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‘Scotland’s trains risk us becoming an international embarrassment’

© Ewan Bootman/ShutterstockA train departs Edinburgh’s Waverley station.
A train departs Edinburgh’s Waverley station.

As visitors from around the world arrive in Scotland for The Open and Edinburgh festivals, our train network risks “international embarrassment,” according to business leaders.

Tourism operators warn the cutting of services because of a shortage of train drivers will leave visitors bemused at the inability to travel at night.

Already this summer, ScotRail has repeatedly been forced to warn people going to events, including this weekend’s TRNSMT festival in Glasgow, which finish after 9pm that they may not be able to get trains home.

Stephen Montgomery of the Scottish Hospitality Group, which represents major pub and restaurant firms, said the country was in danger of looking like a provincial “backwater” if visitors were hampered by the rail problems at the 150th Open Championship in St Andrews, which starts today, and the Edinburgh festivals next month.

Hundreds of ScotRail services a day were axed after some drivers stopped working voluntary overtime. Montgomery, who also owns the Our Place restaurant in Annan, Dumfries and Galloway, said: “The likelihood is that Scotland will be an international embarrassment if we are trying to encourage tourism into Scotland for all these big events and we can’t provide the rail infrastructure to deal with that.

“We are going to look like a backwater. We will look pretty secondary and unprofessional.”

Golf fans travelling to the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews have been urged to travel by road or use alternative public transport to attend. Reduced numbers of rail services will run to and from Leuchars – the nearest station to St Andrews – as a result of an ongoing dispute with ScotRail and train drivers’ union Aslef.

Alan Mitchell, chief executive of Fife Chamber of Commerce, voiced his concerns. He said: “It is far from ideal with it being more difficult to get to and from the Open and that may impact on the number of people who attend. It may change perceptions that people have about whether they want to come to Scotland.”

About 700 train services a day were axed on Monday, May 23. ScotRail’s Summer 2022 timetable had about 2,150 weekday services. This has been reduced to 1,456 in the temporary timetable.

Gordon Martin, RMT regional organiser for Scotland, said the public had backed its industrial action.

He said: “Our members are struggling in a big way. Nobody withdraws their labour lightly. What I would say to the travelling public, who have been behind us and supported us, is hopefully this is short-term pain for long-term gain. Britain has the safest rail network in the world and they’re putting all that at risk for the sake of profit and money. That’s unforgiveable.”

Scottish Lib Dem transport spokeswoman Jill Reilly said: “Scotland’s economy and international reputation is being threatened by the SNP/Green government’s rail cancellations.”

Abellio owned the company from April 2015 but the Dutch firm was stripped of its contract in December 2019 due to poor performance.

Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Liam Kerr said: “After the SNP’s disastrous first few months at the helm, it seems unlikely that they will be able to deliver for Scottish passengers.”

Karen Koren, who runs Edinburgh Festival venue The Gilded Balloon comedy club, said she was trying to remain optimistic. She said: “We are being positive. There are a few weeks yet for things to resolve themselves. Hopefully the trains will return to normal soon.”

Phil Campbell, ScotRail Head of Customer Operations, added: “We’re doing everything we can to play our part and support travel to the historic event, but regrettably, our temporary timetable will still be in place throughout The Open.”

Transport Scotland said it hopes to reintroduce a normal timetable as soon as possible: “We have worked hard with ScotRail to offer workers a fair and affordable deal, which Aslef has recommended for acceptance. In the event of a positive outcome from the pay dispute ballot, ScotRail will make every effort to resume a normal timetable as quickly as possible.”