ScotRail’s woes are ember’s gains

Thursday 2nd June 2022

Monday last week saw Scotland’s rail timetables slashed by a third with many last journeys brought forward to early/mid evening to better match reduced driver availability due to staff shortages (post Covid training backlog) and ASLEF’s continuing overtime ban in pursuit of a pay claim.

Prior to the reduced timetables services were proving extremely unreliable with large numbers of sporadic cancellations as I found out personally when taking a trip from Edinburgh to Dundee on Sunday before last.

A huge number of passengers had gathered on platform 10 for the 13:36 departure from Edinburgh. To everyone’s relief an empty train finally arrived from depot at 13:36 comprising a three coach Class 170 and a two coach Class 156 or 158 raising everyone’s expectations ….

… with everyone rushing to the doors to board as soon as they were released.

…. only for the two units to be decoupled …..

and a mad dash for the two coaches bound for Dundee. How to upset frustrated passengers even more than they already were.

Everyone finally managed to get on board and we left late at 13:48 getting further delayed on route with inevitable prolonged station dwell times as passengers struggled to alight with so many standing in the vestibules and gangways.

We arrived into Dundee 22 minutes late, which was after the train had been due to depart back to Edinburgh ‘baking in’ further delays for the next journey.

This wasn’t an isolated experience as I watched the crowds board just four coaches laid on for the 13:30 Edinburgh to Glasgow ‘Express’ via Falkirk High – it should have been 8 coaches and crowding was made worse by previous cancellations. It left packed and standing.

The four coach only ‘express’ to Glasgow arrives into Edinburgh. It left packed and standing.

Looking at journeys back from Dundee to Edinburgh that Sunday afternoon the 15:15 departure was too early for me and the next two departures at 16:24 and 17:21 were both cancelled …

…. giving a three hour gap until the 18:17 which was a three car train from Aberdeen.

This was all reminiscent of Southern’s woes a few years ago at the height of their industrial dispute with the RMT. I decided not to risk more overcrowding and discomfort and even though I had a rail ticket I opted for travelling by coach instead and logged on to the ember website.

Ember make it so easy to book with just a couple of clicks and their no quibble cancellation and full refund policy right up to departure is an excellent customer proposition.

In just a few moments I’d booked a seat on the 17:00 departure from Dundee with an 18:47 arrival into Edinburgh – earlier than the train – for £7.50.

The coach was already on the stand when I arrived at 16:45 and a crowd was already gathering. Ian, our driver, soon commenced boarding and 24 of us and one bicycle were away spot on time.

Ian was the same friendly driver I had the pleasure of meeting on my last journey with ember back in February and I was impressed he remembered that encounter including the reference to his kind act in reuniting me with my left behind scarf in that blog, so here’s his second mention.

It was another smooth quiet battery-electric powered journey and the busiest I’ve seen – we picked up eleven more passengers along the way – diving off the M90 to do so in Bridge of Earn (two off and four on), Kinross (five off and five on) and Rosyth (two on).

There’s three tail winds (to quote the jargon) helping ember – and no doubt CityLink too – (a) the continuing woes at ScotRail driving passengers off the rails and on to coaches; (b) the free concessionary travel scheme now available to young people up to age 22 (as well as the 60+ age group) with good reimbursement arrangements and (c) the generosity of the Scottish Government to fund electric coaches.

Ember have been successful in their bid for 26 new electric-battery powered coaches with the first already arrived and soon to be deployed on a new route to Glasgow. These will have on board toilets with current vehicles eventually being retrofitted.

Ember have also sought planning permission to open a base for eight vehicles in Aberdeen indicating another expansion target.

It’s increasingly looking like the guys at ember – Keith and Pierce – and their financial backers are in the right place at the right time.

Whereas ScotRail, recently taken back into public ownership and now firmly under the control by the Scottish Government is not looking quite so good just now.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu

8 thoughts on “ScotRail’s woes are ember’s gains

Add yours

  1. The National Rail journey planner doesn’t even have the Scotrail timetable loaded for next weekend. How anyone travelling is supposed to use the railway for a holiday at the moment is beyond me.


  2. And if people used the excellent 900, double-deck coaches daily every fifteen minutes between Glasgow and Edinburgh, cheaper and more comfortable than rail, they would probably never return to always over-crowded and now unreliable ScotRail.


    1. The train is much faster and reasonable off peak. It also allows you to avoid Buchanan St railway station a major benefit


  3. You must have been lucky to book on such a busy Ember. Apart from a couple of well patronised peak hour journeys, most of the time their zero emission vehicles are running around largely carrying fresh air. Just as well they’ve got good financial backers, the largest of which would appear to be the Scottish Government.


  4. That’s what happens when you increase the frequency of trains but reduce the size.Now in theory say a place had been served by a 9 carriage train hourly an increase in frequency to every 20 minutes but only 2 carriages sounds fairly good given that modern trains can fit in more seats than older one and one of the 9 carriages would have been first class.However you need a train driver to drive each train,a guard for each train and if one is cancelled you get overcrowding on whatever does run after.Really it’s the Sir Richard Branson and Sir John Major guide of how not to run a railroad and as Sir Jimmy Saville declared “this is the age of the train!”


  5. Interesting company Ember. As the previous poster noted, they seem to be carrying around fresh air with little to no apparent marketing effort involved? Yet, they seem to be pocketing millions from the Scottish Government – another 5 million recently awarded. Is the intention for them to become a nationalised transport provider? What happens when Megabus/Stagecoach inevitably transition to electric or hydrogen? Do Ember fold and make off with the taxpayers millions or is there something else going on?


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