Action group see first encouraging signs of progress

The Arran Ferry Action Group met the CalMac representatives in the sun lounge of the Auchrannie. Left to right: Robert Cumming, Sam Bourne, John Ford, Stuart Wilson and Robbie Drummond of CalMac and Sally Campbell.

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At the invitation of the Arran Ferry Action Group, CalMac’s managing director Robbie Drummond and group communications director Stuart Wilson travelled to the island last month to meet committee members of the group. Over two and a half hours they challenged them with numerous concerns raised by the group’s 1,145 supporters. Here secretary Chris Attkins gives a summary points that were agreed.

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Reliability and resilience
Top priority being improving reliability and resilience, we asked why Gourock was no longer used as a port of refuge for our ferries. Robbie pointed to the number of sailings now scheduled, which meant that lengthy diversions caused greater disruption to the timetable. However, he assured us that Gourock would be considered for lengthy periods of disruption at Ardrossan and promised to send us the Masters’ decision-making paper outlining the procedure now in place, together with further details of the issues relating to Gourock. He also gave an undertaking to publish on the CalMac website the reasons for not sailing to Gourock.

Robbie said he had been criticised for being very vocal in calling for long-term strategies for vessels and ports, as were implemented in other countries, particularly Scandinavia. CalMac’s vessels have each been designed on a bespoke basis, on short-term decisions to address local needs. He thought it essential to have a longer-term strategy, with standardised vessels then being ordered to fulfil network needs. Investment was also urgently needed in ports, many having been adapted from fishing ports constructed in the 1960s and no longer adequately serving the needs of the CalMac fleet. He was adamant that a 30, 40, or even a 50-year strategy was now required. A new ferries plan was now being drawn up by the Scottish government, along with a strategic transport plan looking at all networks.

Stuart Wilson suggested that government tended to respond to potential crises, but expressed the hope that a more forward-thinking strategy could be adopted. He said that CalMac was engaging as much as possible within the terms of its contract, but encouraged the action group to lend its weight to that approach.

Pointing out that to date we had been refused access to information about the planned redevelopment of Ardrossan harbour, Sam Bourne asked how CalMac intended to operate during this period. Robbie explained that CalMac had consistently asked for plans of the works schedule in order to plan their operations around the disruption. At some point it was anticipated this would become unsafe, when the ferry would make use of Troon on a temporary basis until the substantial works at Ardrossan were completed.

Sam explained our intention to invite the Ardrossan Taskforce to present their plans to the people of Arran, when it was suggested that CalMac might invite one of their Masters to reassure the public following their experience on the simulator. Robbie agreed to this.

Brodick connectivity
Thinking of tourists travelling to Arran as foot passengers, John Ford highlighted the need for signage at Ardrossan to alert them to the time it would take them to disembark and connect with onward transport. Better signage to the lifts was also required at Brodick. Chris Attkins mentioned
that it would be very helpful for all involved if passengers who needed assistance from CalMac staff upon arrival at Brodick were able to ask for this in advance at Ardrossan. These points were duly noted.

Robert Cumming, a retired doctor, said that not withstanding the length people had to walk, the less-able were further challenged by the inclines, which might look minimal, but were nevertheless an additional stress, especially if they were hurrying to catch a bus.

Robbie Drummond explained that CalMac employed someone to look at timetable integration and volunteered to investigate the possibility of adjusting times to ameliorate these difficulties. With capacity constraints due to vehicles rather than foot passengers, he was keen to encourage people to rely on public transport and was reassured that Arran residents would greatly appreciate any adjustments to improve connectivity.

Ardrossan ferry terminal
Sally Campbell expressed widespread public concern that mistakes made with the Brodick ferry terminal would simply be repeated at Ardrossan, due in part to replicating the same basic building design, with its two-storey construction. Chris suggested that whereas the cost of changing the single-file access pod might now be prohibitive at Brodick, at Ardrossan a wider unit could be specified without significant penalty. Both Robbie and Stuart encouraged the Action Group to make representations to those responsible, demanding that foot passengers be properly catered for.

Concession ticketing and capacity
Following up previous correspondence with Robbie Drummond, which he felt had been misunderstood, John Ford presented a simple procedure to enable the pre-purchase of concession tickets at the time of booking a vehicle that would enable their validity to be audited to the satisfaction of SPT. Robbie agreed to give this matter further consideration ahead of the
eventual introduction of a new ticketing system in 18 months’ time, which has finally been authorised.

Robbie confirmed that this service was tidally restricted. Robert and John explained that they had been trying for several years to get a limited winter service, but had been told this would not be safe because of the weather. However, this was contradicted by the service running when the Brodick ferry was unable to sail. They highlighted this as a viable escape route to the mainland. Robbie agreed to look into the reasons why this had been refused. He explained there was a formal timetable consultation process, enabling communities to request specific changes that were then considered. Sally mentioned that an increasing number of people were keen to
participate in events up the west coast over the winter, boosting the economic case for additional sailings from Lochranza. Robbie offered to help articulate the case for this provision.

Brodick terminal handrail
Chris reported to Robbie and Stuart that seven people had told the Arran Ferry Action Group they had either fallen themselves, or witnessed someone else falling down the stairs in the Brodick terminal. He expressed the Group’s concern that if nothing was done, it was inevitable that
eventually somebody would be seriously injured, and he handed over a collation of more than 50 comments from passengers echoing this.

Robbie was very sympathetic to this proposal, but having previously been told that a central rail would breach health and safety, he would seek written confirmation from CMAL prior to us challenging this decision.

A full summary of the meeting is on our website


The Arran Ferry Action committee met the CalMac representatives in the sun lounge of the Auchrannie. Left to right: Robert Cumming, Sam Bourne, John Ford, Stuart Wilson and Robbie Drummond of CalMac and Sally Campbell. NO_B40action01

There is concern that the new Ardrossan ferry terminal is of a two-storey design like Brodick. NO_B40action02

Group logo NO_B21AFAG01 (in library and D-photos)