ScotRail’s blind spot

It’s been a long week – two days in Edinburgh, and then Friday and Saturday working in Glasgow. I got the last train home from Glasgow Queen Street last night, despite rather than because of ScotRail customer service.

When I got to the station, I found that the 1941 to Aberdeen was affected by floods. This was the train I would be getting as far as Perth, before changing on to the 1935 from Edinburgh to Inverness, which left Perth at 2054, arriving in Inverness at 2314.

With me so far? Good. If not, you might like to refer to a map of the ScotRail network.

The floods, it seemed, were taking place north of Dundee, and the train we would be taking was announced on the screens as running late having been delayed coming south from Aberdeen. Now of course, Perth is before Dundee so the fact that it was unclear how to get from Dundee to Aberdeen was of no immediate concern to me.

The late running, however, was – the changeover in Perth is only a few minutes. What should Inverness passengers do? I asked a member of staff at the barriers.

“Well, it’s delayed. You’ll need to check that in Dundee,” she told me.

“I’m not going to Dundee,” I replied.

“Aye, but there’s floods so you’re probably going to be stopping there as there are no trains further north.”

“But I’m not going to Dundee, I’m going to Inverness.”

“What direction is that?” she asked.

I paused briefly, taking in the fact I’d just been asked for train information by a member of platform staff.

“You take the highland line from Perth, kind of north-west. The Dundee and Aberdeen line is north-east.” With a finger, I drew a map of Scotland on my hand to help her understand. “I’m getting what would be the 1935 from Edinburgh when I get to Perth, but with the delay will I catch it?”

“Oh, I’ll check,” she said. She walked away, radio in in hand, talking to the control room. A few minutes later, I saw her carrying bags of rubbish, making me realise I’d perhaps not targetted my enquiry to precisely the right person. I asked the same original question to another member of staff at the barriers. She was a little more knowledgeable.

“If you miss your connection in Perth, they’ll just have to taxi you to Inverness, so you’ll be fine.”

“Right,” I said, “but given this is meant to connect with the 2054 at Perth, surely they could hold it?”

“I’ll check with the control room,” she said. A few minutes later, a broad Glaswegian accent crackled over her radio and I leaned in slightly to listen.

“Right,” the male voice said with a strained sigh that only Weegies can manage. “Inverness folk need tae get tae Aberdeen and then see if there’s buses fae there.”

“What!?” I exclaimed. “Has he ever actually looked at a ScotRail map?”

“And,” the woman added sympathetically, “how’s that possible if you can’t even get to Aberdeen? They’re all really busy with the flood stuff. I think he’s going a bit crazy up there to be honest.”

Unable to muster any words, my face broke into what I call a “Tim from The Office” look: disbelief, bemusement and exhausted resignation at being the only sane person for miles around.

By then, however, the Aberdeen train had arrived and the platform announced, so I just went through the barriers and boarded the train to see what happened. We left only about ten minutes late. When the conductor came through the train I stopped him and asked him what Inverness passengers needed to do.

“There’s probably replacement buses from Dundee to Aberdeen, so you’ll need to get a bus or something from Aberdeen.”

“FOR F*$#’S SAKE!! DO YOU ACTUALLY F@£%ING KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT F$#&ING RAILWAYS??” I exclaimed at the top of my voice, shocked passengers across the quiet carriage turning their heads to see what was happening.

Okay, I didn’t say that at all. But typing it represents a form of therapeutic release for me.

I calmly took a deep breath, and explained to the conductor that rather than bussing us from Aberdeen it would be much easier to bus us from Perth; and in any case we were scheduled to connect with the 1935 Edinburgh to Inverness service in Perth at 2054. Could he simply phone ahead and hold that train for the few minutes that would be needed?

“I’ll go and find out,” he said, leaving me bewildered at the fact that none of the Glasgow Queen Street staff appeared to have a clue about the existence of the Highland Line. Had I imagined the innumerable journeys I’d taken on it over the years? Had the towns of Dunkeld, Pitlochry, Blair Atholl, Dalwhinnie, Newtonmore, Kingussie, Aviemore and Carrbridge been abolished overnight without me knowing about it?

And yes, I wrote those trains in order from memory – I could recite them in reverse order too. The Inverness to Aberdeen line as well if you fancy, east to west and west to east.

Anyway, to cut an already long story as short as possible, the upshot was that the Edinburgh train was indeed held at Perth for Inverness passengers to change, and in any case we’d made up most of the delay from Glasgow to Perth, and I arrived as scheduled in Inverness at 2314.

Quite what would have happened if I wasn’t a regular rail traveller and all too sadly possessing an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Scottish rail network, and if I hadn’t told the conductor how you actually get to Inverness from Glasgow, I have no idea.

I fear for any people who are new to Scotland or are infrequent rail travellers, who have to cope with such lacklustre customer information without the knowledge to challenge the sorts of clueless staff who really, really should know better.

Ah well. I am sure next week will be smoother. Thanks to ScotRail, I will be working next week in Stirling, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Wave if you see me. I’ll be the one telling the conductor what the next station is.

7 thoughts on “ScotRail’s blind spot

  1. Central Belt bias… strikes in most things in Scottieland! It’s just they think that north of Perth is bandit country… there’s injuns in them hills…

  2. You have to remember that Scotland has a particularly extensive and thus complex rail network and it would be wholly unreasonable to expect members of staff to know about what is one of 3 lines running North!!
    I’m impressed that you managed to persuade them to hold the Edin train at Perth. I’ve had similiar experiences when the Glasgow-Aberdeen train is marginally delayed and Scotrail don’t seem to have the gumption to hold the Edin-Inv train at Perth for few minutes
    Rod (with apologies for the long comment!)

  3. This could be something to do with the fact that since BR was privatised, the number of full-time permanent staff on the railways has dipped just ever so slightly.

  4. I much admire your ability not to lose the rag with the staff and am relieved it’s not just me who is enraged by the lack of basic ability in customer service staff. This kind of thing always makes me want to ‘come prepared’ with map/timetable/compass/ABC etc the next time I travel of course, inevitably it would make no difference and I would just be doubly enraged possibly causing further delays by an explosion on the line.
    Maybe next time you should carry some lavender apparently that has soothing properties.

  5. ……….or just buy yourself a car, so that you can enjoy the delights of the A9, AND contribute to global warming – a heady mix of hedonism, if ever there was one!

  6. Okay, this would have been totally frustrating to have been a part of, especially when you want to get home, but I have to admit that it’s slightly amusing to read. 🙂 I love the last line of this post!

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