Rail chief told: Keep ‘no skip­ping’ vow

The Herald - - NEWS - DAVID LEASK CHIEF RE­PORTER

PAS­SEN­GER groups have urged Sco­trail to keep its lat­est prom­ise to stop skip­ping sta­tions.

The train gi­ant’s man­ag­ing di­rec­tor has said his driv­ers will miss stops only “as a last re­sort” as they try to boost punc­tu­al­ity.

This lat­est pledge comes 18 months af­ter his pre­de­ces­sor also said the prac­tice, de­signed to keep trains on sched­ule, would be phased out, at least dur­ing peak hours.

Mr Hynes, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Sco­trail Al­liance, which rep­re­sents both pri­vately-owned train op­er­a­tor Sco­trail and state track firm Net­work Rail, ad­mit­ted the prac­tice known as stop-skip­ping had been “overused”.

Bod­ies rep­re­sent­ing pas­sen­gers have been com­plain­ing for years about trains pass­ing through sched­uled stops, which af­fects those who use smaller sta­tions most.

David Side­bot­tom, pas­sen­ger di­rec­tor at the in­de­pen­dent watch­dog Trans­port Fo­cus, said: “Pas­sen­gers have the ab­so­lute right to get on the train they have turned up to get as well as ar­riv­ing at the des­ti­na­tion that ap­pears on their ticket.

“The Sco­trail Al­liance must now de­liver on its prom­ises and fo­cus on run­ning trains on time, with few can­cel­la­tions, fewer skip stops, and with car­riages of the right length.”

Pas­sen­gers say they have seen more stop-skip­ping since Abel­lio, the com­mer­cial UK arm Dutch na­tional rail­way com­pany, took over the Sco­trail fran­chise.

Trans­port Min­is­ter Humza Yousaf said ear­lier this year that un­sched­uled fly-bys had been re­duced in 2017, un­til poor weather hit, and de­scribed the op­er­a­tor’s per­for­mance as “sim­ply not good enough”. Mr Yousaf said 0.78 per cent of Sco­trail ser­vices in 2017 had skipped sta­tions – equat­ing to 20 of its 2,500 trains a day. That rep­re­sented an in­crease from 0.6% in 2016-17 and 0.4% in 2011-12.

Mr Hynes, speak­ing to The Scots­man, said he hoped a new 20-point plan drawn up by a for­mer ex­ec­u­tive called Nick Dono­van would make things bet­ter. He said: “I can’t be sure but I can be con­fi­dent.”

He added: Mr Hynes said: “We were us­ing skip stopping to fix a symp­tom of lat­erun­ning trains, but we should fo­cus on the root cause of the prob­lem. His [Mr Dono­van’s] view, and I agree, is it’s been overused. If we do not im­prove per­for­mance at a few crit­i­cal lo­ca­tions, the net­work frankly does not work.”

Pas­sen­ger groups said they felt con­sumers would be less un­happy be­ing a few min­utes late than if their stop was skipped en­tirely. Rail ex­perts stress skip­ping is de­signed to min­imise dis­rup­tion on the net­work.

Fife and Dun­bar­ton­shire are among the ar­eas most af­fected. One vil­lager in Cardross wrote to The Her­ald to say res­i­dents were try­ing to catch ear­lier trains in case their ser­vice was skipped and they missed an ap­point­ment or were late for work.

MSP Jackie Bail­lie, who rep­re­sents the vil­lage, said: “The He­lens­burgh and Bal­loch train lines have been plagued by skip stopping for a pro­longed pe­riod. At one stage it seemed more trains skipped Cardross sta­tion than ac­tu­ally stopped, it had got so bad.

“Dur­ing a re­cent visit to Cardross, Mr Hynes con­ceded Sco­trail/abel­lio’s per­for­mance had been poor and he com­mit­ted to mak­ing im­prove­ments.

“Prom­ises have been made be­fore and, while I look for­ward to an im­proved ser­vice, I think Mr Yousaf needs to ban skip stopping as part of the con­tract.”

The Sco­trail Al­liance must now de­liver on its prom­ises and fo­cus on run­ning trains on time

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