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Public consultation launches on proposed new ScotRail timetables

By David Porter

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ScotRail is unveiling plans for new timetables from May 2022.

It comes almost 18 months after Scotland went into its first Covid-19 lockdown, leading to the worst financial crisis the rail industry has experienced as passenger numbers dropped by 90 per cent.

ScotRail has been able to continue to operate during the pandemic thanks to significant financial support of more than £400million in the form of Emergency Measures Agreements from the Scottish Government.

ScotRail made twelve timetable changes during a period when normally there would only be three, giving the train operator concrete evidence upon which to base its timetables going forward.

There has been a gradual increase in the number of customers returning to the railway due to the easing, and now the ending, of the majority of coronavirus restrictions.

Passenger journeys have risen to around 50 per cent of their pre-Covid levels, however, evidence shows that, in future, customers will be using the railway in different ways by travelling at different times and for different purposes.

The train operator is proposing a new, better performing, timetable operating around 2100 services per weekday as the foundation to encourage a return to public transport following the pandemic.

Most customers will find the number of calls at their station and the destinations served are similar to today.

However, there are some areas where there is greater change, which is being done for several important reasons.

ScotRail analysis shows prior to the pandemic, on a number of routes across the country, significantly more seats were being provided than were required for the number of passengers travelling.

For example, under five and a half million passenger journey miles were completed on a typical weekday, which was just 23 per cent of the available number of seats.

In other words, seats were empty for 77 per cent of the distance that was travelled.

Returning to a pre-pandemic timetable would result in trains operating 26 million more vehicle miles each year for little customer benefit.

As well as increased emissions, that would increase ScotRail costs to the taxpayer by £30million to £40million each year.

The proposed new timetable will also focus on improved punctuality and reliability of services, building on the record punctuality delivered during the pandemic.

New services are being added on some routes, such as Dundee to Glasgow which will benefit from an hourly service calling at all stations between Dundee and Stirling.

On other routes there may be slightly longer journey times, as it is more efficient to operate one long train calling at all stations, than have two shorter ones which split the calls between them, for example between Kirkcaldy and Edinburgh.

Many routes will see little change compared to the current timetable.

Alex Hynes, Scotland’s Railway Managing Director, said:“Scotland’s Railway is committed to delivering a service that is safe, reliable, green, and clean. Our job is to keep people moving and connected to business, leisure, and education while meeting the expectations of our customers.

“The pandemic has changed how people travel across all of Scotland so our services will reflect these varied travel patterns and deliver timetables that are reliable, have enough capacity to meet pre-COVID levels of demand, and are sustainable.

Graeme Dey MSP, Minister for Transport, said: “Organisations up and down the country are reflecting on how they can provide great customer service while at the same time ensuring their businesses are fit for the future.

“Rail is no different and that is why it is essential ScotRail review changes in travel patterns across Scotland so that timetables best meet demand.

“This consultation exercise offers a real opportunity for customers and businesses to help shape a reliable and responsive timetable change from May 2022.

“I would encourage anyone with an interest to share their views”

The consultation is open to October 1, to seek opinions on the proposed timetables.

The ScotRail website, ScotRail - Fit For The Future can be found at https://www.scotrail.co.uk/about-scotrail/fit-future.

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