Scottish Transport Minister calls for devolution of train services

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Photo credit: Cormac Rae

The devolution of rail services in Scotland could be a step closer, after a report released today by think tank Reform Scotland harshly criticised ScotRail for failing to deliver an acceptable standard of service.

Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf, renewed calls for devolution of responsibility for Scottish train services, to the Scottish Government.

The Minister said:

“Network rail should be devolved to Scotland. That’s a call I’ve made, that’s a call my predecessors collectively have previously as well, and now it seems Labour politicians are making the same case as well.  I welcome that [agreement] from Tom Harris and welcome that [report] from Reform Scotland.”

[Read more…]

BREAKING NEWS: Virgin Train derailment in Edinburgh

Virgin train customers face severe disruption after a train derailment in Edinburgh this morning has left multiple services delayed.

Trains have been trapped in Waverley Station, or cancelled entirely, after the incident this morning.

Customers are being assured they will be able to travel on alternative services immediately before or after their previously selected journey.

Picture Copyright: Chris Watt info@chriswatt.com Virgin Trains Media Room

Picture Copyright: Chris Watt/Virgin Trains Media Room

More on this story will follow.

Live travel information can be found on the Virgin Trains website.

ScotRail’s Future Off The Tracks

by Stuart Mackenzie and Noemi Distefano

 

Photo credit: Rory Nicolson

Photo credit: Rory Nicolson

 

Scotland’s Transport Minister Humza Yousaf will make a statement to the Scottish Parliament tomorrow to discuss how to improve the Scottish rail services.

This follows pressure from opposition politicians for him to speak after various proposals to bring ScotRail’s railways into public ownership.

ScotRail, who are currently operated by Abellio, have been experiencing various problems with their services.

Charlotte Twyning of Abellio UK, told to the BBC: “It should be recognised that half of the rail industry is already nationalised in the form of Network Rail and any operator that runs the ScotRail franchise – public or private – does so to a tightly specified Scottish government contract.” [Read more…]

ScotRail Strikes Could Disrupt Christmas Travel Plans

Scotrail Logo

ScotRail workers will strike on 22 December and Christmas Eve in a dispute over the sacking of an employee, says the Rail Maritime and Transport union (RMT).

Union members on the firm’s sleeper services will also strike for 24 hours from the evening of 21 December and again from the evening of 23 December.

The decision was made by Scotrail staff to take action when an employee was sacked after trying to make sure a passenger had the correct ticket. The ticket examiner was dismissed on grounds of intimidating and aggressive behaviour towards the passenger, who was then reduced to tears.

The dismissal followed the ticket examiner refusing to accept that the customer was allowed free travel under a special ScotRail deal to promote a new route out of an airport. It is a longstanding, well-known arrangement.

A spokesman for Scotrail said: “This reeks of selfishness – designed to give those on strike extra time off and full wages while having the maximum impact on the traveling public in the run up to Christmas.

“It also appears mercenary and opportunistic to choose times when families and friends will be traveling for festive reunions and many other people, including staff in hospitals and shops, still have to get to and from work.”
A statement from the RMT union read: “Management have not been able to produce a shred of evidence to prove that Mr Lewis was harassing this passenger or that he failed to comply with correct procedures. Excerpts of CCTV evidence seen by the union do not back the management case one iota and despite requests the company have refused to release the full CCTV tapes to RMT or Scott Lewis.”

But ScotRail says the union was shown CCTV on three separate occasions of the instance where the ticket-master had reduced the customer to tears. They added that the images revealed that the standards of conduct fell below what was expected.

They said both Mr Lewis, the ticket master and Mr Ian McIntyre, Scottish Regional Organiser of the RMT, were shown the footage.

The ScotRail spokesman added: “If anyone believes the conduct towards a customer who was reduced to tears is acceptable – let alone worthy of a strike – then they are in the wrong job. The ticket examiner also had a complete disregard of correct ticket procedures.”

ScotRail says that just 24% of RMT union members voted for the strike action in a ballot, in which 65% of members did not vote.  Of the 819 votes cast, 548 were for the strike action.

Out on the streets of Edinburgh, the public reaction to the strike was mixed.

One man said: “I’m going to be working up until 23 December – but I’m going back home on the 24th up to Stonehaven. So, yes it looks like that’s going to be a bit of a problem. I’ll probably just end up getting the bus.”

Others said they would not be affected by the strikes.

ScotRail to Provide Wi-Fi Access by the End of 2013

WiFi trial on Scottish trains.

WiFi trial on Scottish trains.

The Scottish Government has invested £2 million in ScotRail for free Wi-Fi access in their express trains by the end of 2013.

Major routes include Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Stirling as well as areas in Inverness and Fife.  These routes will be carried out by 170 trains, all covered by the Wi-Fi service.

Steve Montgomery, managing director of ScotRail, said: “More journeys are made on our class 170s than any of our [other] trains, so it makes sense to begin the roll-out on this fleet.”

Dani Cardon, media officer of ScotRail, says that the implementation will take a few months to be completed: “We’re rolling out Wi-Fi on our 170 trains at a rate of 5 to 6 each month. That will take place from March until December 2013.”

However, no line will be prioritised and the installation will happen gradually.  Mr Cardon says, “It won’t be one line at a time. We install Wi-Fi on particular trains which will run across all routes.”

A pilot project was set up on 4 trains before the intended roll-out, stating that 77% of users were satisfied with the speed and performance of the Wi-Fi service provided.

Transport Minister Keith Brown is confident about the planned changes, “We have an absolute commitment to bringing better connectivity to every corner of Scotland, and I have been highly encouraged by the success of ScotRail pilot scheme.”

Despite the good intentions, there will be challenges concerning the signal. Mr Cardon states: “We can only enhance Wi-Fi when there is already a signal there. Although, there will be good connections overall, there will be remote areas which won’t have a good connection.”

“But that’s improving all across Scotland as much as phone signal is.”

The fitting of the 170 trains will take place during weekends scheduled particularly for maintenance in order to guarantee usual railway service isn’t disrupted.

Train overcrowding crisis will “simply get worse”

By Kerry McGinty

Train overcrowding is at an all time high and it is only going to get worse according to information revealed by the government that all targets for increasing passenger places on trains by 2014 will be missed. It has also been revealed that within 5 years train fares are to rise by a third.

Richard Bacon MP said: “People paying premium fares for rail services that are still overcrowded have every right to be furious, especially as trains look set to get more crowded.”

Train overcrowding and delays are affecting the whole of the UK. On the 8th November Birmingham new street station was in chaos, with the station electing in the end to remove the train times from any screens and replacing it with “Welcome to Birmingham New street” due to severe delays on all the train services.

Birmingham new street starting to get busy. (courtesy of http://www.aidan.co.uk)

As I waited for over an hour for the 12.22pm train to Edinburgh I spoke to some of the hundreds of other passengers on the platform who were also willing for our train to finally turn up.

Carol Smith, aged 51, who was trying to travel to Preston said: “It’s been and absolute nightmare, I’ve already been delayed on my connecting train and I didn’t have a seat. I just want to get home now!”

Simon King, another passenger waiting for the service: “I paid over £80 for my ticket and the train has been delayed by over an hour. You try and find out what’s happening and the staff just disappear! No one knows what’s going on, it’s chaos.”

After such a long wait the battle for seats began, with hundreds of frustrated, tired yet determined passengers preparing their elbows for the rush to the doors, not an activity you would expect after paying so much money for the privilege.

Margaret Hodge, Chairwoman of the The Public Accounts Committee (PAC),  said MPs were concerned that the “already unacceptable levels of overcrowding will simply get worse and ever more intolerable”.

The government is yet to reveal its plans to remedy the crisis. Until then the waiting game continues…

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