West High­land Line ‘back on track’ af­ter strikes called off

The Oban Times - - News - EL­LIE FORBES eforbes@oban­times.co.uk

SCOTRAIL op­er­a­tional direc­tor Perry Ram­sey has re­vealed to The Oban Times ‘the West High­land line will now re­turn to nor­mal­ity’ af­ter planned strikes were called off.

Rail, Mar­itime and Trans­port (RMT) in­dus­trial ac­tion was can­celled last week (Au­gust 3) to al­low for fur­ther talks be­tween union bosses and Scot Rail.

Fol­low­ing nu­mer­ous cus­tomers com­plaints, Mr Ram­sey said there were var­i­ous rea­sons for the prob­lems on the West High­land line, with the RMT strike the main is­sue.

He said: ‘There is not a staffing is­sue at Scot Rail but the strike has had a big im­pact on us.’

Mr Ram­sey said: ‘The strike put us in a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion, but now we don’t have that hang­ing over us, our staff avail­abil­ity should in­crease.’

Talk­ing about re­cent can­cel­la­tions, of­ten a re­sult of staff short­ages, Mr Ram­sey said: ‘A mem­ber of staff can call in sick up to an hour be­fore a shift. The first thing we do is look to see if we can get cover but, un­for­tu­nately, when we can’t the train has to be can­celled. We try to no­tify cus­tomers of can­cel­la­tions as soon as we be­come aware of it. We put in­for­ma­tion up on the web­site as soon as pos­si­ble and up­date our jour­ney plan­ner and the app. We would then try to get re­place­ment trans­port, such as a bus. Where we know part of the jour­ney is to be by bus, we would in­form cus­tomers of that.’

Last week, High­lands and Is­lands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant took Scot Rail to task for the num­ber of train can­cel­la­tions.

Mrs Grant took up a com­plaint made by con­stituent Bob Shorter, of Dul­nain Bridge, near Gran­town- on- Spey, who was with a party of 10 peo­ple due to travel on the 9.21pm train from Cor­rour to Tul­loch on the West High­land Line on May 28.

The rail­way sta­tion is one of the most re­mote sta­tions in the UK, at an iso­lated lo­ca­tion on Ran­noch Moor, and can­not be ac­cessed by pub­lic roads.

Mr Shorter was left stranded fol­low­ing the can­cel­la­tion and claimed there was no warn­ing on train web­sites. ‘Our hill walk­ing group had planned to walk into Cor­rour by var­i­ous routes, meet up at the restau­rant and then take the train out to Tul­loch. Two caught an early train in and were then told the evening train was can­celled. They short­ened their walk and took an ear­lier train back to Tul­loch.’

They alerted as many of the oth­ers as they could and peo­ple walked else­where.

He con­tin­ued: ‘ Two of us had set off and could not be con­tacted. One of our mem­bers man­aged to con­tact the es­tate who kindly re­leased the gate code and my wife drove in the 16 miles to meet us.’

Mrs Grant has said: ‘To re­turn to the re­mote sta­tion to find no train and no al­ter­na­tive trans­port pro­vided is just un­ac­cept­able and poses safety risks.

Mrs Grant sub­se­quently dis­cov­ered that six trains due to stop at Cor­rour had been can­celled in full and one more in part in the three months from March 10 to June 10 this year.

Phil Ver­ster, manag­ing direc­tor of Scotrail, in a let­ter to Mrs Grant, ad­mit­ted there had been 16 times when trains were can­celled or al­tered on the line to and from Mal­laig from the start of the year due to staff short­ages, train faults, ex­cep­tional weather con­di­tions, in­clud­ing flood­ing, and the fail­ure of the swing bridge at Banavie.

Mr Ver­ster said on the day the train Mr Shorter was meant to get was can­celled due to train crew short­ages across the net­work.

Mrs Grant also said: ‘I am also con­cerned that can­cel­la­tions due to what is called ‘short­ages across the net­work’ mean that the High­land re­gion is suf­fer­ing due to lack of staff else­where.’

But op­er­a­tion direc­tor, Mr Ram­sey, re­sponded to this claim say­ing: ‘I can cat­e­gor­i­cally say this would not ef­fect the West High­land. It is a self suf­fi­cient line.’

ScotRail Oper­a­tions Direc­tor Perry Ram­sey who has spo­ken to The Oban Times about the West High­land line.

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