NEWLY-NATIONALISED ScotRail has confirmed it will slash services by nearly a third from next week – just three days after providing a half price offer in a bid to get passengers back on trains.
ScotRail says the temporary but indefinite move has come as a result of the drivers pay dispute – which has seen nearly over 900 train cancellations in the last 11 days.
Nearly 700 weekdays services are to be cut as part of a temporary timetable “to provide greater certainty and reliability for customers”, ScotRail said.
Further cuts to timetables for Saturdays and Sundays are being worked out.
Scottish Conservatives transport spokesperson Graham Simpson said: “This is devastating news for passengers.
“We are only weeks into having the SNP running our trains and already it is chaos.”
ScotRail said the move was the result of the” ongoing impact of a significant number of drivers declining to make themselves available for overtime or rest day working”, following an announcement by the drivers’ union Aslef that it will ballot for industrial action over pay.
The new transport headache for the Scottish Government has come as it supported a half-price rail fare offer which ended on Sunday to try and entice people back onto trains in the wake of Covid pandemic restrictions being lifted.
It comes as a summer national rail strike is moving closer with the unions National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) and Aslef at deadlock with the minister-controlled ScotRail in a series of disputes.
Another dispute involves thousands of Network Rail workers across the UK which could bring services in Scotland to a standstill this summer.
There are at least two strike ballots planned for industrial action involving drivers and other rail workers with newly nationalised ScotRail.
The RMT has begun ballot for strike action warning Network Rail is planning to cut at least 2,500 safety-critical maintenance jobs as part of a £2 billion reduction in spending, including hundreds north of the border. Meanwhile workers have been subject to pay freezes and changes to their terms and conditions.
The transport staff union TSSA has called for action to avoid a “far reaching” industrial dispute across our railways this summer as it considers a potential national strike ballot with its staff working for Network Rail, which owns the rail infrastructure, including tracks and signals.
ScotRail said “it’s right The train operator said it’s right to make these changes to provide greater certainty for customers as the current level of cancellations is not sustainable for customers and colleagues”.
The train operator added: “Like many train operators across Britain, ScotRail has relied on drivers working overtime or on their rest days. In 2019, ScotRail committed to employing more drivers to phase out the reliance on this practice, however, the pandemic meant that driver training was significantly delayed.
“ScotRail is still awaiting formal notification from Asle and the RMT on the details of the ballots of its members for industrial action.
“ScotRail is disappointed to find itself at this stage with both trade unions, despite a very good offer being made. ScotRail has made a good pay offer that recognises the hard work of our colleagues and the cost-of-living challenges faced by families across the country, while delivering value for the taxpayer.
The 2022/23 offer involves a 2.2% increase in pay which ScotRail says is consistent with the October 2021 agreement reached with other grades.
It said that a top-up revenue sharing arrangement could potentially deliver up to an extra £195 for all staff. The full package would apply where revenue targets are exceeded.
ScotRail said iremains open to further talks to engage in a meaningful conversation with ASLEF and the RMT.
The development comes just days after ScotRail increased weekday services from 2,000 to 2,150.
David Simpson, ScotRail service delivery director, said: “We are very sorry to customers for the disruption of recent days. 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 remain open to further talks with the trade unions.
“We’re asking customers to check their journey on our website, mobile app, and through our social media channels as train times will have changed.”
Unions had raised concerns over the “worst cuts to rail services since the dark days of Beeching” fearing plans by the newly nationalised ScotRail to cut 30% of services.
The train drivers union Aslef said if service cuts were implemented, it would represent the biggest cut to Scotland’s rail services since the ‘Beeching’ cuts of the 1960s.
Aslef Scottish organiser Kevin Lindsay said: “This is what happens when you have political interference in industrial relations.
“It’s time the Scottish Government allowed ScotRail and Aslef negotiate in a fair and open manner.
“These cuts will have a devastating effect on passengers and their confidence in our railway.
“It’s industrial vandalism by the Scottish Government.”
Union sources had confirmed that individual drivers had chosen to work their contracted hours only during the pay dispute as the strike ballot is planned – meaning ScotRail cannot meet the demand.
Aslef say the ScotRail system has always been “understaffed”, meaning it is relying on drivers working out of hours, including Sundays, as the services runs on a six-day a week basis not seven.
A separate RMT pay dispute meant that there were no Transpennine Express operating on the Anglo Scottish West Coast Mainline on Sunday with more Sunday strikes over the next three weekends.
The RMT in both their Network Rail and ScotRail disputes are wanting a higher wage rise than the 2.2% on offer and a ban on compulsory redundancies for betwee two and five years. It also wants no booking office or station closures for two years and the recruitment of hundreds of new apprentices.
The RMT ScotRail industrial action could start on July 11 at the earliest, with the Edinburgh festivals starting in the first week of August.
The Scottish Government decided last year to take ScotRail under direct state control stripping Abellio of the franchise three years early in the wake of continuing outcry over service failings and rising costs to the taxpayer.
It came after a 2018 winter timetable with the introduction of high-speed trains and new class 385 electric trains ushered in months of cancellations and disruption to services with much of it put down to staff shortages partly due to training to deal with the new trains and timetable.
The Scottish Government is now in charge of the rail operator, which runs around 2,400 train services each day through an arms-length company ScotRail Trains Ltd.