HUNDREDS of trains have been cancelled across Scotland’s rail network because of a shortage of drivers at the country’s main train operator.
Widespread disruption across ScotRail, which has prompted an angry reaction from commuters, is believed to have been caused by staff discontent at being continually asked to work overtime.
A significantly higher than normal number of the firm’s 1,100 drivers have reported themselves unfit, or have not volunteered for extra shifts over the past week.
Scotland on Sunday has obtained figures showing 100 trains were cancelled for all or part of their journey on Friday, 10 July. A further 37 did not run the following day and 70 last Sunday.
The problem has continued throughout the week, from nearly 50 cancelled on Monday and more than 30 on Tuesday to at least 17 yesterday.
Aslef, the main drivers’ union, said the problem had been caused by ScotRail not employing enough drivers and relying on volunteers to do overtime to cover shifts.
Passengers vented their frustration on social media. Gordon Jahn, an engineer from Glasgow, tweeted on Monday: “So 1633 GLQ-LNZ [Glasgow Queen Street to Lenzie] cancelled due to unavailable train crew. Isn’t it your job to have sufficient cover?”
IT development officer Marion Boyle tweeted the same day of her annoyance at two trains in each direction being cancelled on the Glenrothes to Edinburgh line. She wrote: “Just not good enough. Why not employ enough staff!”
Passenger watchdog Transport Focus agreed ScotRail must have enough drivers to run all its trains.
Passenger director David Sidebottom said: “ScotRail passengers will have been very frustrated by recent cancellations and delays due to staffing shortages. It is essential appropriate staffing levels are in place to ensure passengers receive the timetabled service.”
Aslef Scottish district secretary Kevin Lindsay estimated ScotRail was short of some 20 to 30 drivers. He said: “We would like ScotRail to employ the correct number of drivers to cover all of their services and all eventualities.
“They have relied heavily on goodwill, but that goodwill is no longer there. Drivers are less willing to co-operate than they were, or be moved around to cover shortages.”
However, Lindsay said the problem stemmed from previous ScotRail operator FirstGroup “clearly not having enough drivers” – a situation inherited by Abellio when it took on the franchise in April.
The disruption has continued despite the settlement of a drivers’ pay dispute which caused one third of ScotRail’s Sunday trains to be cancelled and threatened a strike ballot.
Drivers took unofficial action by refusing to volunteer to work on Sundays, when all shifts are covered by overtime.
It followed increasing frustration at the negotiations dragging on for three months.
The deal on 8 July included a joint working party being set up to integrate Sundays into the working week so services are no longer dependent on volunteers working overtime.
ScotRail pledged to recruit up to 100 extra drivers to help cover the work.
A ScotRail spokeswoman said: “Unfortunately, we have had a problem recently with a higher than normal number of drivers who are sick or unfit for driving duties.
“We do everything we can to compensate for this by moving drivers around at short notice.
“Our drivers are not required – or asked – to work their rest days Monday-Friday. They have an option to do so on a Saturday as this is understandably a popular day to have off.
“We are continuing to jointly discuss this matter with drivers with the aim of reaching an early resolution and providing the level of service that our customers rightly deserve.
“We have started to see a return to normal levels over the last few days, which has been reflected in the increased level of service we have provided.”
Late trains: Cash refund for delay
Delayed passengers can now receive refunds in cash rather than rail vouchers under changes introduced yesterday across the British network.
ScotRail’s “delay repay” scheme enables customers to claim compensation if they have been delayed for more than 30 minutes.
David Sidebottom, of watchdog Transport Focus, said: “It is important passengers are made aware of their rights to a refund or compensation.
“Our research found that as many as 88 per cent of those apparently eligible for compensation for their delay did not claim. This is a problem that needs addressing.”
Shaky start for Abellio
Dutch firm Abellio has made all the wrong headlines since it took over ScotRail three months ago.
Some of its problems have been self-inflicted – including the apparently poor communication with staff.
Things got off to a bad start when workers were told to snip off old logos from uniforms because new outfits wouldn’t be ready for the start of the franchise in April.
Abellio failed to make clear it wanted to consult the workforce before finalising designs, rather than just impose a new uniform.
Its image was further tarnished last month when chief executive Jeff Hoogesteger – who had just moved to Scotland to coincide with its UK base relocating from London to Glasgow – was fired over irregularities with a Dutch transport contract.
Then staff became impatient over delays in being told about job cuts as part of the new closer-working “alliance” with track owner Network Rail. The cost-cutting was initially thought to involve dozens of posts being shed, but unions now fear these could top 100. Abellio’s industrial relations record at ScotRail has also been marred by the threatened drivers’ strike ballot, which brought the train operator the closest to a pay dispute for 12 years. A deal has still to be struck with the firm’s other 4,000 staff.