“We are building the best railway that Scotland has ever had”, said ScotRail Alliance Programmes and Transformation Director Ian McConnell as testing of new Class 385s on the newly electrified Edinburgh to Glasgow route last month. It's a bold claim, but is it true? Well that depends on your definition of "best". How do you define "best? And if we are to call this route "the best Scotland has ever had", how does it compare to every other railway Scotland has ever had?
Does it have the best scenery? No. The Falkirk High route isn't exactly pretty, running through the industrialised central belt, so if scenery is your thing, no it's not the best railway in Scotland. Not even close. The West Highland extension trumps it by miles.
Does it have the best trains? No. The Buchanan Street to Aberdeen "3 hour expresses" of the 1960s ran with ex-LNER A4 pacifics. Ex-GWR High Speed Trains will be introduced on the modern equivalent service from Queen Street when displaced by IEPs down south. The Caledonian Sleeper and Virgin East Coast High Speed Trains are all more comfortable than anything currently in use by Scotrail. Virgin West Coast run Pendolinos from Glasgow to Carlisle via Motherwell and Lockerbie. Need I go on?
Does it have the best catering? Again, no. Just a tea trolley.
Does it have the fastest trains? No. The East and West Coast Main lines heading south are faster.
Does it have the most frequent trains? No. Glasgow suburban services are more frequent.
Does it have the best looking trains? No. they're hideous, but at least they aren't as ugly as class 380s.
Yes, the modernisation will mean trains are greener, faster and more frequent than ever on Scotrail's flagship route, but having seen the mock-up class 385 interior on display, they certainly won't be as comfortable as the trains they are replacing, and even they aren't as quiet or as comfortable as the push-pull Mk 3 sets that ran on this route back in the '80s. The improvements therefore make the E&G line better in some areas, but not the best.