ScotRail cuts: Nicola Sturgeon says cuts in train service are ‘unacceptable’ as timetable could take weeks

The First Minister urged ScotRail bosses and union leaders to “come to the table and negotiate” in good faith.

It came as ScotRail’s Service Delivery Director David Simpson said a new tentative schedule could be in place for weeks.

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ScotRail, which was nationalized last month, will suspend 700 services from Monday in response to a driver shortage caused by a disagreement with the Aslef union, which saw some drivers refuse to work overtime or on rest days.

Business chiefs said the move to cut late services was “another cruel blow to Scotland’s hard-pressed night economy and culture sector”.

Ms Sturgeon apologized for the disturbance during the First Minister’s Questions in Holyrood, saying it was “unacceptable”.

She said ScotRail had decided that “a temporary timetable was preferable to unplanned cancellations”, adding: “However, let me stress this point and stress this point very strongly – it is important to get the timetable back to normal as soon as possible do I expect ScotRail to review the temporary arrangements on a regular basis. In fact, it is scheduled to be officially reviewed on June 3.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Image: PA

The First Minister said it was important to have a fair and affordable salary agreement.

She said ScotRail “continues to reduce the need for rest days by training new drivers”.

Tory MSP Graham Simpson expressed fears it could take “until at least 2024” to train the 130 drivers needed.

Ms Sturgeon said ScotRail hopes to train a further 38 drivers before the end of the summer, 55 by the end of the year and “100” thereafter.

Earlier she said: “I would say to the unions I understand their job to represent their members and get fair pay for members but let’s see both parties come to the table and negotiate this in good faith – I think that’s what the traveling audience wants to see as well.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “Let’s remember, Nicola Sturgeon and her government are responsible for Scotland’s railways.”

He said Ms Sturgeon had previously claimed nationalizing ScotRail was a “fresh start,” adding: “Seven weeks into nationalization, this is already proving to be a disaster.”

Mr Ross continued: “SNP took over operating our rail services on April Fool’s Day, but NatRail is no joke to Scotland’s passengers.”

Scottish Labor leader Anas Sarwar has said nearly 1,000 rail services have been suspended since early 2020.

He accused the SNP of making headlines without getting the job done, adding, “Maybe they should hire fewer spin doctors and more train drivers.”

Aslef Scottish organizer Kevin Lindsay accused ScotRail and the Scottish Government of handling the situation “appallingly”.

He said: “We need fair pay and there also needs to be a clear and proactive plan to hire more drivers.”

A spokesman for the Night Time Industries Association said: “These devastating rail cuts will result in commuters rushing to catch early trains home and will prevent ordinary people across Scotland from traveling to our towns and cities in the evening.

“Such cuts in services, even temporary, are another cruel blow to Scotland’s hard-pressed night economy and cultural sector, which has yet to recover from the pandemic.”

Want to hear more from The Scotsman’s politics team? Watch the latest episode of our political podcast, The Steamie.

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