The Central Scotland Group's last meeting of the year took place on Tuesday 19 December 2000 when the Group was addressed by Mr. Allan McLean of Virgin Trains. Mr. McLean, who had previously been the Transport Correspondent for the Scotsman Newspaper, had originally worked for British Rail and with his extensive knowledge of railways provided an interesting and stimulating evening.
The Speaker, Mr. Allan McLean of Virgin Trains.
© John G. Fender 2010
He began his presentation by pointing out that transport was usually in the news and highlighted the current news stories of the day. Developing his theme he said that the current scale of disruption to the railways was unprecedented, particularly in the short term but he felt that it is important to consider the longer term. Referring to the recent report by the Shadow Strategic Rail Authority, he said that nationally the summer of 2000 saw more passengers travelling by rail since 1947. Then came the Hatfield rail crash with the consequential identification of many sections of the rail network that needed urgent remedial work and the resultant speed restrictions.
Turning to investment, he noted that 1997 was the first year since 1947 that investment in the railways increased and he highlighted the fact that Virgin Trains are investing heavily in their services. Virgin Trains has two franchises, these being Cross Country and Virgin West Coast. One of the problems being tackled is the age of the rolling stock, for example ageing Mark II coaches dating from 1971 and Class 86 locomotives dating from the early 1960's. There is even one class 47 locomotive that dates from 1960. Similarly, the HST fleet is ageing and is now in need of replacement.
Mr. McLean pointed out that Virgin Cross Country has to compete with roads and in order to persuade motorists to leave their cars at home a high quality, regular service needs to be provided. A total of 78 new diesel electric trains are being constructed under a £1 billion contract that also includes maintenance. These should transform the Cross Country services.
The West Coast Main Line services pose particular problems. This franchise was awarded for 15 years instead of the usual 7 owing to the massive investment needed to improve the services after decades of neglect.
Members at the meeting of 19 December 2000.
© John G. Fender 2010
The last major investment on these lines was the electrification schemes, the last being completed in 1974 when electrification reached Glasgow. The Advanced Passenger Train reached test running but development was then stopped. The West Coast 250 project was also dropped. Some £5.4 billion is needed to bring the WCML up to standard and there are many localized projects being undertaken aimed at improving track capacity and raising speeds.
In addition, new rolling stock is being build and there will be 34 Voyager 125 mph trains plus 44 Super Voyager trains. The Super Voyager trains will be tilting trains. A new depot is being constructed for the maintenance of the trains. With their high cruising speeds, a 20% reduction in journey times can be achieved and combined with superior levels of comfort, including 10 channel audio systems and power points for portable computers, the new services should be attractive to customers. All trains will be non-smoking throughout and there will be one coach per train where the use of mobile phones will not be allowed.
The Central Scotland Group would like to thank G. Atkins and Edinburgh City Council for the provision of the meeting room and refreshments. The Group would also like to thank the Rosemary Blumfield for the mince pies, John Fender for the shortbread and the Branch for the wine.
Report by John Fender.
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