At the end of August, ScotRail announced that trains between Ayr and Glasgow would be short-formed and that, to ensure sufficient capacity on the route, some full-length trains would start from Prestwick with a connecting bus service from Ayr. At the same time train services between Stranraer and Ayr were suspended. This service resumed on 2 November, although restrictions on train length at Ayr station remain in place for the foreseeable future.
The cause of these restrictions is the dangerous condition of the B-listed station hotel that, ten years ago, was sold to a Malaysian businessman who abandoned it after it closed in 2013. In the same year, South Ayrshire Council issued a Dangerous Building Notice which was withdrawn after Network Rail erected crash decks to protect platforms and the station entrance.
Exclusion zone declared
After five years’ lack of action and further deterioration, the Council issued a further Dangerous Building Notice.
Having had no response from the overseas owner, the Council occupied the hotel in July to undertake a survey. This resulted in the closure of the station’s travel centre and concourse, requiring a temporary ticket office and entrance to be established at the north end of the station.
On 28 August, the Council declared an exclusion zone around the hotel, which led to unfounded press reports that Ayr station might have to be temporarily closed.
However, it was possible to operate four-car EMUs from the north end of the platforms, although the through-platforms had to be blocked. Ayr station has two bay platforms, 1 and 2, which can normally accommodate seven-car Class 380 EMUs, and two through platforms, 3 and 4. Blocking these platforms resulted in the Stranraer service having to be replaced by buses and ScotRail being unable to use the ten-road Townhead EMU sidings and its washing plant, located immediately south of the station.
Stranraer services restored
A taskforce, led by Transport Scotland and which included Network Rail, ScotRail Alliance, South Ayrshire Council and Historic Environment Scotland, considered how services to Stranraer could be resumed. This took over two months and required some alterations to the station that included isolation of the overhead line south of the station footbridge, by cutting insulators into the catenary, and temporary steps from the footbridge onto Platform 3 to replace those leading to the closed station concourse.
Temporary buffer stops have been provided on Platforms 1 and 2 to keep trains away from the hotel. A walkway was also erected between these platforms providing a walking route away from the hotel.
Trains resumed to Stranraer following a risk assessment by Network Rail after work had been done on the hotel including its encapsulation. This allowed Platform 4 to be reopened as a through platform, although Platform 3 remains blocked and the Townhead sidings are still out of use.
While it is not clear how long the current restrictions will remain in place, the council has issued a statement that, although they had initially expected their work to make the building safe would be completed in December, this will now be delayed because ScotRail and Network Rail have decided to run trains to Stranraer!