The director of the Edinburgh International Festival was one of the most recent exponents of the merits of a 24/7 service linking both cities. Naturally he had his own reasons why and they would have waned considerably after the Festival had ended.
Daytime services between Glasgow and Edinburgh operate to a 15-minute frequency for the most part, with competition from Scottish Citylink coaches, who provide 15m-long Plaxton Panther-bodied Volvo B12BTs and operated by Park's of Hamilton and Stagecoach. The ComfortDelGro-owned Citylink coach service provides a round-the-clock timetable of sorts over Fri/Sat and Sat/Sun for those willing to travel by road and naturally the train operator, who also happens to be one of Stagecoach's rivals, wants to get in on the act.
First ScotRail's plan was to provide trains to a clockface hourly frequency from both ends between 2300-0600. Citylink operate coaches at 0000, 0130, 0300, 0630(Sa), 0730(Su) from either end, which isn't as easy to remember when you've had a few 'drams' as, say, on-the-hour, every hour, but acts as a frequency the operator is willing to provide based on loadings. And this is something Network Rail will have looked at before denying ScotRail the paths it requested.
Network Rail's main concern was financial viability. It claims an average 59,000 passengers would need to use the overnight trains each year, which equates to between 31-35 per train. Ambitious? ScotRail doesn't think so, citing patronage on the recently opened Alloa line as being much higher than predicted. Of course, this is daytime patronage.
LEYTR Comment: Where a bus or coach service can commence operation at any time of day linking any settlements, trains have far more regulation to successfully negotiate. It seems bizarre Network Rail can have the final say based on what it believes to be likely patronage when this isn't it's 'bag' at all. It's like the Traffic Commissioner's office turning down an application to operate a bus service between Leeds and York because it doesn't believe sufficient numbers will use it. Admittedly, costs for a number of companies are higher on the railways, not just the train operator. But this is one of the busiest lines in Scotland, linking the two largest cities.
We're both aware of the friendly rivalry Glasgow and Edinburgh have for each other, but if a 24/7 service, with the overnight timings at an hourly clockface interval, cannot flourish, what hope is there for this service level being introduced elsewhere in the future? Will this be seen as an attempt by Network Rail to continue dominating the agenda as it sees fit or ScotRail wrongly believing such a cosmopolitan frequency should exist in the Lowlands?