In July, ScotRail announced the ban on drinking or visibly carrying alcohol on its trains would continue for the “foreseeable future”, extending the prohibition that was introduced as part of Covid-19 measures in November 2020.
It can now be revealed the decision to do so was taken against a ScotRail board recommendation, which preferred a return to pre-pandemic rules following a meeting with transport minister Jenny Gilruth.
This would have seen a ban on the consumption of alcohol between 9pm and 10am every day, rather than a blanket and indefinite ban.
The decision has also cost ScotRail around £200,000 due to the inability to sell alcohol.
Hospitality on ScotRail services is already loss making, losing around £1.5m a year, rising to £1.7m due to the alcohol ban.
Emails disclosed to The Scotsman state ScotRail’s preference was to also include rules for ‘dry routes’ where anti-social behaviour was a problem, and ensure ‘dry trains’ around major events such as football matches.
This had been agreed at a board meeting on June 16.
An email from Chris Gibb, chief executive of Scottish Rail Holdings, which owns ScotRail on behalf of the Scottish Government, said: “The board accepted a recommendation to revise the alcohol ban to 2100-1000, seven days a week, plus around pre-planned events and specific routes when anti-social behaviour and crime levels warrant this.”
Emails sent in May also state the preference from ScotRail was to revert to the pre-pandemic ban, first implemented in 2012.
However, following a meeting with Ms Gilruth on June 22, the plans changed to a full and indefinite ban.
Despite requesting any and all correspondence between the Government and ScotRail on the alcohol ban, it is not clear why the decision was changed.
Announcing the continuation of the ban, ScotRail said it would be reviewed as part of the Government’s “national conversation on rail”.
The ban was initially brought in to help physical distancing of individuals on ScotRail services and to increase the use of face coverings.
ScotRail did not say why the approach had changed, with Stephen Elliot, the train operator’s security and crime manager, stating: “The safety of our customers and our colleagues is always our number one priority.
“The current alcohol ban on ScotRail services was introduced to support Covid-19 precautions and guidance, and will remain in place while it is considered as part of the Scottish Government’s National Conversation on Rail.”
A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “As a publicly owned and controlled railway, it is important that ScotRail plays its part in delivering Scottish Government ambitions for its success. As part of this, ScotRail drafted options for reviewing the ban on alcohol and these were considered at a meeting with the Minister in June. Following robust scrutiny against wider Scottish Government priorities and policy implications, it was agreed between all parties that further work on these proposals would be required including wider consultation on the implications.
“Given the diversity of views on the sale and consumption of alcohol on ScotRail services, consideration of its re-introduction will form part of the National Conversation on Rail. This will enable a wide range of views to be taken into account before any final decision is made. In the meantime, everyone needs to be mindful that, while many of the pandemic restrictions have been lifted, Covid hasn’t gone away and the Scottish Government’s advisory guidance remains in place”.