ScotRail admits cancellations for training will continue into January

ScotRail Alliance managing director Alex Hynes. Picture: PA
ScotRail Alliance managing director Alex Hynes. Picture: PA
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ScotRail cancellations will continue for weeks, the operator has admitted to The Scotsman as it struggles to clear a training backlog caused by late-delivered new trains.

The news came as some 65 services were scrapped yesterday - the first day much of Scotland has had a train service after the traditional two-day Christmas shutdown.

Scotrail cancellations will continue for weeks. Picture: John Devlin

Scotrail cancellations will continue for weeks. Picture: John Devlin

Routes included Edinburgh to Fife, North Berwick and Tweedbank in the Borders.

On Christmas Eve, ministers ordered a remedial plan from ScotRail to tackle such cancellations on those lines.

The prospect of further cancellations comes days before ScotRail fares increase by 2.8 per cent on Wednesday.

However, ScotRail said it had been working “flat out” to provide train drivers and conductors on two new fleets of trains and new routes. The firm said cancellations would continue for some time, but there would be fewer, and “an improvement” could be expected “in the coming weeks”.

It said only half the 70 new electric trains have arrived, which should have all been in service by now, because of delays by builders Hitachi.

In addition, problems at train refurbisher Wabtec have delayed the overhaul of 26 oldInterCity diesel trains with only one completed and ScotRail running ten more in an unrefurbished state.

BACKGROUND: ScotRail - New ‘plan of action’ pledge to tackle misery of Scotland’s cancelled trains

They include old-fashioned “slam doors” which passengers have to open by hand, and toilets which flush onto tracks.

The problem has been compounded by an overtime ban by members of the Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT) over pay for working on days off, which has now been settled.

Scottish Conservatives transport spokesman Jamie Greene said: “Passengers will be dismayed to learn they will have to endure weeks of further cancellations on what has already been one of the most disruptive periods on our railways for a generation.

“Just last week, the First Minister promised there would be improvements but her words simply haven’t matched the actions of her government.

“The Scottish Government has shown itself completely incapable of managing our railways, with passengers being made to bear the brunt of these delays, disruptions and cancellations. The public are quickly losing confidence in the SNP’s handling of Scotland’s railways.”

Scottish Labour transport spokesman Colin Smyth said: “Scotland’s hard-pressed rail passengers will be dismayed they are facing further cancellations, delays and overcrowding. To add insult to injury, they’ll be hit with another rise in ticket prices next week.

“Labour recently forced a vote in the Scottish Parliament asking the government to scrap the ScotRail franchise - but the SNP joined forces with the Tories to vote it down.

“There will be growing anger from passengers that the utter inaction of the SNP government is allowing ScotRail to continue the chaos on our railways into 2019.”

READ MORE: Sturgeon says delays ‘unacceptable’ as 40 trains axed

ScotRail Alliance managing director Alex Hynes said: “We’re sorry to customers for the disruption to services today and over recent weeks.

“We know the impact this has on your day, and are working flat out to get things back to normal.

“The disruption has been caused by two key factors.

“First, late delivery of new trains by Hitachi and Wabtec means the training that is required for our train crew, on new trains and new routes, has had to be compressed into a very short space of time. Day-to-day services have had to be cancelled to allow our people to take part in training.

“Second, RMT industrial action meant there was an overtime ban for some of our people, which lasted for several weeks. This is now resolved but made the problem of train crew training worse. Training is ongoing so we can get services back to normal and we can expect an improvement in the coming weeks. But while we continue to train our conductors and drivers some disruption will remain.

“We know this isn’t acceptable, and are sorry to customers about this. Every single person at the ScotRail Alliance is working hard to improve things for our customers as soon as possible.”

ScotRail said replacement buses would be substituted for cancelled trains, including the last services of the day.

Transport secretary Michael Matheson said: “We have stressed many times ScotRail must improve, but too often passengers have been left disappointed. This month should have been a celebration of the biggest increase in services and capacity, enabled by our ambitious electrification programme. Instead, we are taking this contractual step of issuing a remedial plan notice.”