Rail bosses urged to end nightmare trips

A community councillor and disgruntled Borders Railway passenger is urging ScotRail to buck up its act after enduring a nightmare journey alongside her 14-year-old granddaughter in a wheelchair on a packed train from Edinburgh to Galashiels.

Thursday, 12th December 2019, 8:07 am
Updated Thursday, 12th December 2019, 8:34 am
Judith Cleghorn at Galashiels transport interchange.

Passengers were squashed like sardines and struggling for breath after the cancellation of a train travelling between Glenrothes and Tweedbank on Monday last week, according to Galashiels Community Council chairperson Judith Cleghorn.

ScotRail has apologised to her and other passengers forced to endure that jam-packed journey, with a spokesperson accepting that standards had fallen below what the public should have to accept.

Ironically, that unpleasant experience coincided with an announcement by rail bosses of a big increase in the number of seats being offered on the 30-mile line from Sunday.

A further 1,500 seats daily will be available on the Tweedbank-to-Edinburgh line, as reported in last week’s Southern.

That rollout can’t come soon enough, says Mrs Cleghorn, but, despite raising safety concerns over last week’s journey with ScotRail chief executive officer Alex Hynes, she remains a fervent advocate of the four-year-old track, saying: “There is huge support in Galashiels for the Borders Railway. We all love it, even those who said it would never work, but experiences like this test that loyalty.”

Speaking at a meeting of the community council last week, she said: “On Monday, I was in Edinburgh with my daughter, a friend and my granddaughter in a wheelchair.

“On our way back, we got on the 5.23pm train, but unfortunately the train prior to that had been cancelled, so instead of having three carriages with three carriages’ worth of people in it, we had three carriages with six carriages’ worth of people trying to get in.

“It was absolutely disgusting. There was no air.

“We were very slow going to Brunstane and the train stopped several times on the way. When we got into Brunstane and the doors opened, we finally got some air because you could hardly breathe. It was very upsetting.”

Mrs Cleghorn added: “I have also been in touch with the safety department because it was not safe. They were pushing people onto that train.

“I had to get two very kind gentlemen to help lift my granddaughter’s wheelchair onto the train, and there is no way that should happen.

“I’m not tall, and there were a lot of tall people around me. It was most uncomfortable.”

Community councillor secretary Tracey Alder boarded a train on the same route an hour later and she added: “It was absolute chaos.

“There were so many people it was roasting hot. It was unreal – passengers sitting on the floor, with people standing in between other passengers’ legs.”

A ScotRail spokesperson said the 3.53pm Glenrothes to Tweedbank service was cancelled due to a fault with the train, adding: “We’re sorry to our customers who experienced overcrowding as a result of this cancellation and who we let down on the high standards of travel that we aim to provide.

“The lead-up to Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year, and we’ll continue do all that we can to meet increasing demand.

“Our passenger assist service is there to provide help to customers who may need it.

“This service can be booked in advance, but customers can still take advantage of the service whether they book ahead or not. Customers can contact our assisted travel team at scotrail.co.uk/accessible-travel or by calling 0800 912 2901.”

As part of changes coinciding with the introduction of a new timetable, just seven services between Monday and Friday will run with two carriages, as opposed to the current 13, and the 7.26am and 7.59am trains from Tweedbank will now have six coaches rather than three.

Speaking at last week’s meeting Galashiels councillor Euan Jardine added: “I often make sure I get to the train at least 20 minutes before it is due to depart and I also walk to the furthest away carriage as it is always last to fill up.

“This ensures that you can get a seat, but also if I have to go back on a peak-time service I try to ensure I get on at Haymarket to beat the crowds at Waverley.”