Borders Railway bosses are being urged to buck up their act after Christmas shoppers were hit by numerous cancellations of services between Tweedbank and Edinburgh at the weekend.
Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Rachael Hamilton raised the issue in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, demanding action to ensure better performance over the festive period.
“Last Friday, travel chaos ensued across the ScotRail network, and that continued until Monday, with more than 70 trains being cancelled,” said the Conservative MSP.
“Many of our constituents experienced terrible service last week, including on the Waverley line to Tweedbank.
“Trains were delayed or cancelled and the situation escalated, so much so that the trains did not stop at Stow.
“Hard-working ScotRail staff bore the brunt of passengers’ anger.
“This is unacceptable. Last weekend was the first proper weekend of the Christmas rush, and ScotRail failed to step up to the mark.
“It is an absolute priority over the Christmas period.
“We have had the lowest performance in two decades, overcrowded trains, overworked staff, cancelled services, angry passengers and rising compensation payments.
“The Scottish Government needs to reinstate performance targets and hold ScotRail to account.”
South Scotland Labour list MSP Colin Smyth agreed, telling Scottish Government transport secretary Michael Matheson: “Rather than taking enforcement action against ScotRail for plummeting performance, the transport secretary issued a waiver, allowing it to deliver the worst punctuality since the franchise began.
“Had that licence to fail not been granted, the company would have been in breach of its franchise and the government could have issued a remedial plan notice against ScotRail.
“Is it not time that the transport secretary stopped bailing out ScotRail and started standing up for Scotland’s hard-pressed rail passengers by demanding a proper remedial plan from ScotRail showing how and – crucially – when it will hit the performance targets that it is paid to hit?”
Mr Matheson told them: “ScotRail’s ability to provide a reliable service for several parts of the Scottish rail network has been unacceptable for passengers and the Scottish Government over the past few weeks.
“Instead of celebrating the provision of 65,000 additional weekday seats and more than 100 additional services per day following the recent introduction of the new timetable, I am extremely disappointed to again be speaking about unacceptable levels of cancellations.
“I have made my position clear to Alex Hynes, the managing director of the ScotRail Alliance, and to Dominic Booth, managing director of Abellio UK – ScotRail must take all action that is necessary to ensure that services return to schedule as soon as possible and that passengers begin to see the benefits of the new timetable.
“ScotRail has sought to reassure me that there is a plan of action to address the number of cancellations.
“It has already recruited 85 drivers and 54 conductors to deliver the new services.
“An intensive training programme is under way to recover the delays that were caused by late delivery of trains and industrial action by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers.
“That training programme, which will continue throughout the Christmas holiday period, will allow a steady service improvement as each staff member completes their training on the new trains and routes.
“Additional expert operational planning resource has been added to ScotRail’s team to optimise the use of available resources and thus minimise cancellations.
“I have made it clear to ScotRail that restorative action rests entirely with it and I expect it to take whatever action is required to ensure that services return to normal as quickly as possible and run smoothly over the Christmas and new year period, delivering the benefits of more seats and services on a consistently reliable basis.”
Mr Hynes said afterwards: “We’re sorry to customers for the disruption to services in recent weeks.
“We know the impact this has on your day and are working flat out to get things back to normal.
“The disruption has been caused by two key factors – late delivery of new trains by Hitachi and Wabtec means the training that is required for our train crew, on new trains and new routes, has had to be compressed into a very short space of time, and day-to-day services have had to be cancelled to allow our people to take part in training, and RMT industrial action meant there was an overtime ban for some of our people, which lasted for several weeks. This is now resolved but made the problem of train crew training worse.
“Training is ongoing so that we can get services back to normal, and we can expect an improvement in the coming weeks, but while we continue to train our conductors and drivers, some disruption will remain.
“We know this isn’t acceptable and are sorry to customers about this.
“Every single person at the ScotRail Alliance is working hard to improve things for our customers as soon as possible.”