ScotRail’s new Highland Explorer, active travel carriage has been added to the West Highland Line to Oban making it easier for visitors to store bikes and hiking equipment and leave the car at home.
The Highland Explorer is the first five of ScotRail’s Class 153’s to be fitted out and the first of its type in the UK.
The service will operate from Glasgow to Oban from today twice daily. Passengers can book cycle space from today, using the form on ScotRail’s website https://www.scotrail.co.uk/scotrail-highland-explorer.
From the 7 August, passengers can book online, by phone or at ticket offices.
Argyll and Bute Council, BID4Oban, Argyll and the Isles Tourism Cooperative (AITC), Sustrans and ScotRail have worked together for two years to optimise the introduction of the new carriages and build on the increase in cycling tourism in Scotland – a trend which has increased even further during the pandemic.
Sustrans, working with Scotrail and AITC have produced Rail & Trail, a new initiative promoting leisure cycling and the Caledonia Way from the railway. https://railandtrail.co.uk/
Members of the North Argyll Cycling Club helped BID4Oban and AITC map out cycle routes around Oban and the Caledonian Way which are included on the Rail & Trail map, some appear on the Sustrans cycle map on Visitscotland.com https://www.visitscotland.com/cyclingroutes and all are now available on the Wild About Argyll Komoot page. https://www.komoot.com/user/2184913606963
With funding from NatureScot, AITC commissioned Markus Stitz to devise a series of gravel loops and routes that can be enjoyed from the stations travelling up to Oban. Markus previously developed the 655km Wild About Argyll Bike Packing Trail across Argyll mainland in 2018 http://bikepackingscotland.com/argyll/ and will now be creating an island trail linking to the new adventure carriage arriving in Oban and funded by Calmac.
Markus Stitz, founder of Bikepacking Scotland boarded the first carriage to travel to Oban with his bike:
“It's great to see the Highland Explorer active travel carriages running, especially on a line to Argyll. The area has such a vast potential for cycling and offers stunning scenery and history alongside. Argyll was the very last stage of my round the world single speed trip, and inspiration for the first gravel bike packing route I designed, and served as inspiration for Bikepacking Scotland, so it’s special to take the first train with such great bike provision.”
Councillor Elaine Robertson, Chair of Oban, Lorne and the Isles Area Committee:
“With the rise of domestic tourism in Argyll and Bute, we are delighted to welcome the ScotRail Highland Explorer to Oban and showcase the very best the area has to offer. The new service will not only make it easier for adventurers to store their equipment, it also supports Climate Friendly Argyll and Bute actions promoting sustainable travel.”
“The council continues to work through HiTrans, transport and local partners to bring forward improvements to public transport infrastructure. This new service is an important step forward and we will continue to make the case for additional improvements that meet both the needs of residents and visitors to Argyll and Bute.”
Iain Jurgensen, chair of Argyll & The isles Tourism Cooperative:
“Today is a significant day with the Highland Explorer arriving in Oban for the first time. The carriage opens up so many opportunities to get off the beaten track whether your interest is hiking, touring, gravel biking, bike packing and mountain biking.”
“This new adventure carriage offers so much scope for individuals or groups of family or friends to get out and explore without needing to bring a car. This is responsible tourism in action and hats off to Scotrail for making this investment. This is a game changer for active travel in tourism across mainland Argyll and out to the islands - and as it is a pilot it now needs all the support it can get to prove this is the way to go.”
Andrew Spence, Chief Executive BID4Oban Ltd added:
“We have been working on this project with our various partners for two years and to see the ScotRail Highland Explorer arrive in Oban today is testament to the hard work that has gone in behind the scenes.”
“This is the first carriage of its type in the UK and given the huge increase in cycling in recent years we are confident it will be well used. We have invested in mapping various routes in and around Oban that are aimed at all abilities. This enables our visitors to travel to Oban or other stations along the way and take advantage of some fantastic cycling experiences. Oban has so much to offer and this new carriage adds to our visitor experience.”
Grace Martin, Scotland Director at Sustrans:
"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."
David Adams McGilp, Regional Director, VisitScotland said:
“We are delighted the breath-taking Glasgow to Oban rail journey is hosting Scotrail’s active travel carriage. We know from our insights the vast majority of people choose Argyll & Isles as a destination because of the landscapes and scenery and around a quarter of visitors come here for the outdoor activities on offer, like mountain biking.
Adventure tourism is a force for good because it benefits both the local economy and enhances the well-being of everyone who experiences it. Tourism makes Scotland richer, economically and socially, and without it Scotland would be a much poorer place.”