Rail strikes set to end amid '˜encouraging' ScotRail offer

The long-running ScotRail dispute is expected to be settled today following six weeks of disruption to passengers.

Wednesday, 3rd August 2016, 8:31 am
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 8:13 pm
ScotRail passengers have endured 12 days of strikes since June with buses being used on some routes. Picture: PA

An improved offer over conductors’ roles is likely to be accepted by officials of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, industry sources have told The Scotsman.

More than 20 union representatives from train depots are due to meet this afternoon to consider the proposal.

Their decision will then be put to the RMT’s national executive for approval.

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The move follows 12 days of strikes since June, which have forced the cancellation of one in five trains across the country.

Five further days of walkouts have been called by the union, in an intensification of the industrial action.

A two-day strike is planned for Sunday and Monday, one for next Thursday and another two-day stoppage for Saturday and Sunday 13-14 August.

Passengers have been forced to switch to buses on some lines and seen services run less frequently, and only between 7am and 7pm, on other routes.

The latest offer would see conductors, or guards, retained on a new fleet of electric trains which are scheduled to start running on routes across the Central Belt from late next year.

Conductors would also keep their historic safety role, such as being responsible for evacuating the train in an emergency.

ScotRail had planned to replace them with lower-paid ticket examiners on some services.

However, the train operator still wants to switch the control of door opening and closing from conductors to drivers.

This already happens on electric trains in and around Glasgow, under a deal struck 30 years ago to keep threatened lines open.

One well-placed union source described the ScotRail move as “encouraging”, while another said: “I’d be amazed if they don’t accept it.”

A separate industry source said: “The local consultation that has taken place so far has been positive.”

A RMT source said: “We are going to give the proposal full scrutiny, but until the union representatives have decided on it, nothing has changed and the action is still on.”

RMT general secretary Mick Cash, who has discussed the dispute with ScotRail officials, is also believed to be supportive of the offer, but the union has declined to confirm this.

Mr Cash stressed to The Scotsman during a visit to Glasgow on Sunday the “safety critical” role of the conductor, which would appear to be retained under the latest ScotRail plan.

Conductors will have seen their pay packets dwindle after weeks of strikes, while ScotRail has managed to provide buses to keep most passengers on the move.

However, some union officials may seek to hold out for door control remaining among conductors’ responsibilities.

The door-control move is seen as crucial in cutting the time trains stop at stations on the main Edinburgh-Glasgow line to reduce journey times from 50 minutes to 42 minutes when the new Japanese-built Hitachi trains start using it.

ScotRail has said drivers rather than conductors closing doors could save 15 seconds per stop. That could add up to more than a minute over the journey.

The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency said last month the planned reduction in journey time between the two cities after electrification of the main line is complete was based on driver operation of the doors.

It said alternatives would be looked at if conductors retained door control, but it is not clear how the time saving could otherwise be achieved.

Switching door control to drivers on the new electric trains could also be seen as a potential watershed for future similar moves on the operator’s diesel fleets.

A ScotRail spokesman said after a meeting with RMT officials on Monday: “We discussed a proposal that would see a conductor retained on the new electric trains when they enter service next year.

“It would also mean a change to the way in which those trains are dispatched.

“We were encouraged by the talks today but further discussion will need to take place.

“In order to enable this, we have asked the RMT to suspend all upcoming strikes and to encourage a return to normal working.”

Transport minister Humza Yousaf repeated his call for the stoppages to be called off.

He said: “I believe there is a solution to be found through negotiation and as talks are still ongoing I would call for these strikes to be suspended and for all parties to focus on resolving this increasingly frustrating situation.”

A Transport Scotland spokeswoman said: “Any resolution which brings the current strike action to an end and with it the disruption for passengers is to be welcomed.”

Aslef, the main drivers’ union, has shown signs of agreeing to take over door control on the new trains.

However, it still has major concerns over safety as passenger numbers increase.

ScotRail declined to comment until negotiations were complete.

The RMT said the offer had yet to be discussed.

A spokesman said: “The offer will now be subject to detailed scrutiny and consultation before there is any formal response from the union.

“RMT will be making no further comment until our members and representatives have had time to respond.”