NETWORK Rail has insisted Boxing Day passengers will not be disrupted by a signallers’ strike, despite having to cancel around 100 trains today.
The firm admitted it had been overconfident in announcing last week that ScotRail would be able to run normal services on Christmas Eve, at the start of a three-day walkout at the main signalling centre in Glasgow.
It explained that some of the managers and non-union staff who had been expected to cover for the strikers were found to be not available. That forced Network Rail to announce on Wednesday that the frequency of ScotRail trains on five routes would be cut by up to half today.
The move will leave shoppers and other festive travellers with one train an hour on lines between Glasgow Central and Barrhead, Paisley Canal and Whifflet, and on the Cathcart Circle in Glasgow via Maxwell Park. Glasgow-Gourock trains will be cut from three to two per hour.
Network Rail said the strike would not affect Boxing Day trains because fewer services run than normal and it now knew which staff would be available.
However, some lines will be affected by unrelated engineering work on Boxing Day, with buses replacing trains between Glasgow Central and Johnstone and Port Glasgow.
Anthony Smith, chief executive of watchdog Passenger Focus, said: “Passengers in Scotland will be bitterly disappointed that unions and Network Rail have not reached an agreement and strikes have been announced.
“It’s passengers who suffer when there is uncertainty about which services are running during industrial action, so it is also essential that they’re given information that they can rely on.”
Scottish Chambers of Commerce chief executive Liz Cameron said: “Christmas Eve and Boxing Day are two of the busiest shopping days of the year.
“Disruptions caused by this strike action which prevent consumers from getting into our towns and cities are the last thing our businesses need.”
The strike has been called by the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) from 6am today until 6am on Tuesday in a dispute over “career progression” at the west of Scotland signalling centre involving 32 staff.
The union has argued that vacant posts should be filled by seniority, but Network Rail said selection should be on merit.
Talks between the two sides took place at the conciliation service Acas in Glasgow on Tuesday and Thursday, but the RMT refused to negotiate unless a signaller’s appointment opposed by the union was cancelled first.
Mick Hogg, the RMT’s Scotland regional organiser, said: “This was a strike engineered by Network Rail by ignoring agreement going back decades, custom and practice.”
A Network Rail spokesman said: “The strike will have no impact on the Boxing Day timetable which has already been published.”
For today’s trains, he said: “We’re confident we will run a comprehensive service for passengers. More than 95 per cent of services will run as timetabled and, even in Glasgow, every station served by Glasgow Central trains will receive a service. Only a small number of local services have been reduced.
“We have made every effort to avoid a strike, but the union’s stance has made it impossible.”