'Difficult' start for new rail operator
FIRST ScotRail’s initial week in charge of the country’s trains came off the rails as performance took a battering from autumn gales, track problems and breakdowns.
Company chiefs admitted yesterday to having a "difficult and disappointing" start and said a major struggle to halt plummeting punctuality lay ahead.
Passenger watchdogs warned the firm that commuters wanted reliability, and to be kept informed about delays.
Robert Samson, director of the Rail Passengers Committee Scotland, said: "The acid test is if passengers’ concerns are taken on board and acted on. Passengers want to get from A to B on time. When things go wrong, they want clear information about delays and when they will reach their destination."
Mary Dickson, First ScotRail’s managing director, admitted it had "not been the easiest start to the franchise".
The problems were compounded by figures which showed ScotRail’s punctuality sank to new lows last month. More than one in four trains around Edinburgh and in central Scotland were late, with discounts being triggered for commuters everywhere apart from south-west Scotland.
First ScotRail insisted most of this week’s problems were beyond its control and said contingency plans had prevented disruptions lasting longer.
Gordon Dewar, the commercial director, said
: "It has been a disappointing week. However, we made extra staff and trains available so recovery was far quicker than it would have been otherwise."
Mr Dewar said conductors would be given mobile phones from next month to provide passengers with information about disruptions faster.
Leaflets are being distributed in trains the day after any disruption to explain problems.
Mr Dewar said some of the week’s difficulties had been caused by the weather. Others were the responsibility of firms like Network Rail, which maintains tracks and signalling.
A signalling fault in Fife disrupted commuter services into Edinburgh on Monday, while a water main flooded Glasgow Central low-level station. Signal problems also forced the closure of the main Glasgow-Ayr line on Wednesday evening, while torrential rain and a fallen tree caused mayhem across the Central Belt on Thursday. A train breakdown yesterday hit services on the Glasgow-Edinburgh line.
Mr Dewar said: "The last thing we want to do is to point the finger of blame. We want to work with our partners, such as Network Rail." But he made clear the firm’s annoyance with Network Rail for late-running track work on Monday, which forced North Berwick-Edinburgh passengers onto buses. Extra buses will be on hand on Monday in case of a repeat.
Ron McAulay, director of Network Rail in Scotland, said the firm was striving to minimise disruption and had already cut late-running engineering work.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
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