Home   News   Article

Nicky Marr: Caley Thistle train highlights need for Highland transport improvements

By Nicky Marr

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.

Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!
Caley Thistle fans have the option of a special train service to the Scottish Cup final
Caley Thistle fans have the option of a special train service to the Scottish Cup final

Full disclosure time: I’ve only ever twice been caught up in the passion of football.

The first time was during the dramatic penalty shoot-out that decided the winner of December’s World Cup Final in Qatar, and the second, was every single time AFC Richmond take to the pitch in AppleTV+ series Ted Lasso. A bit of a cheat, I know.

So why should I be interested in an ‘Inverness Express’ train to take Caley Thistle fans to and from Hampden on Saturday, June 3? Because if ScotRail can put on an express train between the Highlands and the central belt for sport, then please, can they do it every day?

A 5.30pm Scottish Cup final kick-off in Glasgow meant there would be no way Highland fans could get home after the match by train. Despite some campaigning for the kick-off to be brought forward, its time was fixed by media rights. So the heat turned from the SFA to ScotRail, who responded – hooray! – with the ‘Inverness Express’. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?

But there are two issues. First, it’s hardly ‘express’. Despite travelling non-stop all the way, the train is only managing to shave about 10 minutes off the regular ‘fastest’ journey time between Inverness and Glasgow.

And the second problem? The cost. It’s an eye-watering £76.90 for an adult return. Kids’ fares are available, but that railcard you’ve already paid for won’t be valid. Granted, the ticket does get fans fairly close to the stadium, but a regular off-peak return from central Glasgow to Mount Florida only costs £2.40.

Ouch. If social media comments under ScotRail’s celebratory Facebook post are anything to go by, Caley Thistle fans will be taking to the A9.

But it got me thinking. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we really did have a train called the ‘Inverness Express’ that lived up to its name? A limited-stop service to take Highlanders between Inverness and Edinburgh or Glasgow in under three hours, or to Aberdeen in under two, and at times to fit in with business hours?

And if that ‘Express’ could guarantee reliability, working toilets and Wi-Fi, and a tea and coffee trolley, it might tempt me back out of my car.

It’s no secret that ScotRail, in the ownership of the Scottish Government for over a year now, is still failing us here in the north. And when I say ‘north’, I’m only talking as far north as Inverness. Honestly, anyone who tries to use the far north or Kyle lines for business deserves a medal.

I work regularly in Wick and Thurso, but I wouldn’t dream of taking the train to see clients there. Just four trains a day, and a journey that takes an hour-and-a-half longer than it takes to drive – who are they kidding?

Transport minister Kevin Stewart is on record saying that one of his “key priorities” will be to improve performance in the national rail service. That’s excellent news, isn’t it?

But then we remember that Kevin Stewart also has responsibility for the Calmac debacle. And our rail frustrations – real as they are – pale into insignificance in comparison.

Click here to read more from Nicky Marr

Decades of underinvestment in ferries – which mirror the lack of investment in the rail network and rolling stock – have a far more devastating impact on island communities than their equivalents do on the mainland. At least we have the alternative of the similarly neglected road network, if we need to travel for business, pleasure or hospital appointments… or even for football.

But just because another community has it worse, doesn’t mean our mainland complaints aren’t valid.

If our public transport, our roads, our healthcare, and our education systems are all performing at unacceptable levels, we must ask the question; what have the SNP been up to these past 16 years?

Let’s hope Caley Thistle show more focus and determination next Saturday than the Scottish Government have since 2007.

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More