Scotland is going to introduce multi-coach high speed trains (HST) to serve its key intercity routes. WILL DAYNES looks at why this is such an exciting time for rail transportation in the country

Scotland’s seven cities, Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Perth and Stirling, and their surrounding regions make up approximately two thirds of the country’s economy. For this reason alone, the Scottish Government’s claim that when all seven thrive all of Scotland benefits is 100 per cent accurate. It is also why it is working with all of these cities, as well as different industries and authorities, to stimulate investment and create more effective regional economies. A vital contribution to this plan is the creation of Scotland’s first true intercity standard rail network, designed to transform the quality of rail travel from Glasgow and Edinburgh to Inverness and Aberdeen, these being the routes which serve all seven cities.

One of the major commitments made within the Abellio ScotRail franchise agreement, which has seen the company operating the ScotRail franchise since April 2015, was to improve passenger experience between Scotland’s seven cities. The response was the announcement that, as of December 2018, it will operate four and five coach high speed trains (HSTs) on all intercity services, phasing in their introduction progressively over the preceding six months, while its current Class 170 trains will switch focus to the suburban journeys that they are better suited towards.

The HSTs themselves are being released from Great Western Railway and will undergo an extensive refurbishment programme, as well as modification to ensure they meet disability guidelines. The 54 Class 43 HST power cars and 121 Mk 3 coaches will be formed into nine four-coach trains and 17 five-car sets, ultimately creating a 33 per cent increase in seating capacity.

The first unrefurbished set moved to Aberdeen at the beginning of September 2017, and since then has been used extensively for driver training in the northeast of the country. “This training has seen the set being driven between Aberdeen and Dundee,” reveals ScotRail’s Christian Tait, Project Manager New Trains HST. “This was followed by the delivery of a further two sets into our depots in Edinburgh and Dundee. As 2018 progresses, driver training will commence at Inverness, Perth and lastly Glasgow Queen Street, allowing us to be operational across all of the required intercity routes by the December 2018 timetable that has been laid out.”

There are a number of important benefits that passengers in Scotland will soon become familiar with following the introduction of HSTs on intercity routes. For one, the HSTs ability to generate 4500hp for both a 280-tonne four coach set and a 315-tonne five coach set will help to create a reduction in journey times by an average of ten minutes. This, combined with a revised timetable that has been designed to optimise station stops and will be initiated at a later date, will make a telling difference to the duration of journeys between the seven cities.

Just as important as an improvement in journey times is the significant upgrade that passengers will see to their overall experience when travelling on HSTs. The comprehensive refurbishment programme that is currently underway includes the introduction of new seats and tables, new floor coverings and carpets, re-coated ceilings, additional at-seat power sockets and improved LED lighting. Other standard features will include greater legroom, additional luggage storage, and increased space for bicycles and other equipment.

“We are making a number of adjustments and changes that will help to create a much higher degree of comfort for passengers,” Christian explains. “For example, the current Class 170s have their doors positioned at one third and two third positions on the coaches. This means that when they sit at stations with the doors open, external and environmental elements can come blowing straight into the main saloon. In contrast to this, on the Mk 3 cars the powered doors are situated at the end of the coach, and these intermediately opening doors help to protect the internal environment for the passenger’s benefit.”

Additionally, a gallery and buffet area will be incorporated onto each train, therefore improving the onboard catering service significantly. “At present, passengers have access to a trolley service that is somewhat limited to hot drinks and selected food items,” 27Christian continues. “By installing bespoke catering facilities onto each HST we will now be able to offer a wide selection of hot and chilled drinks, and hot and cold food, transforming the level of service we provide on each and every journey.”

At the time of writing, Abellio ScotRail was excitedly awaiting the delivery of the first fully refurbished four coach HST in order to conclude the staff training process for not only its drivers, but also its conductors and hospitality staff.

“With the completion of said training, we will complete the next phase of laying the foundations for these trains, which Transport Scotland has already declared will remain in service until at least 2030,” Christian adds. “We remain positive that by the end of 2018, HSTs will be operational across all the major routes between Scotland’s seven cities, ahead of the final ‘go-live’ for the full quantity in May 2019. Between now and then, we look forward to more and more passengers familiarising themselves with the real step-change in their travelling experience that we are helping to facilitate.”

Christian Tait – Project Manager New Trains HST