By Lucy Ashton
On the one year anniversary of ScotRail being taken into public hands, Scottish Labour has accused the SNP of having “no vision, no ambition and no plan” for rail.
ScotRail was privatised this time last year following a long campaign by Scottish Labour – however, the party warned the SNP is “squandering the opportunity”.
Latest figures show the number of trains being run is still more than 10 per cent lower than pre-pandemic levels – a cut of on average 250 trains every day.
Cuts to ticket offices are still looming, with the Scottish Government yet to make a decision on a controversial ScotRail consultation which proposed cutting hours at 117 ticket offices across Scotland.
Likewise the SNP have failed to reveal their plans for fares, or set out details on their promised pilot to scrap off-peak fares.
Decisions on a range of key issues are routinely being kicked into the long grass, with Ministers hiding behind the ongoing “national conversation” on rail.
Labour has accused the SNP of “dragging their heels” on public ownership in the past – including First Minister Humza Yousaf, who was critical of Labour’s calls for rail to be re-nationalised when he was Transport Minister.
Scottish Labour Transport spokesperson Neil Bibby said: “It’s been one year since ScotRail was nationalised, but so far the SNP’s woeful lack of ambition has left our railways to decline.
Labour’s Neil Bibby and Conservative Graham Simpson.
“After dragging their feet for years on nationalisation, they are now squandering the opportunity we have to deliver a railway that truly works for Scotland.
“The SNP has no vision, no ambition and no plan for our railways – and while Ministers kick decisions into the long grass, passengers are paying the price.
“We need a reliable and affordable rail network to drive down emissions, link up communities and revive our struggling economy.
”Scottish Conservative shadow transport minister Graham Simpson MSP said: “The SNP Government has done nothing to improve services for Scottish passengers, and its botched nationalisation a year ago has made matters worse in many areas.
“Within weeks of the SNP taking it over, ScotRail was in chaos, with an emergency timetable, and a third of journeys axed. Hundreds of thousands of pounds have been paid out in compensation for delays and cancellations, passengers have raised thousands of complaints, the service is still at lower levels than it was before the pandemic, and the rolling stock is antiquated.
“The SNP seemed to think that nationalisation would be a magic wand that would improve rail services, but they never took the trouble actually to come up with concrete plans. As a result, rail users are still stuck with a substandard service subject to constant disruption, and taxpayers are on the hook for the bill.
“Unless Kevin Stewart plans to fail as comprehensively as Humza Yousaf did when he was in the transport minister’s job, there needs finally to be some vision for a rail service that will actually deliver for Scotland.”
The SNP Government has presided over nearly 80 days of disrupted rail services since they nationalised ScotRail. In total, 79 days have been impacted by ScotRail strikes. This includes 59 days on a reduced timetable, from between 23 May 2022 to 20 July, and 20 individual strike days, stretching back to the 20 June with the last day the 9 October. (ScotRail, 15 July 2023, link; Please see attached spreadsheet).
Nationalised ScotRail introduced an emergency timetable for two months, which led to 700 train services being axed. In May 2022, ScotRail cut a third of rail journeys due to a shortage of drivers amid a pay dispute. Train drivers were working to rule, declining to work overtime or on rest days, which ScotRail rely on to run a normal timetable. ScotRail reintroduced its timetable on the 20 July, after members of the drivers’ union ASLEF voted to accept the improved pay offer. (STV News, 23 May 2023, link; ScotRail, 15 July 2023, link)
In the first six months of SNP nationalisation, ScotRail paid more than £400,000 in compensation for delays and cancellations. The train operator paid out £406,686 in total from April 1 to October 15, according to freedom of information requests. (The Scotsman, 6 November 2022, link)
In the first six months of SNP nationalisation, ScotRail racked up over 9,000 complaints over providing poor train services. Passengers submitted 1,667 complaints about late or cancelled trains and 1,694 about staff. 1,720 were lodged under a policy and product category, 644 relating to timetables and 665 about overcrowding. Other problems include first class services, rail replacement travel, station and ticket buying facilities and issues with contacts centres. (The Sun, 26 November 2022, link)
Nationalised ScotRail are still relying on trains manufactured as far back as the 1970s. Freedom of information requests found the oldest carriages in use as part of the fleet were manufactured between 1976 and 1984. (The Scotsman, 4 January 2023, link)