ScotRail alcohol ban a small price to pay to prevent even more violence and intimidation on our trains – Alastair Dalton

When it comes to alcohol, taking away our right to drink can hit a raw nerve.

For several months now, there have been a succession of news stories, opinion pieces and editorials in the media about ScotRail’s continuing ban on imbibing on the rail network.

Some columnists have highlighted the anomaly with cross-Border train operators which still permit passengers to drink.

Others have pointed out that the threat from Covid – which prompted ScotRail’s previous night time ban to be extended round the clock – appears to have subsided.

A 9pm alcohol ban was introduced by ScotRail in 2012 and extended round the clock two years ago. Picture: John Devlin

But I think they are missing the point.

Forget what other firms are doing or the trigger for making the ban total and focus on what ScotRail is up against now.

Shocking levels of anti-social behaviour on some lines, where staff have been faced with knives, makeshift flame throwers and fire extinguishers, has become so bad unions have threatened a boycott.

In one of the latest incidents, a worker suffered bruising to her face on Friday after being attacked by a group of youths at a station.

But it’s not just assaults like these but also fears over public transport safety that is deterring some passengers, including women, from taking the train.

Transport minister Jenny Gilruth has told MSPs of her chilling personal experience of being harassed and intimidated by male passengers on late-night trains home.

Yes, all this is happening despite ScotRail introducing a 9pm alcohol ban a decade ago and extending it to 24 hours in 2020.

Drunken incidents have continued, with a horrified passenger tweeting two weeks ago that a man had urinated in a carriage because there was no working toilet.

But lifting the ban would surely only make the situation worse, putting staff – and potentially passengers too – at greater risk, and it would likely further put off would-be train travellers.

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Few of those drinking are likely to cause problems, but even a benignly high-spirited group of whatever gender can appear alarming to others in the same carriage.

The rail unions, British Transport Police, Scottish Government and senior transport officials are against lifting of the ban – and they are the ones at the sharp end.

One senior figure told me: “While it may only be a very small number who cause any real issues, unfortunately their behaviour while under the influence can have a negative impact on other travellers and ends with unpleasant situations which staff have to deal with.”

The RMT, which represents ScotRail train conductors and ticket examiners, said anti-social behaviour was getting worse and it was “just a matter of time before someone is seriously injured”.

Train drivers union Aslef said there was least merit in allowing alcohol on short journeys.

Even politicians are cautious about any relaxation, with Scottish Conservatives transport spokesperson Graham Simpson describing the ban being introduced “for understandable reasons” and “many passengers have welcomed it in terms of delivering a better environment on board trains”.

Drinking on trains may be a pleasurable activity for many, but banning it has been a small price to pay if it has averted even just one potentially life-changing assault.

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