ScotRail service cuts are a disaster for Edinburgh and transport minister Jenny Gilruth needs to sort it out quick – Susan Dalgety

I wonder if Jenny Gilruth ever wakes up in the morning and wishes she had stuck to teaching, instead of going into politics? She would have had an easier life.

Monday, 23rd May 2022, 4:55 am
ScotRail services in and out of Edinburgh will be severely affected by a drivers' pay dispute (Picture: Craig Stephen)
ScotRail services in and out of Edinburgh will be severely affected by a drivers' pay dispute (Picture: Craig Stephen)

The former modern studies teacher is now Scotland’s transport minister, and she has to deal with a major breakdown in not one, but two of the country’s lifeline services.

The ferries saga, which reads like an episode of the Thick of It, only without the laughs, has dragged on for years, leaving people living on the west coast islands stranded, sometimes for days at a time.

I am sure Ms Gilruth shuddered a little when she realised she was going to have to sort out a mess created by other people. But the latest catastrophe to hit our transport network happened on her watch, so she will have to fix it.

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It’s less than two months since Nicola Sturgeon joined Gilruth at Glasgow’s Queen Street station to welcome the nationalisation of train operator, ScotRail.

“We have a duty now that the railways are in public ownership to demonstrate to people that it brings advantages – not just in the principle of public ownership, but in the practical experience of that as well,” trumpeted the First Minister, before heading off in her ministerial car.

This week, Edinburgh and Lothian rail passengers are facing the same fate as the long-suffering folk of Arran – the prospect of continuous disruptions to their essential public transport links.

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A pay dispute between the rail union Aslef and ScotRail bosses has forced the operator to cancel hundreds of services in recent weeks. And unless a deal is reached with the staff, vital night-time routes between Fife and the Capital are to be halted indefinitely, as well as significant cuts made to the services between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Both routes are essential to the city. Thousands of people travel to and from Fife and Glasgow by train for work. The city’s retail and hospitality businesses depend on trainloads of people coming to Edinburgh from across the Central Belt. It is simply not sustainable for ScotRail to reduce these lifeline routes to a skeleton service at night.

Jenny Gilruth has said, presumably with a straight face, that the cuts will lead to “a more stable and reliable service” while the pay dispute is resolved, but that could take weeks, months even. Rail unions are known to drive a hard bargain. In the meantime, Edinburgh faces transport chaos.

Bringing Scotland’s rail network back into public ownership was always a risk. As the ferries’ debacle shows, the SNP government doesn’t have a great track record in running transport.

By all accounts, Gilruth is a hard-working minister who, not surprisingly for a former teacher, does her homework, which is more than can be said for some of her colleagues, so I am sure she is working overtime to get ScotRail back on track.

But the Fife-based politician needs to solve this latest crisis as soon as possible. Unlike her, the people waiting on the platform at Waverley station for the 20:20 train back to Dunfermline after a hard day’s work can’t rely on a government limousine to take them home. They need the trains to run on time.