ScotRail sees demand reduced by 50% as hundreds of services cut from prepandemic timetable

A director for ScotRail has said that demand has halved since the pandemic as the operator outlines a cut of hundreds of services from its pre-pandemic timetable

ScotRail announced it will operate 2150 daily services from May 2022 following a consultation by the rail operator over its future timetable development.

In a statement, ScotRail said that this will provide “more than 590,000” seats with an increase of “nearly 150 services each day” compared to when their consultation began last year.

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However, the figure is below the 2400 daily services that were in operation before the pandemic.

Commuters at Waverley Station (Photo: Craig Stephen).Commuters at Waverley Station (Photo: Craig Stephen).
Commuters at Waverley Station (Photo: Craig Stephen).

Asked why more services are not being introduced, David Simpson, ScotRail’s operations director told BBC’s Good Morning Scotland: “The service running currently is only being used by about 50% of the number of customers who used it before the pandemic.

"May sees a timetable change which really reflects different ways people are travelling after the pandemic.

"There is absolutely plenty of space on the current service levels to cope with commuter demand and to cope with leisure demand.

"What we are doing is monitoring that on a daily basis so if there’s any need to lengthen trains, put more services on then we will do so but so far there has been no evidence of that.”

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ScotRail to go ahead with cutting 250 daily trains from pre-pandemic timetable

Yet, Mr Simpson admitted that a delay to ScotRail’s driver training programme during the pandemic has meant that locations such as South Lanarkshire are not seeing certain services restored.

Mr Simpson said that ScotRail is working to tackle this through 2022 and 2023 once they have ‘sufficient staff’ trained to run these services.

ScotRail is also monitoring CCTV footage to ensure that they can tackle any delays or disruptions to services.

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If there is a return to rail ‘in great numbers’ then the timetable will be increased in the coming months and years. according to Mr Simpson.

Mr Simpson said that the return to people commuting for work has been ‘very gradual’ in the last ten days or so since restrictions to home working were lifted by the Scottish Government.

Yet, unions, including the RMT, have raised concerns that the cuts could have a particular impact on some of the most vulnerable railway users, including those with disabilities.

According to Mr Simpson, ScotRail will work with the trade unions to provide a safer and more reliable railway if services see a greater demand.

Currently, peak services will not return to pre-pandemic levels as people aren’t travelling as regularly as they were at those times, according to Mr Simpson.

Instead, middle of the day and weekend services are being ‘focused on’ as Mr Simpson said these times are seeing an increase in demand.

ScotRail has insisted that it is “not sustainable” to continue to run services with empty seats whilst commuter numbers remain below what they were before the pandemic.

The rail operator estimates that their new timetable will help off-peak travel recover to 2019 levels by the end of 2022.

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Last week, transport minister Jenny Gilruth told the Scottish Parliament said it makes “little sense” for services to return to pre-pandemic levels.

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