Fears grow for Edinburgh’s ‘Festival City’ status over prospect of train strike chaos in August

The recovery of Edinburgh’s festivals from the pandemic is being threatened by the prospect of strike action by railway workers targeting the city’s events, organisers have warned.

George Square is one of the most popular destinations in Edinburgh during the annual Fringe. Picture: William Burdett-Coutts
George Square is one of the most popular destinations in Edinburgh during the annual Fringe. Picture: William Burdett-Coutts

Venue operators have say the Scottish economy will suffer from an “own goal” if rail services in and out of the city are drastically cut back.

They claim Edinburgh’s efforts to reclaim its crown as the oworld’s “Festival City” are being jeopardised by an escalating pay dispute.

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A senior union official said Edinburgh’s festivals would be “deliberately” targeted for disruption to their impact on the economy and the international visitors they attract, and predicted that the action being planned could turn the Scottish capital into a “ghost town.”

The Pleasance Courtyard is one of the biggest venues at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Festivals Edinburgh, which represents all of the city’s major festivals, said the prospect of disrupption preventing people getting to and from the city was “a major concern.”

ScotRail has introduced a temporary timetable from this week for the foreseeable future after a wave of recent cancellations since many drivers refused to work overtime or on “rest days.”

The new timetable sees services reduced by around a third, with the last train leading Edinburgh for Glasgow at 10.15pm.

The Aslef and RMT unions are both balloting their members for strike action after rejecting pay offers.

ScotRail normally lays on additional services carriages to accommodate the demand to travel in and out of Edinburgh during the August festivals, which run for nearly four weeks.

All of Edinburgh’s festivals and summer events have been expected to fully go-ahead this summer for the first time in three years.

More than 2000 shows have been confirmed for the Fringe alone, with venue operators putting together programmes on the scale they were pre-Covid.

Assembly’s artistic director William Burdett-Coutts, said: “We’re very concerned about the current reductions in rail services and the impact the industrial action by the RMT will have on visitors travelling into and out of Edinburgh during August, many of whom make trips to the city by train.

"After three years of little of no festival activity, Edinburgh needs all the support it can get to revive its economy and bring visitors back into the city. It’s our 40th year and the Fringe’s 75th anniversary when we are all investing a huge amount to ensure that the quality of our cultural offer is world-class.

“But crucially this relies on audiences being able to attend, otherwise longer term Edinburgh the ‘festival city’ won’t recover and this will in turn impact on the Scottish economy.”

Pleasance artistic director Anthony Alderson said: “We hope these disputes can be resolved before the summer festivals.

"Like so many businesses in the sector, we have had two years to battle for survival. A reduced service over the festival would be hugely detrimental to the recovery of the festival.

"At a time when additional trains are required, this would be an own goal for ScotRail and the Scottish economy.”

A spokesman for Festivals Edinburgh said: “Anything that disrupts people getting to and from our festivals would obviously be a major concern, so we hope that all parties can work towards an amicable agreement before summer arrives.”

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