Extra ScotRail services plan shelved

A planned increase in ScotRail services has been shelved after travel restrictions were not eased in Scotland.
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Rail unions claimed they had successfully lobbied against the change to avert confused messaging.

Meantime, a “transport transition plan” is being devised by ministers for when more people are allowed back to work.

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It is expected to be published in a few weeks’ time – suggesting any significant lockdown restrictions are still some way off.

Transport secretary Michael Matheson warned MSPs today that space on buses and trains could be reduced to 10-15 per cent of normal because of the need for 2m distancing.

He told an online meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s rural economy and connectivity committee that no decision had been taken over whether the advice for passengers to wear face coverings would become mandatory.

An extra 100 trains a day were planned from next Monday, as The Scotsman reported yesterday, which would have added 4 per cent more services, which are at 43 per cent of normal.

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However, this will not now go ahead because there is no need for more people to travel yet.

Space on ScotRail trains will be cut by 80 per cent  because of 2m distancing requirements. Picture: John Devlin.Space on ScotRail trains will be cut by 80 per cent  because of 2m distancing requirements. Picture: John Devlin.
Space on ScotRail trains will be cut by 80 per cent because of 2m distancing requirements. Picture: John Devlin.

The train drivers’ union Aslef said it had lobbied with other unions for the increase to be shelved.

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Mr Matheson said when travel did increase, public transport would be “substantially constrained” and it would have to be carefully managed.

Trains on ScotRail’s flagship main line between Edinburgh and Glasgow would be only able to carry fewer than 100 people compared to more than 500 normally.

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However, he said plans were needed to minimise the risk of buses and trains being swamped, as had happened in England.

Personal protective equipment would be issued to some staff.

ScotRail said major stations would have floor marking on platforms and concourses so passengers could keep 2m from each other, while waiting rooms will be closed.

The operator said it would take longer to buy a ticket at a station and board a train.

‘Be patient’

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It said passengers would be urged to avoid the main commuting times of 7-9am and 4-6:30pm.

It also advised that the earliest and latest trains were for key workers like NHS and care home staff.

The operator said: “If you think it’s not safe to board a train, don’t do it and wait for another service.

“Be patient. You might not be able to board your first choice of train, as social distancing means most seats need to be left empty.”

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But operations director David Simpson added: “There are limits to what ScotRail can do to manage this.

“It is essential that everyone works with us to help people stay safe.”

Mr Matheson revealed the estimated extra cost of keeping ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper going when passenger numbers were down by around 90 per cent was £250 million over six months.

He said the emergency payments may need to be extended, which are effectively nearly doubling the Scottish Government support for the franchises.

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Mr Matheson said: “There is a potential for an extended period of time beyond the six months we will have to continue with the arrangements.”

Aslef Scotland organiser Kevin Lindsay welcomed the extra services being suspended.

He said: ‘This decision is the right decision.

“Here in Scotland we have taken the decision to ‘stay safe’, not ‘stay alert’ – whatever that means – because we care about the health of our nation.

‘Boris Johnson’s mixed-up messages make no sense at all. And we know it makes no sense to increase services at this time.

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‘That’s why Aslef has worked really hard, behind the scenes, along with our sister trade unions, to press the Scottish Government to make the right decision.

“And it’s a decision that we welcome. Because the safety of passengers and staff is paramount. I want to thank the Scottish Government for listening to us.”

Manuel Cortes, leader of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, said: "Our reps tell me we are currently running ghost trains on ScotRail. There’s no demand for additional services.

“And as Nicola Sturgeon has, quite rightly, chosen not to ease the lockdown, unlike Boris Johnson's mixed messages and his incoherent stance, there will be no increase in demand.”

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