Fury as more than 700 rail journeys a DAY are slashed by Scotrail

20 May 2022, 11:30

Nicola Sturgeon at Queen St station when Scotrail become nationalised
Nicola Sturgeon at Queen St station when Scotrail become nationalised. Picture: Alamy

By Gina Davidson

MORE than 700 train journeys a day will be slashed from Scotrail's timetable leaving passengers unable to travel from some of Scotland's biggest cities after 8pm at night, as drivers threaten a full-scale industrial dispute with the Scottish Government.

Nicola Sturgeon has urged the newly nationalised Scotrail to sit down with trade unions in "good faith" to settle the row over pay.

The rail company has a severe shortage of drivers, and without a hike in pay drivers have refused to work their rest days and carry out overtime, resulting in cancellations.

Now Scotrail is set to introduce a temporary timetable from Monday which will reduce the number of daily rail journeys by a third, causing chaos for passengers and businesses - and there is no end date for services to resume normally.

On Scotland's busiest line from Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Queen Street only 30 services will operate on weekdays compared to the current 45. The last trains will depart at 10.15pm, rather than at 11.45pm.

The last service from Edinburgh to Perth will depart at 7.42pm more than three and a half hours earlier than the current timetable, while passengers travelling to Fife and Dundee can travel no later than 8pm.

Routes out of Aberdeen to the north west of Scotland will end at 6.18pm, the last train out of Inverness will be 6.59pm, and the number of journeys to the Borders have been cut from 31 a day to just 15.

And the last train out of Glasgow to Stirling will be 7.49pm rather than 11.51pm.

At First Minister's Questions in Holyrood Nicola Sturgeon was slammed by both Conservative and Labour MSPs.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said: "You call this regrettable, say that to the people in Dunbar who will have zero trains operated by ScotRail stopping at their station.

"Say that to the business leaders who are telling you these cuts are going to put at risk thousands of jobs and small businesses.

"Let's remember, Nicola Sturgeon and her Government are in charge of Scotland's railways. Just seven weeks into nationalisation, it's already proving a disaster."

Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour leader, reminded her that she had said in 2018 that service cuts of 40 trains per day were "not good enough" but that since 2020, ScotRail services have seen a decrease of almost 1,000 a day.

Mr Sarwar said: "For once, Nicola Sturgeon has got nobody else to blame.

Why are 40 cuts a day when someone else is in charge not good enough, but cutting 1,000 services a day, in the words of the rail minister, 'a stable and reliable service'?

"Yet again, the SNP chased the headline, but won't do the work. Maybe they should employ fewer spin doctors and more train drivers."

Nicola Sturgeon said returning Scotland's train services to normal was "vital" but that the temporary timetable was "preferable to unplanned cancellations".

She added: "However - and let me stress this point - it is vital to get the timetable back to normal as quickly as possible and I expect ScotRail to review the temporary arrangements regularly, indeed it is due to be formally reviewed on June 3."

The First Minister went on to say it is important for an agreement to be reached as quickly as possible, while ScotRail's training programme continues to bring new drivers into the workforce to reduce the need for rest day working.

She urged the train drivers' union Aslef and ScotRail to continue negotiations to reach a settlement - mentioning that drivers currently earned around £50,000 per year.

"I would say to the unions, I understand their job to represent their members and to get a fair pay deal for members, but let's see both parties get round the table and negotiate that in good faith - I think that's what the travelling public want to see as well," she said.

Responding to the First Minister, Aslef Scottish organiser Kevin Lindsay said in a statement: "ScotRail and the Scottish Government have handled this situation appallingly.

"Nicola Sturgeon has to recognise that the pay dispute can only be settled with a resumption of immediate talks.

"We need a fair pay deal and there must also be a clear and proactive plan to recruit more drivers.

"Aslef stands ready to resume talks with the company anytime, anywhere, any place. We have said this from day one and today we repeat that call.

"Relying on drivers to work rest days is no way to run a 21st-century railway. This situation will not be resolved if ScotRail fails to engage in meaningful talks."

Scotrail has apologised to passengers. Its service delivery director David Simpson said: "We know what customers want more than anything is certainty and reliability which is why we are introducing a temporary timetable. We want to resolve this dispute with the trade unions and move forward together to provide the safest, greenest, and most reliable railway we can for Scotland.

'We are open to further talks with the trade unions. We ask customers to check their journey on our website, mobile app, and social media channels as train times will have changed."

The Night Time Industries Association said the timetable changes are a "cruel blow" for hospitality businesses.

A spokesman said: "These devastating cuts to rail services will leave commuters rushing to catch early trains home and prevent ordinary people across Scotland from travelling in to our towns and cities during the evenings.

"Such cuts to services, even temporarily, is yet another cruel blow for Scotland's hard-pressed night-time economy and cultural sector which are yet to recover from the pandemic.

"With these beleaguered industries facing an extremely challenging start to 2022, this news presents considerable concerns both around economic and employment impacts, and of course over the safety of customers and staff travelling home safely at night."

Meanwhile the SNP's Westminster transport spokesperson Gavin Newlands MP was ridiculed for claiming in the Commons today that “Scotrail is actually an exemplar for the rest of the UK in how to run a rail system”, with Scottish Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson Jill Reilly saying: “It takes some brass neck to make this claim when SNP/Green ministers have just run a big red pen through a third of the timetable, only 47 days after taking over.

“Passengers are losing almost 700 services a day, evening trains are evaporating and the SNP/Green Government have put fares up 4% for the privilege. People are being taken for granted.

“This SNP/Green Government has hit the ground cutting.”

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