Up to 20 ScotRail trains a day skip their scheduled stops

Pic: Ian Georgeson
Pic: Ian Georgeson
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The number of ScotRail trains skipping stops – one of passengers’ greatest bugbears – has increased to as many as 20 a day.

The revelation comes after the train operator refused to disclose to Scotland on Sunday figures they have collated despite numerous requests.

The growth in the number of journeys where trains fail to stop at stations they were scheduled to according to the timetable has led to a rising tide of anger among commuters left waiting at those stations or unable to disembark when their train fails to stop. In many cases the decision to skip a stop is taken after passengers have begun their journeys.

ScotRail abandoning timetables has made employees late for work, delayed them collecting their children and forced them to change train or even double back to reach their intended destination.

Transport minister Humza Yousaf tweeted that the situation is “simply not good enough”. He has revealed to MSPs that 0.78 per cent of ScotRail services in 2017 skipped stations – around 20 of its 2,500 trains a day.

That compares with 0.6 per cent in 2016-17 and 0.4 per cent in 2011-12, the minister has previously told Holyrood.

Scottish Greens transport spokesman John Finnie, who requested the latest figure, said: “It seems there is an increasing problem of commuters being abandoned as ScotRail services fail to stop at their stations.

“The rail network will always experience delays and cancellations, but stop-skipping is entirely avoidable with the right investment and planning. It’s not something ScotRail should be keeping from the media.”

ScotRail has stressed that stops are missed when there is disruption purely to minimise knock-on delays to other trains. Trains that skip stops are marked as “part-cancelled” and count against performance.

However, every passenger Scotland on Sunday spoke to was unaware of this and said it had not been explained to them by staff.

ScotRail said it had pledged to minimise – rather than ban – stop-skipping on its busiest trains since November 2016 following an earlier outcry.

However, on social media many passengers said they thought it had been outlawed, as the then ScotRail managing director Phil Verster confirmed to MSPs last January. He told a Holyrood committee: “On running trains express, or skipping stations, we have implemented a clear policy that trains that are travelling into big city centres and conurbations at particular times in the peak period will not skip stops.

“Similarly, trains that travel out from big city centres in the evening at particular times in the peak period will not skip stops.”

ScotRail claimed the number of such “peak flow” trains skipping stops had not increased since autumn 2016 but declined to provide figures to support its claim.

The apparent increase in stop-skipping is thought to be linked to worsening ScotRail performance since the autumn, blamed on a combination of bad weather and faults such as signalling.

This has triggered a new review of performance by former TransPennine Express rail chief Nick Donovan, who has been drafted in by ScotRail.

Some of the most vociferous complaints have come from commuters on the Kirkcaldy-Edinburgh line, but ScotRail operations director Perry Ramsey has admitted to Dumbarton Labour MSP Jackie Baillie that it “occurs across the entire network”.

Stations affected on Friday included those on the Helensburgh-Edinburgh and Airdrie-Balloch lines. Among the disgruntled Fife commuters was charity worker Sarah Murphy, whose journeys from Burntisland to work in Edinburgh have been hit three times this month.

She said: “I have had to change my hours because I can’t guarantee making it into work for 9am. It means less time with my kids,who are six and three, and everything becomes a rush.”

Passengers who reach their destination station more 
than 30 minutes late because their stop was missed can claim a refund under ScotRail’s Delay Repay scheme. However, the firm also declined to say how many people had claimed.

A lawyer with knowledge of the industry said there was a case for reducing the 30-minute threshold for shorter journeys.

He said: “The flaw in the system is that half an hour is a long time to have to be delayed to be able to claim if your journey is only normally a few minutes.

“ScotRail could also make clearer what the entitlement is so more people claim.”

Recruitment consultancy chief Chris Johnston, who has also been a victim of stop-skipping on his commute between Polmont and Edinburgh, said: “The practice is distinctly unfair for people who pay thousands of pounds a year for season tickets.

“No explanation is given by staff and there is no information even if you go to the ticket counter.”

Linlithgow-Edinburgh commuter Al Smith said: “I understand trains can run late for a variety of issues, but to be further delayed due to this ridiculous policy is not acceptable.

“People miss things, perhaps little in the grand scheme of things, but kids’ swimming lessons etc are important to someone.”

Bill Jamieson, of the Campaign for Borders Rail, said it had left passengers at some stations on the Edinburgh-Tweedbank line with no capital-bound train for two-and-a-half hours one day this month.

In Glasgow, an upset passenger from Anniesland tweeted: “My daily commute is becoming intolerable – having to wait longer for the next train, being crushed as it’s so busy.”

David Sidebottom, passenger director at watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Obviously, the best option would be to improve the system so that stop-skipping is no longer necessary.

“ScotRail and Network 
Rail must endeavour to explain to passengers the reasons for stop-skipping on their services and they should be appropriately compensated.”

Yousaf said: “I have made clear stop-skipping should be minimised, particularly at peak periods.

“The ongoing Donovan review will look closely at performance, including stop-skipping.

“Once the findings of this are published, I will take the opportunity to look at the recommended steps for improvement and how this information is made publicly available.”

The minister said he would consider possible fines for stop-skipping for the next ScotRail franchise from 
2025.

ScotRail said stop-skipping was only used during “severe disruption”.

A spokesman said: “It is a measure that, in these extreme situations, is used to try and minimise the impact on the whole network – namely a certain train misses out scheduled stops, then it allows a number of trains to avoid being delayed and to run to time.

“This means that fewer customers, overall, face disruption to their journey.

“Missing out stations is never done to meet targets. If a train fails to stop at a scheduled station then it automatically fails to meet our very challenging targets.”