ScotRail to restore 160 suspended services from Monday after Covid staff absences fall
ScotRail said it was confident of running a reliable service once more as it prepares to restore 160 trains a day that were suspended last month because of high rates of Covid-related staff absence.
Scotland’s main train operator said the number of staff off work because of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant had reduced by two thirds since the peak of the wave, when it was forced to cancel hundreds of trains a day at short notice before cutting services to improve reliability.
The Scotsman has learned that from Monday, services will return from some 1,840 a day to around the 2,000 which ran in December.
However, this comprises only 80 per cent of the 2,400 that operated pre-pandemic.
Services were reduced by 160 on January 4, with the temporary timetable operating for twice the anticipated three-week period.
ScotRail plans to restore a further 150 daily services in May, increasing the total to 2,150 – but leaving it 250 fewer than 2019 levels.
However, that is 50 more than the 2,100 services it had planned to run as part of proposals announced in August last year, with the additions following public pressure as part of the biggest response to a consultation in the company’s history.
ScotRail said peak-hour services would not return to normal in the immediate future, but they could be increased in due course to meet customer demand.
The firm said passenger numbers were “steadily increasing”, but remained 50 to 60 per cent of normal levels.
A spokesperson said: “At the peak of the Omicron wave, more than 450 ScotRail staff were absent.
"The temporary timetable provided greater certainty for customers on which services will operate.
“Around 150 ScotRail staff remain absent due to Covid, including 50 drivers [of 1,060].
"However, with this improving picture and restrictions across Scotland being relaxed, the operator is now able to safely reintroduce the timetable that was in operation in early December, which delivers around 2,000 services a day.
“From Monday, customers will see more services and more seats across the country, as the number of people travelling steadily increases.”
Face coverings remain mandatory on trains and in stations, including open air platforms.
ScotRail service delivery director David Simpson said: “The introduction of some temporary changes to our timetable was important for our customers, providing a level of certainty during a challenging time.
“We still face significant challenges, with 150 staff absent, but with things improving, and restrictions across Scotland being relaxed, we are now able to safely reintroduce our full timetable of around 2,000 services a day.
“The pandemic is not over yet and we will still face some disruption due to staff absence, but we are confident of providing a reliable service for our customers.”
Kevin Lindsay, Scotland organiser for train drivers’ union Aslef, said: “We welcome more services being brought back, but if Scotland is going to meet its aspirations on reducing its carbon footprint then the planned cuts in May must be stopped.”
Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the office staff union TSSA, said: “Whilst the news is welcome, it doesn’t change the fact ScotRail is still operating a severely limited timetable.”
RMT union Scotland organiser Mick Hogg also welcomed the decision but attacked plans to reduce ticket office hours and not restore services to pre-pandemic levels.
He said: "There is a race to the bottom and Abellio ScotRail, Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government are working hand in glove to con the people of Scotland over Scotland’s trains.”