ScotRail emergency timetable comes into force as 600 services a day are cut amid pay row

Hundreds of trains a day to be suspended as pay row intensifies

ScotRail is to suspend more than a quarter of its services a day from Wednesday “to provide greater certainty and reliability” following mounting short-notice cancellations in a pay dispute with its unions.

In a repeat of a similar dispute in 2022, the Scottish Government-owned train operator will reduce the number of trains it runs after increasing gaps in the timetable were caused by staff apparently taking unofficial but lawful action by no longer volunteering for overtime.

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The temporary timetable will see around 1,660 trains a day operating from Mondays to Saturdays - some 600 fewer than the normal 2,259. In the 2022 dispute, 700 daily services were withdrawn for several months.

The latest temporary timetable will cut the number of services operating during the morning and afternoon peaks, in some cases halving the normal frequency, such as trains every 15 minutes being reduced to every half an hour. This includes on the main Edinburgh-Glasgow line.

PA
ScotRail is introducing a temporary timetable for the second time in three years. (Photo by John Devlin/The Scotsman)ScotRail is introducing a temporary timetable for the second time in three years. (Photo by John Devlin/The Scotsman)
ScotRail is introducing a temporary timetable for the second time in three years. (Photo by John Devlin/The Scotsman) | The Scotsman

ScotRail said the first and last trains would be unchanged on more than half its routes. But earlier last trains include Glasgow to Dumfries three hours earlier than normal at 7.13pm, Glasgow to Alloa at 9.52pm - one and a half hours earlier - and Glasgow to Stirling at 11.18pm, 30 minutes earlier.

The last train from Edinburgh to Glenrothes (via Dunfermline) will also leave 30 minutes early at 10.51pm.

The move follows a formal pay offer being rejected last Friday by ScotRail’s four unions, and officials of drivers’ union Aslef recommending to its leadership next week that a ballot for industrial action be held.

RMT, ScotRail’s biggest union, which represents nearly 3,000 staff such as train crew and station staff, said no decision had been taken over whether to also hold a ballot.

However, an industry source told The Scotsman that union officials had recommended the move to its national executive committee and a decision was due to be taken on Tuesday.

They said some 300 RMT members at Caledonian Sleeper, which is also owned by the Scottish Government, were expected to be balloted too after a pay offer was rejected.

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The latest developments in the ScotRail dispute come two weeks after The Scotsman revealed Aslef had threatened a strike vote if an offer believed to comprise 9 per cent over three years was not improved.

ScotRail said it comprised a 2 per cent increase in April this year, next year and 2026, and a further 1 per cent in January 2025, 2026 and 2027.

Aslef, which represents almost all ScotRail’s 1,300 drivers, told The Scotsman on Tuesday that if a ballot was approved, it would take about four weeks to conduct followed by two weeks notice of any action, meaning any strikes could not start until the end of August at the earliest.

The number of trains a day being cancelled by staff shortages caused by drivers not volunteering for overtime or working on days off reached around 130 on Tuesday.

ScotRail has admitted it does not expect to have enough drivers to end its historic dependence on volunteer working until 2027.

It said it was recruiting a record 160 new drivers but “some rest day working and overtime is still needed to deliver a normal timetable”.

The operator said it was working on plans for major events such as The Open golf tournament at Royal Troon. The event from July 18-21 is expected to attract 250,000 spectators - its biggest ever Open crowd.

ScotRail service delivery director Mark Ilderton said: “We are very sorry to customers for the disruption to services. We know that customers want certainty and reliability, which is why we are introducing a temporary timetable, in place of late-notice cancellations.

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“We are operating services which the vast majority of customers use and are still using all the available trains in our fleet so customers can continue to travel.

“We want to resolve the pay dispute with the trade unions and remain fully committed to further discussions.

“We’re asking customers to check their journey on our website or mobile app, as train times will have changed.”

Aslef Scotland organiser Kevin Lindsay said: “The Scottish Government should have seen these issues coming a mile down the tracks.

“It's clear no lessons have been learned from the past. They have left Scotland’s Railway’s workforce understaffed and overstretched.

“Goodwill from Scotland’s train drivers can only take you so far but you can't run a safe and efficient railway seven days a week if you don't employ appropriate numbers of staff and provide them with decent pay, terms and conditions.

“The Scottish Government is the sole shareholder of ScotRail yet have completely failed to address the driver shortage. 

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“This is a crisis entirely of their own making, and ultimately, passengers will be the ones who suffer."

Mr Lindsay also criticised the services reduction. He said: "Rather than slashing the timetable in an act of economic vandalism that will impact towns and cities across Scotland as well as Scotland's rail passengers, ScotRail and the Scottish Government must get serious about pay and urgently get back round the negotiating table with a serious and credible offer.

“The Scottish Government is taking a fantasy land approach to industrial relations on our railways. We met First Minister John Swinney on May 28 and told him then that the offer being made to our members was completely unacceptable.”

Scottish Conservatives net zero, energy and transport spokesperson Douglas Lumsden said: “The reduction in services will have a major impact on people getting to and from work as well as those looking to journey by train during the school summer holidays.

 “The SNP cannot hide behind ScotRail and must take responsibility for failing to tackle this situation before it reached this point.

 “With major sporting events and music festivals happening imminently, it is imperative that John Swinney and his SNP colleagues get a grip of this dispute, before it deeply damages Scotland’s economy.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency said: “While train planning and staff rotas are operational matters for ScotRail, we fully expect any timetable to give the best reliability and availability for passengers and that changes are communicated well in advance to enable effective journey planning.

“We acknowledge the desire of rail unions to negotiate a fair settlement for their members.

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“ScotRail, as a public body and the employer, has responsibility and the ability to negotiate within the limits of public sector pay metrics.

“However, as rail unions have been made aware, any offer beyond these requires Scottish Government approval at senior level following the appropriate process.

 “We would encourage rail unions to continue meaningful dialogue with ScotRail, so that a mutually agreeable outcome can be reached as soon as possible.”

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