ScotRail boss Alex Hynes has been challenged to risk finding out for himself how unreliable Borders Railway services can be.
That challenge, prompted by a flurry of cancellations, on the Edinburgh-Tweedbank line yesterday, April 4, has been issued by Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame.
She’s invited Mr Hynes, chief executive officer of ScotRail since 2017, to join her on a rush-hour service from Tweedbank to Edinburgh Waverley to enable him to potentially see at first hand some of the problems affecting the 1.5m travellers a year now using the 30-mile route.
That invitation was issued during a debate on ScotRail’s performance at the Scottish Parliament yesterday in response to four trains being cancelled on the £353m line, opened in 2015, in the space of just over two hours.
The services axed, due to a train fault, were the 5.44am and 6.50am ones from Edinburgh to Tweedbank and the corresponding return runs to Glenrothes at 6.58am and South Gyle at 7.57am.
On top of that, the 7.26am service from Tweedbank to Edinburgh ran with fewer carriages than normal.
At Holyrood yesterday, Ms Grahame told Scottish Government first minister Nicola Sturgeon: “It gives me no pleasure to raise, yet again, failures on the Borders Railway.
“However, just today, there were two peak-time cancellations and, as a result of overcrowding on later trains, two people fainted, with one requiring medical assistance. A pregnant woman also became ill.
“Given that, at a committee last week, Alex Hynes claimed that “customers are already benefiting from improved service delivery” does the first minister agree that Mr Hynes needs to get out and about on Borders trains to hear what my constituents think about his improvements?”
Ms Sturgeon replied: “I completely agree that that level of discomfort and inconvenience for passengers, as a result of overcrowding, in no way reflects the service level for which the government and Scottish taxpayers are paying.
“I have been informed that today’s cancellations were a consequence of a train failing early this morning, but I will reinforce to Mr Hynes and his colleagues the critical nature of providing a service that passengers can rely on and can feel safe and comfortable using.”
Ms Grahame’s criticisms of ScotRail yesterday were the second set she has directed at the transport company in a matter of days, having taken Mr Hynes to task at a meeting of Holyrood’s rural economy and connectivity committee the week before.
Following yesterday’s debate, she said: “I’m disappointed to hear there has again been rush-hour cancellations on the Borders Railway in spite of ScotRail CEO Alex Hynes’s reassurances at parliament last week that passengers should already be seeing improvements.
“These cancellations are bad enough, but the subsequent overcrowding it creates on the services that are running is not acceptable.
“There is also the matter of people who simply couldn’t get on the train as it was already full when it reached their stop.
“ScotRail is in its last-chance saloon if it wants to keep its franchise, and it has to start making real progress to getting services running properly as a matter of urgency.
“This is why I’ve written to Mr Hynes to invite him to accompany me on a morning peak train journey from Tweedbank to Waverley so he can see for himself the real experiences of my constituents in trying to use the service day to day.”
A ScotRail spokesperson said: “We know that one of the biggest concerns for our customers is busy trains, and we are really sorry to our customers who experienced overcrowding on the Borders Railway yesterday.
“It has been a challenging time for Scotland’s railway, and everyone at the ScotRail Alliance is working flat out to provide customers with the service they expect and deserve.
“We run over 2,400 services every single weekday, and every available train we have is out on the network to get our customers where they need to be.
“Over the course of this year, we will begin to redeploy more of our existing Class 170 trains to the Borders, and these trains will add more than 1,500 extra seats each day.”