Trains only skip stops when necessary, says rail boss

Borders MSP Christine Grahame took outgoing Scotrail managing director Phil Verster to task over skip-stopping, after she spent two hours getting back to her car.

Tuesday, 31st January 2017, 3:22 pm
Updated Tuesday, 31st January 2017, 3:25 pm
Christine Grahame MSP

At a recent meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee at Holyrood, Mr Verster was giving evidence of Scotrail’s performance.

Ms Grahame commended Scotrail and Network Rail on “the delivery and the way that the Borders railway is operated,” saying it was “superb and has been very successful”.

However, she asked about the practice of skipping stops, which, she said, “has caused a lot of concern”.

Phil Verster, outgoing Scotrail boss

She addressed Mr Verster, saying: “I understand that you have stopped doing that at peak times so that people can get off where they want. Has that been held to 100 per cent? Also, what about off-peak times?

“The issue has affected me and my constituents. One day, I spent two hours going to and from a station that you had skipped to pick up my car. I know that you did not do that to me deliberately, but it was not a good experience.”

Mr Verster replied: “On running trains express – or skipping stations – we have implemented a clear policy that trains that are travelling into big city centres and conurbations at particular times in the peak period will not skip-stop. Similarly, trains that travel out from big city centres in the evening at particular times in the peak period will not skip-stop.

“I clarify that we do not skip-stop in the off-peak period because we want the train that is running to get to its end destination in time ... the moment we skip a train past a station, it is counted as having failed its punctuality.

Phil Verster, outgoing Scotrail boss

“We skip stations because the network is interconnected and a train that is running late in one place can hold up 10, 12, 17 or 20 other trains.

“Very often, people do not understand that. The practice of skip-stopping is used in all railways throughout the world.

“The issue is when we do it to cause the minimum customer impact. We are sticking to that practice, and any change to it must be signed off by me or the operations director.”

Ms Grahame also commented that she had been on several trains in which no-one was checking or selling tickets.

Mr Verster replied: “We always have a second person on the train. I am not sure about the issues with tickets not being sold, but I will gladly follow that up after the meeting.”

Ms Grahame asked her final question: “Does Abellio ScotRail have spare carriages when there are pressures throughout Scotland—for example, at hogmanay, when there are common ridings ... or do we just have to pinch them from somebody else in order to deliver elsewhere?

The departing railway chief said: “We have squeezed another class 158 out of Angus Thom’s maintenance allowance, which allows us to put one extra two-car train on the Borders service, giving us more capacity on that route, which is a massive benefit. We have been running that since September.”

He added: “When there are big events for which we need extra rolling stock, we make decisions about what services we can run on other parts of the network, and we make compromises in terms of the level of capacity that we provide.”