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Rail transport in Scotland

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Rail transport in Scotland

The transport system in Scotland is generally well-developed. The Scottish Parliament has control over most elements of transport policy within Scotland and the Scottish Government's Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning Department is responsible for the Scottish transport network with Transport Scotland being the Executive Agency that is accountable to the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth.[1]


Scotland has an extensive railway network using cross country links across the country, and connections to England; local commuter links to the major cities many were electrified under British Rail; and freight. Only 29% of the rail network in Scotland (by routes miles) is electrified, as opposed to 40% across Great Britain as a whole. This results in many trains being run on diesel fuel rather than by overhead electricity.

The railway network is owned by Network Rail, the non-profit organisation responsible for all of the railway infrastructure. Rail services are provided under franchises awarded by the government. The current holder of the Scottish franchise is First ScotRail, a division of Aberdeen-based FirstGroup plc.[2] Intercity services are also operated by CrossCountry, First Transpennine Express, East Coast and Virgin Trains.[3]

On 1 January 2006, a new agency Transport Scotland was created that would oversee the regulation of railways in Scotland, and administer major rail projects.[4] The Scottish Government, in its time, committed itself to the expansion of the railway network in Scotland, with planned links to the main Scottish airports, and reopening of disused lines in Clackmannanshire and the Scottish Borders.

Cross border services

The main cross border services in Scotland are:

Scottish services

Within Scotland, all services are operated by ScotRail.[2] Until autumn 2005, services within the former Strathclyde Regional Council area were provided by First ScotRail on behalf of Strathclyde Partnership for Transport.[2]

Recent expansion of the rail network in Scotland has seen the addition of a new line from Hamilton to Larkhall and re-opening of the line between Stirling, Alloa and Kincardine. Another new line planned is the re-opening of the line between Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders.

The table below shows all the major railway lines in Scotland.


The first "proper" railway in Scotland was the Garnkirk and Glasgow, opened in 1831. The first inter-city railway was the Edinburgh and Glasgow, opened in 1842. By 1850 Scotland's major cities were linked to each other and to the English rail network. The 2nd half of the 19th century saw a rapid expansion and by 1900 virtually every town of more than 2,000 population on the Scottish mainland had a railway station. At the same time trains became more comfortable, faster and more frequent whilst the cost of travel declined relative to wages. Nevertheless there were probably never more than 100 million or so journeys made per year within Scotland, little more than 20 per head of population, illustrating how most people had little need, financial means or desire to travel long distances. Railways did, though, play an important part in moving freight, especially heavy loads such as coal, iron and steel, and played a vital role in the 1st World War.

After World War 1 the independent Scottish companies were merged into the London Midland and Scottish and London and North Eastern companies. A Scottish company had been considered, but rejected as being probably not financially viable. Since the 1920s and 30s saw a decline in passenger and freight business, this was probably a correct judgement. At this time some lesser-used lines were closed to passenger traffic. After World War 2 the railways were nationalised. Very quickly the Scottish Region moved into a position where revenue was not covering operating expenses and after 1951 closures resumed. The pace of such closures accelerated after the Beeching Report of 1963 though some of the recommended closures did not take place after Ministers of Transport refused consent on grounds of hardship, a concept which was open to wide interpretation. Freight services were also withdrawn from the majority of stations and concentrated on larger depots and private sidings. At the same time steam traction was replaced by diesel, with most of the Glasgow suburban and commuter network being electrified, in addition to both of the main lines to England. This allowed acceleration of Anglo-Scottish services, with the Edinburgh-London service down from 7–8 hours in the 1950s to 4–5 hours today. However the reduction in the cost of air travel and high rail fares rising above inflation has seen the market share of rail in the Edinburgh/Glasgow to London route down considerably in recent years, as even with the time taken to travel to airports and check in, rail is unable to compete on journey time (unlike on routes such as London to Manchester).

The closure programme slowed down after the Transport Act of 1968 made it possible for the government to directly subsidise loss-making lines and the last major closure was the direct Edinburgh-Perth line in 1970. Since then a number of lines have been re-opened, and stations opened on existing lines. British Rail was privatised in 1995 with ScotRail railways forming a separate franchise. Services across the border are divided between England-based franchises, though First ScotRail operates the sleeper services to London.

Forgotten South West Scotland

The Beeching Axe fell across the South West of Scotland by the closure in 1965 of the direct railway from Dumfries via Castle Douglas and Newtown Stewart to Stranraer which resulted in prolonged journeys via Ayr. This closure adversely affects journey times from London to Stranraer for the connecting ferries to Larne and Belfast.

Glasgow Subway

The Glasgow Subway is the only underground system in Scotland. It is owned and operated by the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport.

Trams and light rail

There are no tram systems currently in operation in Scotland, although Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen formerly had extensive networks. A proposal for an Edinburgh Tram Network has received Royal Assent and is planned to enter operation in 2014. Glasgow also has plans for a light rail network in the future, however it is likely that it will open first as the 'Clyde Fastlink' guided bus system, with conversion to tram at a later date.


Scotland has an extensive road network throughout the country. The motorway network is concentrated in the Central belt, with trunk roads (A roads) connecting the rest of the country.

The main routes in Scotland are:


Within the large cities, roads become congested in peak hours. The M8 and M77 motorways become heavily congested in peak hours, especially around Glasgow where it travels through the heart of the city. The main congestion hotposts are in Glasgow City Centre around the Kingston Bridge where a large amount of traffic leaves and enter the road. Also further down the road traffic joining at Hillington Estate and Braehead Shopping Centre near Glasgow Airport can cause hold-ups. Traffic is also extremely heavy between Glasgow and Edinburgh at all times, however rarely comes to a standstill.

Road construction

An extension to the M9 spur to link with the A90 at the Forth Bridge recently opened, as did the new Clackmannanshire Bridge over the Firth of Forth. A controversial extension to the M74 motorway through the southside of Glasgow is also due for completion by 2011. The road, first proposed in the 1960s, was due to be open in 2008 however legal action against the road was brought by environmental group Friends of the Earth. The action ultimately failed, however the motorway has wide spread opposition after ministers overruled the Local Public Inquiry held into the project which recommended that the road not be built, as it would be unable to substantially reduce congestion and would lead to more vehicles and pollution in the area. The Scottish Ministers voted for the road, believing that it will regenerate the inner city of Glasgow's Southside and bring economic benefits to Renfrewshire, Inverclyde and the Southside of Glasgow. Construction cost is estimated at £575 million, and it is Scotland's biggest roads project, and the first motorway to be built in a British urban area for decades.


Design issues:

Although originally built to high standards, some trunk road and motorway junctions have signs and markings that are poorly designed which often leads to confusing and dangerous situations (for example M8 in the Glasgow area)

Maintenance issues:

Due to the lack of funding in recent years, sections of important routes have fallen into severe disrepair causing serious damage to vehicles and has also led, to a lesser extent, to minor accidents. The repair of roads in Scotland is slow, sporadic and by European standards it uses somewhat antiquated techniques. For example, clusters of small potholes on main roads are filled up locally with hot tar or low quality asphalt instead of repaving the entire road section. In many instances this method is used as a permanent repair. Another method is repaving either small areas or short stretches of carriageway where damage is most severe making for treacherous, uneven surfaces. The Scottish parliaments power in transport. The Scottish assembly has primary and secondary legislative powers in the issue of Scottish

Motorways of Scotland
M73 - M74 - M77 - M8 - M80 - M876 - M898 - M9 - M90
A-roads with motorway restrictions
A74(M) - A823(M)


Main article: Bus transport in Scotland

Scotland is covered by a large bus network throughout many towns, cities and rural areas. It is estimated that 95% of the population live within 5 minutes walk of a bus stop. National and international buses often operate out of main bus stations in the cities, such as Glasgow (Buchanan Street) and Edinburgh (St Andrew Square).

Scottish Citylink and Megabus are the two principal long distance coach operators within Scotland, and currently operating together as a joint venture, however the deal is being monitored by the competition commission to ensure that it does not unfairly damage long distance bus travel in Scotland. National Express provide coach links with cities in England and Wales, as well as local buses in Dundee and Angus under the Travel Dundee and Travel Wishart brand names.

First Group and Stagecoach Group are two large public transport companies which are based in Scotland at Aberdeen and Perth respectively, and both operate a number of local and regional services.

Arriva and National Express are the only other public transport giants that serve Scotland with Arriva Scotland West subsidiary, serving Glasgow and Renfrewshire, and National Express's Travel Dundee Subsidiary, serving the city of Dundee.

Numerous local independent operators also run bus services throughout Scotland as well as Lothian Buses, Edinburgh's largest bus operator and Scotland's last council run bus company.

Scotland's bus network, like that of Great Britain outside London, is deregulated following an act of UK Parliament in 1986. This broke up the former national and city bus companies, formerly run by the local authorities since the 1930s, into private companies. The act also allowed buses to be operated by private companies and individuals for profit, provided they met the financial, background and maintenance requirements to qualify for a license, set down by VOSA who administrate the system. A Public Service Vehicle License is then granted to allow a specified number of vehicles to be operated. Using this license firms can then register their routes with the Local Traffic Commissioner for the area, in this case Scotland, indicating the exact route to be operated as well as the times and dates their buses will run. No requirements are set as to when and what routes buses can run, their age and what fares can be charged-this is decided by companies, often by the profitability of the route. Currently only one bus company, Lothian Buses in Edinburgh, remains under ownership and control of local councils in Lothian and Edinburgh.

From 2015 all buses in Scotland will have to be disabled accessible in order to meet the Disability Discrimination Act. This act has caused a great deal of resentment in the bus industry as it will require a large amount of money to be spent modifying or buying new buses that comply with the act, for what is perceived to be little benefit. It also sees a number of otherwise serviceable buses taken off the road and made worthless before the end of their natural life. In Scotland there are a number of situations where currently no suitable buses are manufactured that could operate due the hilly and uneven road conditions which damage disabled accessible vehicles. The Isle of Arran is one example, where extensive road improvements will be required before disabled accessible buses can be operated extensively on the island.



As Scotland is made up of several hundred islands, water has always been an important transport route for passengers and freight, particularly in the remote communities of the Hebrides.

There are several ferry companies operating in Scotland including:

The Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, formerly Strathclyde Passenger Transport, the only regional passenger executive in Scotland also subsidises and operates ferries on the Clyde including the Kilcreggan Ferry and the Renfrew Ferry.

The ferry to Gothenburg, Sweden, from "Newcastle" (actually North Shields) in northern England (currently run by the Danish company DFDS Seaways), ceased at the end of October 2006.[6] This service was a key route for Scottish tourist traffic from Sweden and Norway. The company cited high fuel prices and new competition from low-cost air services, especially Ryanair (which now flies to Glasgow Prestwick and London Stansted from Gothenburg City Airport), as being the cause. DFDS Seaways' sister company, DFDS Tor Line, will continue to run scheduled freight ships between Gothenburg and several English ports, including Newcastle, and these have limited capacity for passengers, but not private vehicles. The Newcastle-Kristiansand, Norway, route has however recently been cancelled.


Scotland never had an extensive canal network. The Forth and Clyde Canal, Union Canal and the Caledonian Canal were some of the most important, but went into decline after the growth of the railways. They are now being reopened and restored primarily for leisure use.

Air transport

Scotland has four international airports with scheduled services, operating to Europe, North America and Asia, as well Northern Ireland and also England and Wales.

These four airports now serve 107 international destinations in Europe, Asia, Africa and North America.[7]

Highlands and Islands Airports Limited operate ten small airports across the Highlands, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, which are primarily used for short distance, public service operations, although Inverness Airport has a number of scheduled flights to destinations across the UK, as well as chartered flights to Europe.

Scotland technically has no national airline, the former British Caledonian which was based in Scotland was taken over by British Airways in the 1980s. Some Scottish-based airlines operating include:

  • BMI Regional- a subsidiary of BMI which is based at Aberdeen Airport;
  • Eastern Airways- based at Aberdeen Airport;
  • Loganair- a Flybe franchise (previously operated as a British Airways franchise ) operating between Glasgow International, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness to the Scottish Islands and Northern Ireland.
  • Scot Airways- based at Dundee Airport and Edinburgh.

British Airways, Flybe, Jet2, Ryanair and EasyJet all operate flights between Scotland and other major UK and European airports.


See also

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