By Bill Heaney
Going to the big match at Hampden on Wednesday night? You might just be able to get there by rail but, so far as getting home is concerned, you can forget it.
You have as much chance of that as there is of a peace deal between Putin and Zalensky before the kick-off in the Scotland v Ukraine clash.
Scotland’s transport minister Jenny Gilruth is, as per usual with the SNP, playing the obfuscation game. Ms Gilruth, pictured right, is a fully paid up member of the Secret Scotland brigade.
She told BBC Scotland that she is “hopeful” a new pay offer will resolve a dispute which has led to a major reduction in ScotRail services.
An improved deal of 4.2% will be considered by members of the Aslef union this week.
The dispute has resulted in train drivers refusing to work on rest days or on Sundays and has triggered a wave of cancellations. A new, temporary timetable has seen a third of services scrapped.
Ms Gilruth said the industrial dispute had led to a “challenging time” for ScotRail, which was nationalised last month.
Beware of the word “challenging” because it almost always means that any resolution plans that might be in place have no chance of happening.
Asked if a resolution to the dispute was near, Ms Gilruth said: “I’m hopeful. Obviously the offer will be put to Aslef at their meeting tomorrow.
“And it will be up to the members to decide whether or not they want to take that forward and then whether or not it will go to a referendum of members too.”
Ms Gilruth added that the offer was a good one but it was now up to the union to decide whether to accept it.
She said: “I know that Aslef and other trade unions in rail want to make public ownership a success. So, moving forward I’m really keen to work with them on how we do that. Getting a resolution here is absolutely essential.”
The transport minister said ScotRail was also meeting with the RMT to discuss pay and added that the union was involved in a separate dispute with Network Rail.
Ms Gilruth said she had written to her UK government counterpart, Grant Shapps, to set out her opposition to any moves which would “diminish rail safety”.
‘Inconvenienced and frustrated’
During topical questions at Holyrood on Tuesday, Tory MSP Graham Simpson asked what contingency plans the government had in place should train drivers reject the latest pay offer, in light of the cancelled services at the weekend.
Ms Gilruth told MSPs the temporary timetable was delivering a “reliable service moving around 90% of passenger numbers prior to the current disruption”.
Not to West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute and beyond it’s not.
She added that additional late evening services were added on Friday and Saturday but conceded passengers had been left “inconvenienced and frustrated”.
Ms Gilruth also said Scotrail would continue to look at what more it could do to improve the availability of weekend services. In truth, there is fat chance of that happening.
But Mr Simpson responded by highlighting that a union ballot would take three weeks and lead to “nearly a month of disruption to start with”.
On Monday night, ScotRail announced it would be putting on extra late-night services from Glasgow to accommodate fans watching Scotland’s World Cup play-off against Ukraine at Hampden.
Discussing this, Ms Gilruth said: “I’m delighted that they have provided these additional services, which will provide some certainty for the Tartan Army.”
They include more trains to Edinburgh, Stirling, Ayr, Gourock, East Kilbride and Neilston – but none to Dunbartonshire where Scotland has a big fan base.
Meanwhile, cross border rail travellers are being warned to plan ahead for the Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend with strike action by the RMT set to significantly impact train services.
The TransPennine Express (TPE) has even urged customers not to travel on Saturday or Sunday.
The train company will be running an amended timetable on both days, with a very limited service available for those making essential journeys.
Kathryn O’Brien, TPE customer experience director, said: “We are saddened that ongoing RMT strikes will mean we are unable to provide a full service for customers over such a special weekend, when celebrations will be taking place across the UK.
“With strike action planned for both Saturday and Sunday, coupled with major engineering work, our advice for customers is not to travel by train, and anyone heading to an event should seek alternative transport.”
She added that major engineering work by Network Rail would also mean changes for customers travelling across its north route.