Saturday, March 26, 2011

Troon to Campbeltown ferry

A new passenger ferry from Troon to Campbeltown begins on 1st April.

It's being operated by new-start Kintyre Express, a subsidiary of West Coast Motors, the locally owned Campbeltown bus company which already operates the Scottish Citylink coaches to Kintyre from Glasgow (whether as franchisee or sub-contractor I'm not sure).

The boat to be used is an 11 metre Redbay Stormforce RIB (rigid inflatable boat) with accommodation for just 12 passengers. Centrally heated but lifejackets to be worn at all times:-

The passage time is 1h 15m and combined with a 40 minute train ride from Glasgow to Troon, KE are claiming Glasgow to Campbeltown in less than 2 hours. That compares favourably with the 4h 25m on the coach except the "less than 2 hours" claim is a little disingenuous in that the train gets in to Troon 20 minutes before the ferry departs so it's really 2h 15m (and the train connecting with the Sunday morning sailing is an hour so that's 2h 35m)

How do the prices compare? Well it's £17 to Campbeltown from Glasgow on the bus but £50 on the Kintyre Express boat. Add £6.50 for the train and, as it's more than a mile from Troon Station to the harbour, lets call that £60 from GLA to CTN including the cab fare.

So the Kintyre Express is the equivalent of going on the Heathrow Express from Paddington (15-20 minutes - £16.50) as opposed to going to the airport on the Tube (about an hour - £5.00). But to my mind, these premium services only justify their fares if, as well as a much quicker journey time, they also have a "turn up and go" frequency. The Heathrow Express is every 15 minutes from about 05.00 to 23.30 seven days a week but the Kintyre Express only operates on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday with two departures on these days, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Compare the WCM/Citylink coach with three departures, seven days a week.

But even if KE's restricted timetable does happen to suit you, a sailing "may" be cancelled if there are fewer than four passengers booked. I hate to be the harbinger of doom but I can't really see this taking off as a credible addition to the public transport network. I suspect it will degenerate into "bookable by parties of 3+ and, if you want to book, these are times we go at."

KE are also starting a Campbeltown to Ballycastle (Northern Ireland) service on 27 May with the same type of boat. This has a slightly more reasonable timetable of two departures a day, Friday to Monday. These are not subject to cancellation for lack of demand and the price is £30 single - compare that with £26 single on Stenaline between Belfast and Stranraer and this seems a bit more credible as an alternative tourist link between NI and Scotland. I wish it good fortune but it's only fair to say that previous fast passenger ferry services in Scotland have met with little success. 

Western Ferries (the company that now operates the very successful McInroy's Point to Hunter's Quay car ferry across the Clyde) experimented with a catamaran called the Highland Seabird between Oban and Fort William and Moville in Donegal in the mid 70s but it only lasted two summers, 1977 and 78, as I recall. I went on it between Oban and FW once - great fun but I think my father and I were the only passengers aboard.

And more recently, a RIB service began between Tayvallich (on the mainland coast of Argyll) and the island of Jura in 2008 on a three year trial basis. This was with subsidy from Argyll & Bute Council but it's not yet been decided whether this will be continuing in 2011. See this link and this one for more info on the Jura ferry. It's my understanding KE are not receiving any subsidy for either of their services.

So, I say again, I wish KE all the best. If I had the opportunity, I'd make a point of using them but experience suggests that perhaps not enough people think like I do. But I hope I'm proved wrong. Let's see.

Photo credit Kintyre Express


  1. Thanks for the info about this new service, it had passed me by. Hopefully the Jura service will run, not used it yet.

  2. There has been much talk of the re-introduction of the Troon/Ardrossan-Campbeltown over the decades but has come to nothing. If KE were in anyway serious about this once famous Firth of Clyde crossing , they would invest in much larger vessels and do it right. This would , if properly advertised , see people wanting a good day trip. As we all know Campbeltown is pretty well far off the beaten track but a good return service from the Ayrshire Coast could bring back the heady days of the Steamer. Over £50 seems far too steep for a lot of people for a trip they would like to do 'over the sea'.