Here is the story of my journey from Balloch to Oban on ScotRail. It has not gone as planned. If it had, I would have arrived in Oban about two hours ago. Instead, I will get there about three hours from now.
The morning in Balloch
My train from Balloch to Oban departed at 12:38 this afternoon. This gave me time to sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast, walk around town and buy some snacks for the train, and just linger. On my walk I saw a swan and a white-tail deer.
A little past noon I made the five-minute walk to the train station. And there I waited for my train.
The first leg of the journey was to Dumbarton Central, where I would change for the train to Oban.
ScotRail, Part One
The train arrives right on time. It’s just four stops to Dumbarton Central, so I don’t get too comfortable. We pull into out out of the first couple of stations. The announcements are very clear: “Now arriving at…” and “The next stop is…”
As we’re coming to a stop at what I think is the third station, I hear the announcement, “Now arriving at Dumbarton Central.” Oh, I thought there was one more stop to go. I quickly gather my things and step out onto the platform. After a moment the train pulls away.
I look for the information monitor to see what platform I need to get the train to Oban, and I see that I’m not in Dumbarton Central. I’m in Dalreoch.
I go to the ticket office and explain what happened. The ticket agent has a horrified look on his face. He checks his computer. There is no way to get to Dumbarton Central in time to make my train to Oban. I ask, Could I get a taxi? He says I’d never make it in time. According to his computer system, the train to Oban is two minutes outside Dumbarton Central. It would take longer than that to call a taxi and get it to come pick me up at the Dalreoch station. And he suggests he would call to have them hold the train if he could, but they wouldn’t do it.
If I take the next train to Dumbarton Central, how long would I have to wait for the next train to Oban?
He looks at his schedule. The next train to Oban departs from Dumbarton Central at 5:07. Four hours from now.
And would they honor my ticket?
I show him the ticket, which I bought in advance. It’s good only for the train I was scheduled on. He said I can ask the conductor and maybe he’ll honor it.
Well I guess I have no choice. When is the next train to Dumbarton Central? Ten minutes.
The poor ticket agent looks so sympathetic.
ScotRail, Part Two
I get on the next train and ride one stop.
I get to Dumbarton Central about 1:15. There’s no one in the ticket office there. There’s also no left luggage office or lockers, so if I wanted to wander around Dumbarton, I have take my luggage with me.
I linger in the station deciding what to do, and an agent comes up on the platform. I explain my situation to him. He tells me the next train to Oban isn’t until 5:07. I tell him I know this, and I’m prepared to wait.
Just then another train is pulling into the station. What I should do, the agent tells me, is get on this train and go back to Glasgow. The train to Oban originates in Glasgow anyway, so I’ll get there at the same time. At least in Glasgow I can have lunch and do something besides sit in the waiting area here, where there’s absolutely nothing.
I jump on the train.
ScotRail, Part Three
The conductor is checking for tickets. Of course I don’t have a ticket to go to Glasgow. I show him the ticket I have and I explain my situation. He scans the QR code on my phone.
Twenty minutes later a different conductor comes checking for tickets. I explain again.
By now I realize this isn’t the worst possible catastrophe. But there are two complications. First, I had a dinner reservation tonight in Oban. So I canceled that. Second could be more problematic. Tomorrow I have a tour to Mull, Iona, and Staffa, three islands off the coast near Oban. It’s a do-it-yourself tour combining ferries and buses. I was supposed to pick up the tickets from the tour company office when I arrive in Oban. But they close at 5:30, so I won’t get there in time. I emailed them to ask them if there’s any way to get the tickets, but they haven’t responded. So I’m not sure what I’ll do. They aren’t supposed to open until 8:30 tomorrow morning, and the ferry leaves at 8:35, so I guess I’ll have to hope they open a bit early and I can get the tickets and make it in time for the ferry. Or if that doesn’t work, I can try to reschedule for the day after tomorrow.
I get to Glasgow Queen Street Station about 2:00.
The first thing I do is head to the ticket office, where I explain my situation once again. The ticket agent there wrote out an “Authority to Travel.” So I was able to do all my train travel today using just the pre-booked ticket.
Everyone at ScotRail was incredibly helpful and kind. I’ve heard horror stories from travelers in other countries (particularly Italy) where they get fined massie amounts because they forgot to validate their ticket before boarding. Of course there was an erroneous announcement that caused my troubles, but they still didn’t have to honor my ticket.
Anyway, I’m back in Glasgow with a couple of hours to kill. I check my luggage at the left luggage desk. Just down the block from the Queen Street Station is a Thai restaurant I heard good things about when I was in Glasgow a few days ago. So I decide to go get lunch there.
I go in the entrance under the “Chaophraya” sign, and I’m at the bar. I ask the bartender if I can get lunch. He asks if I want to sit in the restaurant or at the bar. I say the bar is fine. He says have a seat and he’ll go get a menu. He disappears up the stairs. That’s when I realize I’m in the Hard Rock Cafe. So I hightail it out of there and go around the corner to the other entrance for Chaophraya.
After lunch I walked around a bit before picking up my luggage and catching my train.
ScotRail, Part Four
It’s nice they have wifi in all the stations and on all the ScotRail trains, so I can write.
However, the scenery is starting to get really gorgeous, so I’m going to stop now and look out the window.
I’ll be back with more from Oban.