We do cycle tours, but sometimes when environmental issues are raised they are worth pursuing.. especially when they have any kind of impact on ecotourism (sustainable transport) or conserving the environment
PERTH TRAIN STATION & PERTHSHIRE RAIL NETWORK..
As a follow up from previous blog post Perth Train Station Part 1 (28th May 2023), some background info and history about this Victorian Railway Station, built in Tudor architectural style, which was first opened as Perth General Station back in 1848, and that by 1856 Perth had become the main rail link to all the major Scottish Cities. The simple fact is that it was in these 8 years that Perth had become the most important hub on the Scottish railway network. It also raises a question as to how a major train station could decline so much over the past 175 years?
In this blog/news article will try to cover as much as possible, so apart from Perth Train Station, the wider rail network across Perthshire and down to Edinburgh, a very confusing history of that rail network, along with some info about Perth born author John Buchan, the Highland Main Line, a proposed plan in 2023 to merge the train and bus stations, and a current pricing issue concerning rail fares in and out of Perth compared to other Scottish locations.
Skip to whatever section you find of interest, and this way we can avoid a Perth Train Station Part 3 😉
Rail travel on the Highland Main Line is approx. 50% more expensive than on other Scotrail routes! - An update on rail fares and actual services for those wishing to make use of the train on the Highland Main Line between Perth and Inverness. In Part 1 we highlighted the declining services on the Highland Main Line, but have since also compared pricing which shows that Scotrail seem to think it is acceptable to charge around 50% more than on their other Scottish Rail services? (more info below)
Rail travel from Perth (to Edinburgh)..
A few observations today about those illogical/inconvenient ‘Ladybank’ or ‘Cowdenbeath Loop’ connections affecting travel times/services to and from Edinburgh, or how somebody at local/regional level (council?) more than likely ‘dropped the ball’ (bungled) more than once over recent decades, and how Perth station as a transport hub then declined, affecting both the city and the area/region, and sadly both have never recovered. (more info below)
Some info and fun facts about Perth born author and statesman John Buchan, who back in 1915 had his bestselling novel The Thirty-Nine Steps published, and there is a statue/bust of him (hidden away) inside Perth Train Station, as the original access doors to the station have long been replaced with windows, while the platform itself is hardly used anymore with the current timetable.
As for the state of that plant or flower display standing behind the bust/statue that doesn't appear to have been touched in years, well I suppose Scotrail will claim its responsibility of Network Rail, while Network Rail will claim its for Scotrail to maintain.. so nobody has to deal. A typical British dilemma in the current climate (dodging being the norm, or diffusion of responsibility... aka passing the buck!) - update 29th July: that plant/flower pot is still in the same state it was back in June.
Born in august 1875 at 20 York Place, Perth (not far from the rail station), John Buchan had a fascinating life, so much so that one could easily describe him as the ultimate adventurer. Not only did he become a highly respected author, probably best known for his bestselling spy thriller “The Thirty-Nine Steps” (first published in 1915), but also an influential Scottish Unionist, and was the M.P. for Scottish Universities between 1927 and 1935. And if that wasn’t already enough, during the second Boer War he had been over in South Africa, had spent years during the First World War (WW1) attached to the British Army's General Headquarters Intelligence Section (some reports even saying he was Director of Information for the British government), and then later he became Lord Tweedsmuir, and the Governor-General of Canada in the lead up to and during WW2 (from 1935 until his death in 1940).
As an author, John Buchan’s works include nearly 30 novels, along with biographies of Sir Walter Scott, Julius Caesar, and Cromwell. His spy or action novels featuring the adventures of Richard Hannay are described in The Thirty-Nine Steps, but also in Greenmantle, Mr. Standfast, The Three Hostages, and The Island of Sheep. It is also worth noting here that the fictional character Richard Hannay could very easily have been the template, guide, or predecessor a few decades later for the fictional character James Bond? (see comparisons/similarities below)
Also a fun fact on Buchan’s works, but one of his other novels ‘Huntingtower’ (published in 1922) is set in Carrick, Galloway but takes its name from Huntingtower Castle in Perth.
John Buchan v Ian Fleming, Richard Hannay v James Bond..
The influences on their authors prior to these fictionized characters being created; It could be just a coincidence, but when comparing the background of these two authors, it can then easily be argued that John Buchan’s character Richard Hannay was in fact the inspiration or predecessor for what Ian Fleming would come up with decades later.. The main character in The Thirty-Nine Steps was Richard Hannay, and Buchan suggests that the character is based, in part, on Edmund Ironside (from Edinburgh), who operated as a spy during the Second Boer War in the late 19th century.
During the first world war (WW1), John Buchan was Director of Information with the British government… while during the 2nd World War (WW2), Ian Fleming was recruited by the director of Naval Intelligence in 1939, and by 1942 Fleming had been put in charge of Operation Goldeneye (this name would of course later be a major influence in the life of Ian Fleming), while in some biographies Ian Lancaster Fleming is described in the build-up to WW2 as having held the rank of a reserve subaltern (junior officer) in The Black Watch (a Highland Regiment with its origins or roots in Perthshire).. strange comparisons indeed?
From 1915, Richard Hannay would go on to feature in seven of John Buchan’s novels, while between 1953 and 1966 Ian Fleming had 14 of his novels published featuring James Bond.
In today’s age or era, John Buchan, and Ian Fleming for that matter, will have their critics. But when you look back at his life, and the era or events during the first half of the 20th Century that included two World Wars, then John Buchan has to be one of the most influential people to have ever been born here in Perth!
Forthcoming TV series featuring Benedict Cumberbatch; John Buchan’s classic spy thriller ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’ has already been filmed several times, including a film version by Hitchcock. There are reports that the recent Oscar & BAFTA winning director Edward Berger (All Quiet on The Western Front, 2022) is filming a TV series for Netflix with Benedict Cumberbatch portraying Richard Hannay.
PERTH TRAIN STATION
The station here in Perth has been operational now for 175 years. Originally known as Perth General Station, it first opened in 1848, and within ten years had become the main rail hub to all the major Scottish Cities.
The train station in Perth was served back then by different rail companies who all had their own routes; so for example the SCR (Scottish Central Railway) were responsible for the services from Glasgow Queen Street via what became Upper Greenhill (near Falkirk) to Edinburgh Haymarket, that ran from 1842 along what was then the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway, although to confuse matters Upper Greenhill had initially opened as Scottish Central Junction, and the link from Greenhill was formed in 1845 to link Perth and Stirling to Central Scotland, and was then operational by 1848.
In those early days there was also the Dundee & Perth Railway (1847 to 1849), the Edinburgh & Northern Railway to link Dundee and Perth with Edinburgh via Ladybank (1845 till 1862), the Scottish Midland Junction Railway (SMJR) to link Perth and Aberdeen via Forfar (1845 till 1856), while in 1856 they also had the Perth & Dunkeld Railway, a predecessor of what would eventually become the famous Highland Main Line route we know today, that actually ran back then just north of Perth from Stanley Junction to a terminus in Birnam on the opposite side of the River Tay to Dunkeld – then in 1863 this section was taken over by a new company and became the Inverness & Perth Railway. The Highland Mail Line (HML) is a railway route that was eventually pieced together and runs from Perth northwards all the way to Inverness, has a total of ten stations, and which covers a distance of approx. 200km.
In 1858 there was also the Perth, Almond Valley & Methven Railway – by 1866 they had extended that railway line on to Crieff.
There was also the Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee Railway (which was taken over by the North British Railway (NBR) in 1862). This company initially ran services on the Glenfarg line (so connecting Perth with Bridge of Earn, and ran as far as Ladybank), then by 1938 it became part of two Kinross lines (one connecting Edinburgh to Perth via Cowdenbeath and Kinross, and the other line connecting Kinross and Ladybank with Alloa). Bridge of Earn station was eventually closed to public transport in 1964 and to goods in 1965. The Cowdenbeath loop and the enigma of Ladybank had been created!
The Newburgh and North Fife Railway (was owned by NBR, and provided a rail route connecting Newburgh, Perth and Ladybank) which ran goods trains and then public transport between 1909 until 1922, but then after the Railways Act 1921 this section was transferred to the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), and then just used for goods till the 1960’s.The LNER became part of British Rail at the end of WW2.
And if all that wasn’t confusing enough, from 1847 onwards saw the start of what became known as the Caledonian Railway. This was initially set up to link English Railways with Glasgow, but was extended to link up via Perth with both Aberdeen and Edinburgh, and then by around 1923 this network was absorbed into the London, Midland and Scottish Railway.
But when you look back, it was actually the North British Railway (who were based in Edinburgh from 1844) who would indirectly create confusion on the rail routes (you could even say they were the root cause of all future issues even to this day!) by introducing some longer journeys, and eventual line closures, by initially competing with the Caledonian Railway on routes between Edinburgh and Dundee,
They (NBR) did make significant advances over their rivals through building the first and then second Tay Bridge, and the Forth Bridge (back then this journey had involved ferry crossings of the Tay and the Forth rivers!), so that by 1923 the North British Railway had become the largest railway company in Scotland, but at what cost? - In 1938 they were running their service from Edinburgh to Perth via Dunfermline (on the Kinross line), which indirectly caused an impractical diversion/route on the rail network that became known as the Cowdenbeath loop. This section is still in use today, and is the cause of many frustrated discussions relating to train journey times from Perth and Fife to Edinburgh! Things would have been so different had they (NBR) not deviated from the original approved plans back in 1867 (see section below for more info).. Here a classic example of that term; ‘could have, should have, would have’ – as the repercussions of not following that original plan back in 1867, along with the eventual delivery by 1938, means we now have a rail network or infrastructure in this part of Scotland that is not only no longer fit for purpose, but also way too costly to rectify in the 21st Century!
It was during the early 1860’s that the North British Railway were planning what was then termed as the Glenfarg Line (basically a rail route between Perth and Kinross), where prior to the construction of the Tay and Forth bridges they had received permission by the government to operate a route linking Glenfarg with Dunfermline and what was then known as the Queensferry Railway. But once the Forth Bridge was being built the priorities had changed, and so by 1867 the original plan was dropped. Then by 1890 once the Forth Bridge had been opened, a deviation of the Glenfarg line had been constructed instead, that resulted in by-passing Cowdenbeath, and indirectly creating what is known today as the Cowdenbeath loop.
HIGHLAND MAIN LINE (travelling by train between Perth and Inverness)
Since the previous article on 28th May 2023 we have also noticed significant pricing differences when comparing with other Scotrail destinations that start from Perth. So, in addition to there not being that many services north of Perth anymore on the current/summer timetable, it seems that Scotrail are also charging a lot more for travelling on the Highland Main Line, which surely cannot help or encourage customers or tourists/visitors to use the train instead of their vehicle/car? So apart from the prices being a lot higher compared to other routes, other obvious questions here are how is this eco-friendly? or how does it encourage sustainability?
Here some examples... taken from before the recently announced price increases on the network that are supposed to be introduced from July 2023
The Perth to Pitlochry route (travel time 29 to 31 minutes), Perth to Stirling (travel time 34 to 36 minutes), and Perth to Dundee (travel time 20 to 22 minutes);
Perth to Pitlochry - £15.80 off peak return, £16.10 standard single, and £21.70 anytime return. There is no option on ScotRail website or at any ticket office to ever purchase an advance single?
Perth to Stirling - £9.20 off peak return, with some options to get an advance single for only £4.90
Perth to Dundee - £9.40 off peak return, and £9.20 for a single. Does not appear any option for an advance single on this route either.
This current pricing makes no sense? (Stirling travel time to/from Perth is longer than to/from Pitlochry?) and therefore will never encourage more people to use trains when the prices are around 50% higher, plus there are already virtually no services running at weekends during 'leisure time'? (see previous article Perth Train Station Part 1 which shows the limited Scotrail timetable north of Perth)
If Scotland wish to promote or encourage more tourism/visitors to the Highlands, then there has to be a much more efficient service.. When you compare these 3 current routes on the Scotrail network (Perth to Pitlochry, Perth to Stirling, and then Perth to Dundee)… it seems that rail travel on the Highland Main Line is approx. 50% more expensive?! – How does this help promote tourism, or support the local economy?
For more info about the current Scotrail timetable serving the Highlands, and why people actually get a much more efficient service in countries like Hungary or Cuba, then see the previous article at:
EDIT 21st July 2023: As previously mentioned, Scotrail raised their prices from July, but also appear to have added a few more options when travelling north from Perth towards Inverness.
We took a closer look at these options and found there is a way to travel from Perth to Pitlochry by purchasing 2x advance single tickets at £6.30 each, so a return from Perth to Pitlochry has a total cost of £12.60 but.. there is a catch! - In practice, these advance single tickets need to be booked weeks if not months in advance, and you then have to purchase your seat on a specific train and time/date. There is also still no option to purchase any same day return tickets on this route! Not exactly suitable for any tourist or visitor who wishes to have a day out, or travel through Scotland by rail?
So as it stands, the new pricing from July on the Highland Main Line from Scotrail when travelling between Perth and Pitlochry on their refurbished (1980's?) trains is:
Perth to Pitlochry - £16.60 off peak return, £16.90 standard single, and £22.70 for the anytime return.
According to their recent advertising campaign they do permit you to take a child along for just a quid! (a pound).. so that's good news for a family with 2 kids to head up from Perth to Pitlochry for a day out and leave their car at home so as to help protect the environment.. but if that family don't plan this trip weeks in advance then it will cost them £35.20 to travel just half an hour each way on the train for their day out. But at least Scotrail have ticked their boxes now to show that they encourage affordable rail travel?!
And then there is a practical or common sense observation here; These advance single tickets at £6.30 each between Perth and Pitlochry also have a limited availability. So what are the odds that the aforementioned family of four who wish to go on a day trip into the countryside can actually all get to travel on the same train together?! - On paper Scotrail and their shareholders are happy now because they can claim that if you book and pay in advance then their customers can travel for a reduced fee.. but in practice just how many people will actually benefit or be able to make use of this offer?
Apparently that old fashioned 'cheap day return ticket' was withdrawn from the Highland Main Line route over ten years ago now (some say even longer), and those making decisions at Scotrail claim that there is no demand for this type of ticket anymore?
To Follow: PERTH STATION (a new Rail and Bus Station merger for the region?) - In April of this year the local newspapers announced a major change with the headline ‘Perth's railway and bus stations could finally be merged..’ Sounds good, apart from the word ‘could’, and not before time (some say this plan should have been delivered back in the 1980’s!).. so let’s hope that this report from April 2023 has an actual delivery date this time? That this isn’t just another ‘image over content’ presentation by the local council? And that the most relevant word in that headline doesn't turn out to be just ‘could’?! - The Perthshire region needs a modern day, fit for purpose, transport infrastructure that will provide an affordable service to both locals and visitors. We need less vehicles on the roads.. and people need it now! - In simple terms, there is something very wrong when it costs more to travel 30 minutes on a train in Perthshire than it does to travel the same distance across London?!
And on the subject of infrastructure and the environment, well that has been covered before..
"... What this region needs now more than ever is a lot more forward planning by people with creativity and imagination ... as it can only be the best place to engage with the environment if those behind the infrastructure in Perthshire actually start delivering!.."
Previous article about the environment here in Highland Perthshire:
EDIT 27th June 2023: By weird coincidence, it seems that last night on UK television there was a channel 4 Dispatches Documentary presented by Ben Elton; ‘The Great Railway Disaster’ explaining the decline of British Rail over the past 30 odd years. - Mr. Elton will be travelling around the country to explore the current state of the railways, a "mess of cancelled and delayed trains, rising ticket prices and creaking infrastructure".
This programme may have just covered sections of the rail network in England, but back in the 1980’s (when all these current issues of pricing and service delivery appeared) British Rail also covered the network what is now Scotrail. The point being that over recent decades the rail service in Britain has declined so much that it has become the most expensive AND the worst rail service in all of Western Europe! – So apart from the shareholders, we suffer the consequences of greed and incompetence, and 'the rail service across Britain' is basically a disgrace for all to see.
One of the film versions of John Buchan's The Thirty Nine Steps..
decided to go with this poster/image from the 1978 film version because its the only one that includes that famous man on a bicycle being chased by an aeroplane scene (bottom right above movie credits).. Alfred Hitchcock had also filmed this scene in his 1935 version (which was actually set in Killin, Perthshire), and would then go on to re-create this same chase decades later with actor Cary Grant in his spy thriller North by Northwest (1959), that also by strange coincidence has plenty of other similarities to The Thirty Nine Steps storyline! .. and then if that wasn't already enough; North by Northwest is then quoted today as having been a major influence in the 1960's on both the James Bond and The Man from UNCLE film franchises. Fun facts and coincidences 😉
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Pitlochry, Dunkeld, Tay Forest, and the Blair Athol Distillery..
an E-Bike tour from Pitlochry around Loch Tummel..
Logierait, River Tay, Loch Faskally and the Pitlochry Festival Theatre..
Along with an update on Jumbo Visma and other Dutch cycling teams..
A 50 mile bike ride down to Loch Leven, cycling in Perthshire, Kinross and Fife..
In August, UCI World Championships to be held in Scotland..