Scotrail struggles to cope with train demand

Standing room only on this train last Wednesday.
Standing room only on this train last Wednesday.
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A month-and-a-half after the opening of the Borders Railway, the service struggled to cope with an upsurge in demand last week.

With children off school for the first time since the line reopened in September, families were keen to take them for their first trip on a train.

Scotrail says services should return to normal now steam train journeys have ended for the time being.

Scotrail says services should return to normal now steam train journeys have ended for the time being.

But with only two carriages running on several occasions throughout the week, our Facebook page was inundated with people who had encountered problems.

Passengers spoke of being packed in like sardines, standing room only. Others complained about cancelled services, out-of-service ticket machines, poor parking provision at Tweedbank and general bedlam.

Most of the comments related to the fact that only two carriages per service were used on a week where kids were off school for the first week since the opening of the service, leading to heavily overcrowded trains. Some trains were cancelled due to high passenger numbers. Some passengers, who had already bought a ticket, were told to take the bus.

A spokeswoman for the ScotRail Alliance said: “Due to the school holidays, more passengers than normal travelled on the Borders Railway last week and services were busier. Where possible, we added additional carriages to trains in order to allow as many customers as possible to travel.

A huge crowd gathered at Tweedbank to watch HM The Queen officially open the Borders Railway ... and the village remains busy with hundreds of people turning up to use the train.

A huge crowd gathered at Tweedbank to watch HM The Queen officially open the Borders Railway ... and the village remains busy with hundreds of people turning up to use the train.

“On Wednesday, October 14, as a result of large passenger numbers, some trains were delayed and this unfortunately led to the cancellation of two services. Bus replacements were sourced and called at all stations, and our ticket acceptance arrangement with Lothian Buses was in place.

“We’re really sorry for the inconvenience this caused our passengers, and thank them for their patience as we worked to get services back to normal.”

With the one ticket machine in Tweedbank often being out of service, passengers are having to pay on the train. However, with the trains being so full, the conductor could not get up and down the aisles, meaning some passengers travelled for free.

ScotRail said the popularity of the line meant that the Tweedbank ticket machine had ran out of ticket stock on a few occasions.

Over the last few weekends, ticket examiners have been at the station to sell tickets until the machine is replenished.

One of the trains was cancelled at Waverley Station, with the passengers already sitting on the train. Understandably, the next train was so full some could not get on.

The spokeswoman said: “On Thursday, October 15, the 12.59 Tweedbank-Edinburgh service was cancelled due to a conductor being unavailable. We apologise to customers affected by this disruption.”

Also, a couple of passengers were left stranded in Edinburgh on Friday night, because the last train to the Borders left five minutes early. They were told by Scotrail staff at the station that this was normal practice and was allowed. With no vacancies at any of the nearby Travelodges, they were forced to sleep rough until the first train in the morning.

However, this week, Scotrail insisted this train left on time at 23.54, not five minutes early.

The ScotRail Alliance spokeswoman said: “The huge interest in the Borders Railway over the first few weeks highlights its remarkable appeal to commuters and leisure travellers alike.

“Weekend trains and midweek trains at peak times are naturally busier than others so, to ensure we can carry as many passengers as possible on the new line, we’ve temporarily added extra carriages to some of our trains.

“This information is available via www.scotrail.co.uk/borders-carriages, so our customers can see which services have extra carriages.

“Now that the steam trains have finished, we can run our full timetable every day of the week, which should enable demand to be spread more evenly.”

Meanwhile, Jim Hume, Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for South Scotland, said that the cancellation of services on the Borders rail link was unacceptable.

The MSP has written to Transport Secretary Keith Brown and Scotrail.

He said: “Passengers have contacted me about the overcrowding problem since the line was opened.

“In particular, older people or people who have a health condition have been put off entirely from using the service because of the fear of being trapped in carriages like sardines.

“Scotrail told me earlier this month that they were monitoring usage on certain services, but I’m afraid that’s just not good enough.

“If Scotrail or the Scottish Government need any evidence that more capacity is needed, then surely having to cancel services is evidence enough.

“Borderers have waited a long time for the rail link. It’s high time they got the benefit.

“The Transport Secretary needs to be working as a priority with Scotrail to deliver this service properly.”

Facebook comments

Maggie Allinson: I feel sorry for people who have no choice but to use it, this is completely unacceptable. I’d rather spend a few extra quid on parking than put up with that palaver! I think once the novelty wears off this won’t be a problem any more but with Christmas coming up they need to think of the numbers who will want to go to the city to shop and get their act together!

Sandra Harkness: 7.24 cancelled tonight with folks sitting on it. Then took hour and half to get folks home on the 7.54 which was so full it was unbearable (14 October)

Stu Harkness: ScotFail! Also it seems that some passengers from Gala wishing to travel to Edinburgh actually board the Tweedbank-bound train and don’t get off so as to guarantee a seat for their journey.

Kelly Quinn: Train (sorry, the whole 2 carriages) were chocca at the 14.54 train, space for wheelchairs/ buggies is shocking! Loads of people were left standing at the platform as they couldn’t get on. (14 October)

Jill Bryson: We went for the 2.30 train at Waverley to get back to Gala. It was cancelled due to high passenger numbers so we had to take the bus. And on the journey up to Waverley the train was full before it got to Gala, we were all packed on, mothers standing holding babies ... awful.

Karen Ford: We went up on train at eleven. By time left Gala you couldn’t move, couldn’t get conductor up the train so missed a lot of money. Was informed one train cancelled and one at half four.

Sue MacDwarf Douglas: More carriages needed ASAP there and back all times please.

Becci Jones: The train was packed on Tuesday. A lot of people standing including children & the elderly, no conductor on way there, conductor on way back actually told us that on the Monday it had been so busy that they had to leave passengers at Waverley to get the next train.

Jen Harkness: We were forced to wait for another train both on the way to and from Edinburgh today, with a grumpy four year old in tow. Ruined our first experience of Borders Railway.

Zoe Stillwell: We had no problems getting a train from Waverley today at 1 25.

Dan Don: It will just be a novelty for many and after Christmas and New year trains will be almost empty.