Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to apologise to rail passengers after it was announced that hundreds of ScotRail services are to be axed.
It comes after it was confirmed by the train operator that a temporary timetable will be put in place, starting from Monday, with a reduced number of services.
The decision was made amid a pay dispute with train drivers’ union Aslef – one month on from ScotRail being nationalised by the Scottish Government.
ScotRail bosses have claimed that the temporary timetable will give passengers “greater certainty”.
The company said that it had been relying on drivers working overtime or on their rest days to run a normal timetable, with the training of new drivers being delayed due to the pandemic.
During First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood on Thursday, opposition parties criticised the level of service offered by ScotRail.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross asked the First Minister whether she would apologise to those impacted by disruption on the railways.
“When Nicola Sturgeon’s government took over the running of Scotland’s railways just last month, the First Minister promised that passenger services would be ‘efficient, sustainable, fit for the future’,” Ross told MSPs.
“But in just seven weeks since the SNP took control, passengers have faced chaos and disruption.
“Every day, hundreds of services have been cancelled, often at the very last minute.
“First Minister, will you apologise to the thousands of passengers who have faced this disruption since the SNP took control of Scotland’s railways?”
Sturgeon insisted that it is “vital” that ScotRail’s timetable is restored to normal “as quickly as possible”, with the temporary arrangements kept under review.
“I always express apologies to anybody, whether on our rail services or in any other public services that are not getting the standard that they deserve,” she responded.
“ScotRail has taken the decision to put in place a temporary timetable that has been made necessary by the decision of some drivers not to take up the option of overtime Sunday and rest-day working as part of a pay dispute.
“ScotRail considered that issue and in consultation with Transport Focus, which is the organisation that represents passengers, decided that a temporary timetable was preferable to unplanned cancellations.
“However, let me stress this point and let me make this point very strongly, it is vital to get the timetable back to normal as quickly as possible and I expect ScotRail to review the temporary arrangements regularly, indeed, it is due to be formally reviewed on June 3.”
Ross pointed to services in some areas being severely reduced, or even being scrapped altogether.
“Passengers deserve an apology because it’s not just the cuts they have seen up until now, from next week, there will be even more,” he said.
“700 services lost every day, almost a third will disappear and on some lines, it gets even worse.
“Services from Glasgow to Dumfries are being halved. It’s the same on the Edinburgh to Tweedbank line.
“Dunbar station goes from 11 ScotRail services every day to zero, none.
“ScotRail passengers will be left with a reduced timetable or no trains at all.”
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar also challenged the First Minister on the issue.
“Let’s look at the reality and the facts facing Scotland’s passengers – at the start of 2020, there were 2400 services a day,” he said.
“In the timetable announced in February approved by the Scottish Government, that number had reduced to 2150, a cut of 250.
“Now the new timetable announced yesterday… that number has reduced to 1456 services a day, a cut of almost a thousand services compared to the start of 2020.
“At the same time, the Scottish Government announced an increase in rail fares in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis when fuel prices are spiralling.
“In 2018, Nicola Sturgeon described cancellations of up to 144 a day as ‘unacceptable’ and cancellations of 40 a day as ‘not good enough’.
“She said, and I quote, ‘we expect, indeed we demand better from the rail operator’.
“Well for once, Nicola Sturgeon has got nobody else to blame. Why are 40 cuts a day when someone else is in charge not good enough, but cutting 1000 services a day, in the words of the rail minister, ‘a stable and reliable service’?”
The First Minister again reiterated that the changes to services are part of a temporary timetable.
She responded: “The change to services in February, yes I know they are controversial and I know members in this chamber have spoken out against them.
“But these were changes that were to take account of changes to travel patterns that have come about due to Covid and people’s different ways of working.
“The services that we are talking about now are a temporary change, a temporary timetable until ScotRail gets over this short-term challenge.”
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