Jinx!

It seemed to be going so well too. In 2006, Scotland’s rail service was pretty good from my perspective. The route I take — Fife to Edinburgh — is meant to be one of the worst in the country, but I think it is fine.

Granted, I no longer have to go at peak time like I used to. But even so, I thought the service was pretty good. During the day there are usually two or three trains per hour to Edinburgh, which is pretty good going really. Delays seem to be less frequent and carriages seem to be less crowded.

This article from The Guardian also put things into perspective by comparing a Kirkcaldy–Edinburgh journey to other gruelling commutes.

If you are strap-hanging on train lines in England and value the remains of your sanity, look away now. It will do you no good to read about the record 88% satisfaction rates that Scottish rail commuters report, nor the £1.9bn, seven-year programme to introduce extra carriages, longer platforms and new rail lines across Scotland, or that train operators rarely breach their promise that no one should stand for more than 10 minutes. Even a recent BBC Radio Scotland phone-in on commuting struggled to find hair-raising stories. In fact, several callers bandied words such as “excellent” and “very comfortable”.

It’s true really. Things on Scottish trains have been quite good. And the current work going on at Edinburgh Waverley station serves as a constant reminder of the improvements that are being made. I was also becoming sympathetic towards First ScotRail for always being blamed even for things outwith their control.

But it seems as though ever since that article was published it’s been all downhill for Scotland’s rail passengers. The brand new trains that First ScotRail have been buying over the past couple of years are now developing more faults.

I’ve heard some slightly concerning noises, which is nothing much to report in itself. But a couple of weeks ago I was on a train that was late because of “poor engine performance”. The week before that I experienced a bit of a rarity — a train completely failing and being cancelled.

Now, after that period where we were getting loads of new trains, I’ve noticed some increasingly colourful liveries around the place. So we are now getting lots of other train companies’ second hand trains.

Apparently First ScotRail had lots of trouble with peak time Fife Circle services earlier this year. Major signalling failures, particularly at Haymarket, occur far too frequently.

More than one recent derailment at Waverley Station is also a slightly worrying record. And the fact that a heavy freight train found itself heading towards a passenger train is downright scary.

(There have also been some moans on other blogs, here and here.)

Sure, not all of these incidents are the fault of First ScotRail. A lot of the blame seems to rest on Network Rail. There are a few unacceptable problems creeping in for whatever reason, particularly at Edinburgh.

Now there is the strike that is currently taking place. Of course, neither First ScotRail nor Network Rail seem to be particularly to blame for this. That accolade goes to Bob Crow, who appears to have unilaterally ripped up an agreement which was almost reached on Monday. He comes across as power crazy. Mr Crow really must have a massive boner thinking about all the disruption he has caused to the “ordinary working man” today.

I feel the need to defend trains as a form of transport. As I woke up this morning I was listening to the morning phone in on Radio Scotland. It might have been my not-yet-properly-awake early morning head fuzz, but I am sure I heard some woman saying that she had booked a train for the first time in years today, and she will never be taking the train again after today’s strike.

That is a bit of a silly attitude if you ask me. So signal men go on strike on the one day she happens to have booked a train. It is a piece of bad luck, but it is hardly as though railways are particularly susceptible to strike action. I mean, what the hell is she going to do the next time bus drivers strike or something? And then air traffic controllers? With a stubborn attitude like that, she’ll be marooned in whatever wee dump she lives in for the rest of her life.

I have to say, even this bare-bones train service is pretty good. The train I normally take on a Wednesday morning is usually packed out, but today it was almost deserted (this was before the strike began at noon). I got a normal train back in the middle of the afternoon, and it was as if nothing had happened! (Mind you, I dread to think what the last train was like.)

Tomorrow we will still be getting a train an hour (or maybe two; I’m not sure if I’ve read information correctly) between Fife and Edinburgh. It is a step down from what we are normally used to, for sure. But if demand remains as depressed as it was today, it will be no big problem.

What is a real bummer is the fact that I am planning to go to Dundee tomorrow for a friend’s 21st, and there are no trains going any further than Markinch. This is the first time I will have done anything vaguely fun since new year. I am already making a few sacrifices for it (although I am determined to go, for the sake of my sanity — I’ll burn out otherwise).

It is very annoying for this to coincide with the strike. I will have to take the bus. I absolutely hate buses. They are uncomfortable, full of neds and they always take bloody ages. They are subject to road congestion. They are far less safe than trains. And they are expensive. And I always bash my head on the ceiling when I sit down!

Apparently there are no direct buses from Kirkcaldy to Dundee. You have to get a bus to Glenrothes first. And it takes about two hours. I don’t really have enough time tomorrow as it is. What a pain! Imagine if the trains were always off.

4 comments

  1. I was very nearly stranded at work last night due to the workshy bastards striking. I realise that’s outwith First Scotrail’s control, but all I want is a working public transport system that’s on time.

    As a Fife Circle user at peak times, I am utterly fed up with late or cancelled trains, overcrowded carriages and crap service.

  2. Excellent post Doctorvee, it’s genuinely rare to see such an honest and balanced view on the service provided by First Scotrail.

    In all honesty my commute from Kirkcaldy to Dundee is generally nothing short of excellent. I very rarely fail to get a seat, indeed the last times I failed to get a seat was on the infamous half past four and half past five trains on a Friday, and even then that’s only because some (fellow) students are really clever and decide the best time to go home with their 3 suitcases would be at peak time.

    I have no sympathy for the strikers, and am really not a fan of Bob Crow. My week, and important assignments have been disrupted, and I hate to think what it’s like for those who commute to work every day instead of just University.

    As a last note, today I learned exactly how good I have it using the train to commute. It took me fully half an hour to get from where I was parked to the Fife side of the Tay Bridge, most of that time was spent stationary. It took me a further 40 minutes to get home from there, so a journey that takes me 50 minutes on the train (plus a ten minute walk either side) took me 70 minutes in the car. Okay it’s only an extra ten minutes overall, but it was infinitely more tiring and stressful.

  3. I must travel at a different time of day to you folks – the fast trains north from Edinburgh are rammed between about half-four and 6pm, the 7.38am to Dyce is always chocka until Dundee and if you’re leaving Dundee at 5pm then good luck getting a seat on the way back!

    The Kirkcaldy-Edinburgh bus is excellent, though – certainly it takes a bit longer than the train but it’s cheaper and more reliable.