COMMUTERS across Scotland are facing a day of travel chaos on Tuesday with the first in a series of planned strikes set to bring much of the nation’s rail network to a grinding halt.
Over two dozen key routes will be subject to cancelled or reduced services, throwing travel plans into disarray.
Even some of those services that will be operating should the strike go ahead will terminate at the peak of rush hour, meaning workers will need to make alternative arrangements to find their way home.
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union are due to stage a series of walkouts in the coming weeks, starting with a 24-hour strike tomorrow.
According to Scotrail’s website, services on at least 16 routes will be cancelled, of which only three are expected to have replacement bus services in place.
The cancelled services include busy commuter routes, such as Edinburgh to North Berwick/Dunbar, Glasgow Queen Street to Stirling and Dunblane, and Glasgow Central to Edinburgh via Shotts.
Scotrail has advised passengers that “it is most unlikely that we will be able to source buses for routes” other than those from Glasgow Queen Street to Oban/Fort William/Mallaig, Aberdeen to Inverness, and Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh/Wick.
A host of other routes will be operating on a reduced frequency between 7am and 7pm. They include the Glasgow to Perth and Aberdeen service, will be hourly, and the Edinburgh to Fife Circle route, which also be hourly.
However, commuters on the latter service will face problems trying to get to work at peak times. The first service begins at 6.37am, but there is not another for more than two hours, when it departs Edinburgh Waverley at 8.40am. In the evening, those looking to get home from the capital face a rush for the last train, which leaves at 5.52pm.
Other routes from the capital with reduced services include trains to Perth/Inverness, Dundee, Dunblane and Glasgow Queen Street via Falkirk High.
Scotrail is advising passengers to check its website for updates and to help plan their journey, but it warned those trains that are running will be busier. It has recommended people travel outwith peak times or use alternative routes.
In a statement on its website, it said it was “putting plans in place to run as many trains as possible,” adding: “We remain committed to holding further talks in a bid to avoid any action.”
But with less than 24 hours until the strike is due to begin, there is still no information on the reduced timetables for some routes, such as Aberdeen to Inverurie, meaning people cannot yet plan their journey.
It comes the managing director of Scotrail Alliance denied “sabotaging” talks aimed at resolving the dispute.
The RMT claimed ScotRail was refusing to meet at the conciliation service Acas. But Phil Verster said the claims were a “mystery” to him and accused the RMT of building their strike campaign on “misinformation.”
General secretary Mick Cash said: “It is extraordinary that, with the serious nature of this dispute, and the impact that it will have on rail services across Scotland, ScotRail have sabotaged the talks planned for today.
“The union has made repeated attempts to get talks moving and it makes no sense at all for the company to continue to blank us unless they are hell-bent on bulldozing through cuts to jobs and safety.
“The workforce know that any extension of driver-only operation is a clear attack on our members’ hard-earned terms and conditions.
“RMT members should not have to face the risk of their role and responsibilities being reduced and undermined.
“The workforce also know only too well that there is a very real threat to passengers of watering down and wiping out the safety critical role of the guard on these ScotRail services. That is a lethal gamble with basic rail safety.
“The union remains available for serious and meaningful talks but the ball is now firmly in ScotRail’s court.”
But Mr Verster told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “What the RMT is saying is just a mystery to me.
“I very clearly wrote to Mick Cash on Friday, talked to him on Saturday, sent him an email saying we are available today, we’re available on Sunday, we’re available on Monday and we want to talk without preconditions and without a strike threat hanging over us.
“On Wednesday when we met with the RMT for talks it was preceded on the Tuesday evening with them declaring seven days of strike action as well as refusing to talk about any improvements. This is just not good enough.
“We have guaranteed that there will be no job losses, no redundancies, guaranteed pay, guaranteed terms and conditions so with these guarantees we only want to improve the railway.”
He said the RMT’s claims on safety were a “very worrying piece of misinformation” and said “this issue is not about safety at all.”
He said 59% of Scotland’s passengers already travel on trains where the driver opens and closes the doors and a second colleague focuses on safety and customer service.
He added: “It is totally unnecessary to have strike action on these days.”
The RMT staged a protest this morning at ScotRail’s offices in Glasgow to demand talks. Union supporters held flags and banners reading “keep the guard on the train.”
RMT regional organiser for Scotland Mick Hogg said talks between the two sides at Acas were due to resume today and that Mr Vester’s claims that the dispute is not about safety were “absolute nonsense.”
He added: “This dispute is not about more money, it’s about safety. That’s why were are insisting the guard must remain on the train in order to ensure that Scotland’s trains do run safely.
“If, God forbid, there was a collision or a derailment there would be no one who is safety trained in order to evacuate the passengers safely. The guard’s role is a safety-critical role.”
Rail regulator the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said its inspectors were content that driver-only operations are safe.
Ian Prosser, ORR director of railway safety and HM Chief Inspector of Railways, said: “Trains with doors operated by drivers (known in the industry as ‘Driver Only Operation’) have been in operation in Great Britain for more than 30 years.
“ORR has scrutinised this approach, and our inspectors are satisfied that with suitable equipment, proper procedures and competent staff in place, it is a safe method of working.
“Great Britain’s railways have a good safety record, and are now statistically the safest in Europe.
“Of course, we cannot be complacent, record numbers of passengers getting on and off trains means station and platform safety is a top priority.”
For a full list of the latest cancelled and reduced services and journey information, visit Scotrail’s website at https://www.scotrail.co.uk.