ScotRail vows to complete staff training amid passenger complaints

ScotRail has given assurances its staff training programme will be completed as scheduled, with passengers complaining about further cancellations of services.

At the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, MSPs including Tory Murdo Fraser and SNP MSP Christine Grahame raised concerns over cancellations and overcrowding on services in Fife and the Scottish Borders.

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie also highlighted concerns over the level of service on the Helensburgh line.

Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said Abellio ScotRail had been warned the recent cancellations in parts of the country were not acceptable.

He also said the training of staff, which was delayed by the late delivery of new trains, should be completed by May 19.

Mr Matheson added he would meet ScotRail managing director Alex Hynes on Wednesday.

ScotRail trains
ScotRail introduced a new timetable last year and has added new trains (Jane Barlow/PA)

Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said: “My constituents are fed up of hearing excuses.

“We’ve been told that services are going to improve and yet what they see are services actually deteriorating.

“One month ago, the First Minister said in this chamber ScotRail were drinking in the last-chance saloon. When are the Scottish Government going to call last orders on them?”

Mr Matheson explained ScotRail would be recruiting 55 extra drivers, as well as training staff to allow them to operate different types of trains.

ScotRail has been issued with two remedial plans since December last year, requiring it to set out an action plan as to how it will address levels of performance.

Mr Matheson said: “In the remedial plan, there’s a timeline for each of the actions that they must take including additional recruitment of drivers and conductors, and also the completion of their training of staff.

“The training of staff, which is a key aspect which is having an impact on commuters within the east of Scotland, is due to be completed for the timetable change on May 19.

“Transport Scotland, in their engagement with ScotRail, have been given assurances that ScotRail still expect to complete that training programme within that time frame, which will provide greater resilience within the east of Scotand and passengers will see some improvements as a result of that.

“However, the wider improvements in the east of Scotland will not be realised until we have the implementation of the additional high speed trains into the network and also the wider introduction of the new Hitachi 385 trains, which will allow for additional diesel rolling stock to be moved to the east of the country.”

Today in Parliament, I raised the issue of ScotRail's shambolic performance in Parliament. With over 27,000 cancellations in the last year this has become a national embarrassment. It's time for a publicly owned rail service which puts passengers first.

— James Kelly MSP (@JamesKellyLab) April 23, 2019

Scottish Labour MSP James Kelly reiterated his party’s calls for ScotRail to be taken into public ownership.

He said: “With 27,000 cancellations in the last year, ScotRail service has become a shambles and a national embarrassment.

“Passengers are sick fed-up of the delays, cancellations which affect their daily life.

“Meanwhile the Government and the Cabinet Secretary sit on their hands.

“Is it not time the Cabinet Secretary stepped in, stripped Abellio of their contract and put in place a publicly owned rail service which puts passengers first?”

Mr Matheson said the Scottish Government could identify a course of action on whether to introduce a public-sector option if full power over rail was devolved from Westminster.

He said: “As Mr Kelly will be aware, we don’t have the power to actually set up a public-sector rail service here in Scotland, it’s a matter which is reserved to the UK Government.

“I hope we now have the support of the Labour Party in Scotland to see changes in the Railway Act, which would allow us to look at a whole range of models on how we could deliver our rail services here in Scotland, including the pubic-sector option which is one that the Labour party believe is the main way in which to address these matters.”

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