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