles before being accepted by the various Rolling Stock lease companies. These were run without passengers between Derby and Peterborough and then on the East Coast Main Line to Darlington or Doncaster and back for 18 months from July 2003.

The trains were much in demand by rail franchisees at this time because the old Mark 1 coaching stock had to be withdrawn along with the first generation diesel units for crashworthy reasons. Initially the Class 170 suffered from problems with windscreens but now the trains are much in demand to satisfy growing passenger demand and the re-opening of passenger lines.

After a less than auspicious start, the trains, branded ‘Turbostar’ are now pretty much available to operate across the rail network and many more variants have been built since the original fleet in 2003.

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