Rail review – First Scotrail 158 Dreamliner

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  • Anonymous


    Inverness – Aberdeen return. Highly commended for Drab Railway Journeys of the World

    First Scotrail operates class 158 2-car diesel sets, sometimes doubled, on this most archaic of routes between the two northern Scottish cities, which remains mostly single line with semaphore / token block signalling. Journey time for the approximately 110 miles is around 2 hours 15 minutes, with a roughly 2-hourly frequency. There are 8 intermediate stations, plus 2 or 3 token exchange signal box stops / crawls for the heritage business travellers amongst you to savour. Scenery is completely nondescript unless you have a particular penchant for telegraph poles, and the rural geography en route means little or no cellular connectivity; mobiles are Blu-Tak’d to the windows and held out of the door at arm’s length at the stations. Some multitask-enabled frequent travellers can fit in a smoke with the other.

    But I joined my morning service to find Scotrail wifi available – sadly this disappeared as we left the adjacent class 170 Turbostar behind in the platform! 3G for the first few minutes out, then the rest is hopeless until reaching the suburbs at the other end. Power is available in first class but I have never seen the value of this offering from Scotrail. If anyone ever has the need – can’t see any desire – to use the far north lines, these are declassified but few realise this, so you can get free power and a lamp to illuminate your upgraded grey table. Mr N Tarrant of Home Counties south (which always gubbed Scotland at Come Dancing) will explain this BR rule, in less than 15 sides.

    Essentially the trains on the route are crying out for wifi, either by deploying 170s or fitting it into some 158s. Credit is due to Scotrail for firstly making their wifi free in standard class, and ensuring that it continues to work over the remote parts of the network – the equivalent from East Coast is just rubbish north of Perth, indeed nothing to write home about north of Edinburgh to be honest.

    Any route infrastructure developments to reduce journey time or increase frequency seem years away, if ever. It does look like it was once doubled throughout going by the span of the bridges. There is a bit more frequency at the Aberdeen end, which includes the airport “interchange”, but overcrowding is common on this stretch throughout the day; the capacity limiting single line starts virtually outside the station.

    Road travel offers little competition. At one point the venerable BA ATPs flew the 80-odd miles point to point as part of multi-sector routes from GLA / EDI to the northern isles, with drinks service for all 64 pax during each! The only consolation is that the manky cobbled forecourt between Aberdeen rail and bus station* is now a new shopping centre complete with Jury’s Inn and Apple store. And a M&S food to go for the ethanolically challenged. So maybe an edited version of the journey featuring this end could make Mr Portillo’s future shortlist.

    * There’s an old joke about this area which centres around the legendary tightness of Aberdonians, which we revel in of course. In 1964 while I was already a sulky foetus for missing JFK there was an outbreak of typhoid in the city, affecting 300 people; the source was traced to a tin of corned beef in Willie Low’s (not to be confused with IAG) which had a pinprick hole. A BT subscriber arrives off the train from King’s Cross and duly gets a taxi from said area, and remembers the outbreak as a topic of conversation with the Doric-only speaking driver. The cabbie is quick to inform him that the investigation concluded that it could not happen in any other city in the world – as Aberdeen was the only one where you can get 300 slices out of a tin.

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