Refund policy to be revised amid anger at lack of ScotRail-Aslef talks to avert 700 daily train cancellations
ScotRail must be ordered to resume talks with train drivers union Aslef in an attempt to avert huge service cuts, politicians have demanded.
The call came as the Scottish Government-owned train operator said it was working on a revised ticket refund policy as claims increased in the wake of The Scotsman’s revelation that one third of weekday services would be halted indefinitely from Monday because of a shortage of available drivers.
To add to ministers’ problems, the RMT, ScotRail’s biggest union, confirmed it had followed drivers’ union Aslef in rejecting a 2.2 per cent pay offer and would also be holding a strike ballot, as The Scotsman was also first to report.
Transport minister Jenny Gilruth, who met ScotRail on Friday, described the RMT decision as “deeply disappointing”.
ScotRail and cross-Border train operators’ services could also be hit by a Britain-wide RMT strike involving Network Rail signalling staff if a ballot produces a majority for action on Tuesday.
Meantime, the backlash against the cutting of nearly 700 daily services across Scotland, with last trains hours earlier than normal, continued, with passenger watchdogs and opposition parties calling for a re-think.
ScotRail said the reduction, beyond the current level of up to 200 cancellations a day due to drivers not volunteering to work overtime, was because it was not confident of providing a reliable fuller service.
Aslef has said it had been awaiting the resumption of talks since they broke down on May 4, but ScotRail said: “No meetings are scheduled at present.”
Ms Gilruth had appealed for the negotiations to resume, but the Scottish Conservatives demanded more urgency.
Graham Simpson, the party’s transport spokesperson, said: "Jenny Gilruth needs to order her officials to get back round the table with Aslef so that we can restore some of the services being cut by the SNP.
“It’s only by engaging with unions that this situation can be resolved.
"Even agreeing to a temporary truce would be better than what she describes as a temporary timetable, which is going to be extremely damaging for the country.”
The party has also called for sufficient trains to take fans home from Scotland’s World Cup play-off semi-final against Ukraine at Hampden in Glasgow on June 1 because the last services to Perth, Dundee and Aberdeen are due to depart before the match kicks off at 7:45pm.
Independent watchdog Transport Focus has called for the axed last trains of the day to be reinstated after being led to believe they would be protected.
ScotRail said they were an “absolute priority”, but chief operating officer Joanne Macguire later insisted she had meant last trains in the new timetable from Monday, not the current one.
However, Transport Focus senior stakeholder manager Robert Samson said: “Passengers who relied on late trains, especially those doing shift work, will be disappointed to hear some of them have been cut, leaving them with limited options to get home.
"All the parties need to get round the table to resolve this issue and get trains running again, and in the short term we’d urge ScotRail to look again at removing these last services.”
Aslef Scottish organiser Kevin Lindsay said : "From day one, Aslef has been 100 per cent committed to negotiations.
“The reality is we’ve been waiting on more talks since our five-minute meet on May 4.
"We have had no correspondence and no offer in writing.
"It is high time ministers instructed ScotRail to withdraw its attempt to butcher the timetable, which is more about the purse than the passengers, and to get back round the table for immediate, meaningful talks on pay."
A ScotRail spokesperson said: “We are working on a revised refund policy for customers which will be published as soon as possible.
“There has been in an increase in refund requests in general.”
The RMT described the temporary timetable as a “kick in the teeth" to members, who include conductors and ticket examiners on trains.
General secretary Mick Lynch said: “All we are asking for is a pay award that reflects the value of railway workers and the service they provide to the public day in, day out."
The Scottish Greens, who are in a power-sharing deal with the SNP at Holyrood, said: “The changes clearly do not allow for an adequate service to be delivered for all passengers.
"At a time when we are seeking to encourage more people onto the railway, this is extremely disappointing.
"We've sought urgent assurances from the Scottish Government that the full timetable will be restored at the earliest opportunity.”
In a statement issued shortly before 10pm on Friday, Ms Gilruth said: “I have been absolutely clear that the temporary cancellations, which have been made necessary by a pay dispute and the impact of Covid on driver training, are disruptive.
"They impact on staff, on passengers and on businesses – impacts which I have reiterated in today’s meeting with ScotRail.
“The need for a review of the revised timetable was the central focus of the meeting and there was a collective recognition of the importance that this happens quickly.
However, it is also clear that the potential outcome of other ballots for industrial action, including in areas beyond our control, could impede any efforts to reintroduce services.
"That is why ScotRail will be taking a considered approach to increasing services but will make every effort to action them at the earliest sustainable opportunity.
“It is also important to note that, while both regrettable and necessary, the temporary timetable gives passengers more certainty for the short term, rather than being faced with unplanned cancellations such as those experienced the last few weekends.
"Plans are also being worked up for events such as the Scotland v Ukraine match.
“ScotRail have also given me their assurances they will continue the work already underway to not only train more drivers but recruit more too.
"Although more drivers currently work for ScotRail than in many previous years. the reliance on rest-day working must be reduced and, as far as possible, eliminated.
"That is the focus of ScotRail and of this Government.
“We fully understand that unions’ job is to represent their members and get a fair pay deal for them.
"But all parties must get back round the table and negotiate for that in good faith – this is what the travelling public wants.”
A ScotRail spokesperson said earlier on Friday: “Our priority in developing the temporary timetable was to protect journey opportunities for as many customers as possible – both those travelling for work and for leisure purposes.
“Our timetable will continue to meet the needs of most customers as almost all stations continue to receive at least an hourly service, with many in the Central Belt having a half hourly service.
"We are operating a close to normal Strathclyde service from 7am to 7pm – around 60 per cent of our existing customers currently travel in this area.”
ScotRail service delivery director David Simpson said: “The temporary timetable which will be introduced on Monday May 23 will see a reduction in service but will more importantly provide customers with a level of certainty and reliability.
“In order to provide a robust timetable with the limited number of available train drivers, we’ve had to make some very difficult decisions and this has meant we’ve been unable to provide a full day’s service across every route.
"We will review the service levels and make any improvements we can as quickly as possible.
“We’re sorry to our customers for the disruption they’ve faced, and we share their frustration.
“We want to resolve this dispute with Aslef and move forward together to provide the safest, greenest, and most reliable railway we can for Scotland.
"We remain open to further talks with the trade unions.”