A missed opportunity for more loco-hauled services in Scotland

ScotRail operator Abellio commendably uses two loco-hauled sets for weekday commuter services on the Fife Circle, but from an enthusiast point of view seems to be missing a trick when it comes to stock utilisation.

Pictured above is 68020 at Haymarket on 8 March 2017 with the 17.11 departure for Glenrothes with Thornton

Looking at the movements morning and evening of the two Class 68-powered six-coach trains reveals that they spend far more time working empty from and to their Mossend and Motherwell bases near Glasgow than they do in revenue-earning service.

Diagram one in the morning, for example, sees an almost two hour Empty Coaching Stock (ECS) trip to Cardenden, then a revenue earning 07.35 to Edinburgh Waverley (08.37) before an ECS move back to the west of Scotland, taking almost two and a half hours!

After a four hour layover it then makes its way back to the Scottish capital, where it works right round the Fife Circle as the 17.08 to Glenrothes with Thornton via Cardenden before returning to Waverley as the 18.16 via Kirkcaldy. It then trundles back empty again to the west of Scotland.

Pictured below is 68007 approaching its stop at North Queensferry on 23 March 2018 with the 17.18 Edinburgh Waverley – Cardenden service

IMG_8226Diagram two reverses the pattern, with this set forming two revenue earning journey on its morning outing – the 06.35 from Waverley to Glenrothes with Thornton via Kirkcaldy and the 07.43 return to Edinburgh via Cardenden. Its evening duty is then just the 17.18 from Waverley to Cardenden, following which it makes a two hour ECS trip to its depot.

These loco-hauled workings contrast with others on the Cumbrian Coast, North Wales and the Wherry Lines in Norfolk, where the regular loco-hauled services run throughout the day and, in the case of the Class 37-powered “short set” in Norfolk, has become something of a tourist attraction in its own right.

What limits additional use of the ScotRail sets on additional journeys – such as a mid-morning run down the Borders Railway – is the lack of a DVT at the rear of the sets, which are a feature of the Cumbrian Coast and North Wales workings – or top-and-tail operation, as used between Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft.

Instead the ScotRail sets arrive and depart via Edinburgh’s south suburban line, in order to avoid the need for a run round by the loco at Waverley, while operating the circular route avoids the need for any such manoeuvre at Glenrothes or Cardenden.

But it’s hard to believe that there isn’t more that these sets could be used for, even if it were only to be at weekends.

ScotRail is astutely reviving the Inter-City brand name for its new HST services, so why not revive another memorable brand from the 1970s – Merrymaker – and run regular  day trips, with the Class 68s working top-and-tail on one of the six-coach sets, from Glasgow and Edinburgh to destinations such as Tweedbank, Oban and Stranraer?

Pictured below is 68017 at Haymarket on 8 March 2017 with the 17.22 for Cardenden


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