The Scottish Government-run train operator is due to reduce weekday services by one third from Monday because of unofficial action from drivers not volunteering to work overtime after rejecting a 2.2 per cent pay offer, as The Scotsman first revealed.
It will see nearly 700 services a day halted, with a similar proportionate reduction at weekends still to be announced.
But despite assuring passenger watchdogs that protecting last trains was an “absolute priority”, the temporary timetable will see last services from the Scottish capital on some lines such as to North Berwick leave as early as 7:40pm – more than three hours early.
A ScotRail spokesperson told The Scotsman: “It’s too early to comment on events such as the Edinburgh Festival.”
Other events that could be hit include concerts at Hampden Stadium in Glasgow and the TRNSMT music festival on Glasgow Green in July.
The dispute has already seen a significant number of daily cancellations over the past ten days. Cancellations topped 200 on Thursday.
ScotRail has already warned fans travelling to the Rangers versus Hearts Scottish Cup Final at Hampden on Saturday that some services may be cancelled due to a shortage of train drivers.
ScotRail chief operating officer Joanne Macguire told a meeting of Transport Focus in Edinburgh on Wednesday: "Protecting first and last services, you will not be surprised to hear, is an absolute priority for us.”
The watchdog body said it had concerns about evening and late night services, and had asked ScotRail to consider changes.
ScotRail insisted Ms Macguire had been referring to the temporary timetable rather than the current one.
The Night Time Industries Association Scotland said: "These devastating cuts to rail services will leave commuters rushing to catch early trains home and prevent ordinary people across Scotland from travelling in to our towns and cites during the evenings.
"Such cuts to services, even temporarily, is yet another cruel blow for Scotland's hard-pressed night time economy and cultural sector, which are yet to recover from the pandemic."
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called for ScotRail and union leaders to "get round the table and negotiate" in good faith.
Ms Sturgeon apologised for the disruption during First Minister's Questions at Holyrood and said it was "not acceptable".
She said ScotRail decided a "a temporary timetable was preferable to unplanned cancellations".
The First Minister added: “However – let me stress this point and let me say this point very strongly – it is vital to get the timetable back to normal as quickly as possible and I expect ScotRail to review the temporary arrangements regularly. Indeed it is due to be formally reviewed on June 3.”
Train drivers union Aslef, which has ordered a strike ballot, called for to a return to “immediate talks” to resolve the dispute.
Scottish organiser Kevin Lindsay said: “ScotRail and the Scottish Government have handled this situation appallingly.
"We need a fair pay deal and there must also be a clear and pro-active plan to recruit more drivers.
“Aslef stands ready to resume talks with the company anytime, anywhere, any place.”
ScotRail said recruiting and training more drivers to eliminate its reliance on overtime had been delayed by Covid restrictions.
Service delivery director David Simpson said the temporary timetable would provide passengers “with a level of certainty and reliability”.
He said: “In order to provide a robust timetable with the limited number of available train drivers, we’ve had to make some very difficult decisions and this has meant we’ve been unable to provide a full day’s service across every route.
"We will review the service levels and make any improvements we can as quickly as possible.
“We want to resolve this dispute with Aslef.
"We remain open to further talks.”
Tory MSP Graham Simpson raised fears it could take "until at least 2024" to train the necessary 130 drivers.
Ms Sturgeon said ScotRail hoped an additional 38 drivers would be trained before the end of the summer, rising to 55 by the end of the year and "100 after that".