Escape to the country with the ScotRail Highland Explorer

Last updated: Thursday, 15 July 2021

ScotRail is opening up some of Scotland’s most beautiful areas to tourists, cycling fans, outdoor pursuits enthusiasts and local commuters with its new ScotRail Highland Explorer service.

Three carriages, which are a first of their kind for the UK rail network, will operate along the world famous and iconic West Highland Line from Glasgow to Oban, from Monday, 19 July, allowing customers to escape to the country.

There were complex challenges to overcome, such as the lack of space on public transport for carrying large sporting equipment.

But, working with Transport Scotland, cycling groups and outdoor specialists, the design team at ScotRail came up with an innovative solution to accommodate up to 20 cycles and bulky sports gear.

The aim is to encourage people to ditch the car and use the train to get them out into the open air.

The redesigned carriage boasts space for ordinary bikes, a limited number of tandem cycles and an e-bike charging socket – unique on a train in the UK.

The carriages had a full interior and exterior refresh including installation of free WiFi, at seat power points and USB sockets, and a refurbished toilet.

The ScotRail Highland Explorer carriages will bring more people to the country’s rural communities, encouraging further travel throughout Scotland, and supporting local business in the great outdoors. The carriages will be added to a limited number of existing West Highland services to boost capacity.

The West Highland Line was chosen for the initial launch because of the access it provides to the rest of Scotland. Starting in Glasgow, the line takes passengers through Loch Lomond and The Trossachs to Oban. From here they can travel to majestic western isles such as Barra, Islay and Tiree.

Handy ‘How To’ photos and written instructions will be available on ScotRail’s website giving a step-by-step guide to using the new cycle racks and there will be easy to follow diagrams on board too, with staff on hand for assistance if required.

Customers must book their cycle’s space to guarantee its place on board. To support physical distancing the train operator will adopt the same approach as the rest of their network allowing customers to choose their seat once on board.

In 2020, ScotRail released images of the exterior livery of the train, designed by Scottish artist, Peter McDermott.

The eye-catching images depict typical Highland scenery along with some of the best-known visible landmarks along the West Highland Line, including the Glenfinnan monument and viaduct, Skye Cuillin mountain range, Ben Lomond, and the castle on Loch Awe.

The carriages were modified by Brodie Engineering in Kilmarnock.

Alex Hynes, Scotland’s Railway, Managing Director, said:

“This is a landmark moment for lovers of Scotland’s great outdoors.

“For the first time in the UK, a train carriage will be able to accommodate up to 20 cycles which will allow more people than ever before to enjoy the majestic scenery this country has to offer.

“It’ll also be a welcome economic boost for rural communities, many of whom depend on tourism for their livelihoods.

“I am delighted, and proud, that ScotRail is able to deliver this service, further enhancing the appeal of our world famous and iconic West Highland Line.”

Graeme Dey, Minister for Transport, said:

“The launch of this service marks a real step forward in encouraging an active lifestyle and tourism opportunities.

“By offering so many cycles spaces on board trains which serve some of Scotland’s most scenic routes, we can help even more people get out of cars and into the great outdoors. At the same time, we are opening economic opportunities for local communities working hard to recover from the impacts of the pandemic.

“I’m sure cyclists and adventurers from across Scotland and beyond will look forward to using this unique service.”

Grace Martin, Scotland Director at Sustrans, added:

“Sustrans have worked closely with ScotRail throughout the Highland Explorer project, and we are delighted to see the carriages launched along the West Highland Line.

“Even more people can now experience iconic west-coast routes like the Caledonia Way and enjoy world-famous Highland hospitality along the area’s many family-friendly day rides.

“The carriages are a great example of how we can work together to make walking, cycling and public transport more attractive and convenient options, giving people the opportunities to make more of their journeys without the need for a car.

“We’re looking forward to continuing our work with ScotRail and local stakeholders to encourage more residents and visitors to travel to and from the area sustainably, and spend time exploring the wonderful businesses, attractions and landscapes of Scotland’s west coast in greener, healthier ways.”

Would you like to know more about ScotRail's Highland Explorer?
Find out more here