POLITICIANS and unions have criticised Scotland’s main train operator for refusing to take part in a BBC documentary about the Scottish rail network which was watched by 2.2 million viewers across the UK last night.
• Rival train operators in Scotland allowed filming to take place
• ScotRail didn’t take part despite operating 95 per cent of Scotland’s trains
No ScotRail staff appeared in the programme, The Railway: Keeping Britain on Track, which featured instead workers from other rail firms north of the Border, including rival train operators East Coast and Virgin, and Network Rail.
The show, which was the last of a six-part series on Britain’s railways that had been seen by 1.8 million viewers, offered a sympathetic portrait of staff from the two England-based train operators, such as in assisting passengers caught up in delays, tracing lost luggage and dealing with a drunk man on board.
Cameras also followed a female East Coast train driver, along with its train cleaners and depot maintenance staff, all of whom clearly demonstrated their love for the job.
Similar sentiments came from several Network Rail staff featured in the programme, including a Gaelic-speaking track maintenance engineer on the Glasgow-Fort William West Highland Line, used almost solely by ScotRail trains, and technicians repairing damaged overhead wires on the west coast main line south of Glasgow.
However, despite references in the episode, entitled North of the Border, to the Scottish Government running the railways in Scotland, the only sign of ScotRail, which operates 95 per cent of the country’s trains, was the occasional sight of its carriages in the background.
The current £2.5 billion, ten-year ScotRail franchise, which ends in 2015, was won by Aberdeen-based FirstGroup, and is the Scottish Government’s biggest contract.
By contrast, train operator First Great Western, also owned by FirstGroup, played a central role in an earlier programme in the series, about Reading station.
Glasgow Green MSP and former Holyrood transport committee convener Patrick Harvie said ScotRail’s decision not to be involved with the programme had been a missed opportunity.
He said: “This series shows that many other rail companies, including East Coast’s operation in Scotland, are willing to work with the BBC to give the public a real insight into our railways.
“ScotRail’s public relations people are always happy to talk about their successes, and it’s disappointing that they don’t want the public to see a truly detailed picture of how they run a vital public service.”
Kevin Lindsay, Scottish secretary of Aslef, the main train drivers’ union, said: “I am disappointed that they did not want their staff to be part of this true to life experience of the UK’s railways.
“Cynics might think they had something to hide. Aslef believe it’s a missed opportunity to showcase the exceptional talents of their staff.”
However a ScotRail spokesman said: “We receive scores of filming requests. Unfortunately, we cannot accommodate all of them due to the demands they place upon staffing resources.
“In this case, the filming process would have taken weeks.”
East Coast, which has 2,800 staff compared to more than 4,000 at ScotRail, said it was happy to have taken part in the series, including in another episode about King’s Cross station in London.
A spokesman for East Coast said: “The series has highlighted the challenges which Britain’s train operators, including East Coast, respond to every day.
“On the whole, the series has given a useful insight into the work which goes on behind the scenes to keep trains moving, involving the train operators and Network Rail.”
But Nigel Harris, managing editor of RAIL magazine, said: “I do not blame ScotRail for refusing to play the broadcaster’s game. In ‘fly on the wall’ shows, the TV demands complete editorial control.
“This means that the ‘good’ characters end up on the cutting room floor in favour of those who are not good ambassadors for the railway, but who make what producers judge to be strong TV.
“I commend ScotRail for holding out.”
Virgin Trains said it had been delighted to have taken part in the series. A spokesman said: “The Railway: Keeping Britain on Track has been a great opportunity for the public to gain an inside look at how the industry works.
“It’s been really rewarding - and hugely entertaining - to see the fantastic work our front line staff do day in, day out, including under some very difficult circumstances.”
A BBC spokeswoman said: “We did approach ScotRail early on in the process of making the series, and they declined to take part.”
• The programme will be repeated tonight at 11:20pm on BBC2.