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Transport minister: ScotRail training 38 new drivers by autumn amid service cuts

Services have been subject to cancellations and delays as a result of drivers refusing to make themselves available for overtime and rest day working. (Credit: Jane Barlow/PA)
Services have been subject to cancellations and delays as a result of drivers refusing to make themselves available for overtime and rest day working. (Credit: Jane Barlow/PA)

Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth said recruitment and training of new drivers is well under way after ScotRail announced 700 services would be cut from Monday amid an ongoing pay dispute with rail union Aslef.

Speaking to BBC’s The Nine, Ms Gilruth said the situation with trains was “not good enough” and called for unions to get back round the negotiating table.

She called the industrial dispute “disappointing” and added: “I would really strongly encourage Aslef to continue that meaningful dialogue with ScotRail so that we can get to that mutually agreeable outcome for passengers and for staff.”

The PA News Agency understands that train drivers recently turned down a 2.2% pay offer and have subsequently refused to undertake overtime or rest day working.

Passengers have been facing delays and cancellations on Scotland’s railways this week.

Jenny Gilruth MSP
Jenny Gilruth: Scotrail recruiting new drivers (Jane Barlow/PA)

Ms Gilruth told The Nine that the situation facing the railways was due to drivers not working overtime.

She added: “I’m not pointing fingers here at the moment but I think we need to reflect that the challenges we’re facing on the railway network are the result of some drivers not taking up the option of overtime on Sunday and rest day working.

“That’s in their gift. It’s a voluntary option they have at their disposal.

“But of course, ScotRail has in their response to that, had to announce a temporary timetable from next Monday

“That is as a direct result of these driver shortages.

Ms Gilruth did not put a timescale on how long the disruption would last for, but advised she would be meeting with ScotRail on Friday.

She said: “It’s under review and I’ll be meeting with ScotRail tomorrow to seek further assurances on this.

“We know that people want certainty when they travel. What passengers have experienced over the course of last weekend and on the weekend prior to that was a number of cancellations and uncertainty when they travel.

“So this timetable delivers on that certainty, I know it’s not good enough, I know I would like us to get back to where we were to the new timetable which was meant to come back this week.

The transport minister sympathised with commuters and told The Nine she was reliant on rail services from Fife.

She added: “I travel from Fife to Edinburgh most days and I am reliant on the rail service so I recognise some of the challenges this puts in people’s way on their commuting to work but also travelling home late at night. It’s not good and we need to get back with the unions to a better place.

The minister revealed that ScotRail are training new drivers and admitted the service is “dependent” on drivers agreeing to work on rest days.

She said: “Our rail unions have the option here on the table. We do need to focus on recruiting additional drivers. ScotRail are hoping to have an additional 38 drivers trained by the end of summer rising to 55 drivers by the end of the year and that will increase to 100 by June 2023.

“We are at the moment dependent on drivers working on rest days.”

Kevin Lindsay from Aslef said in a statement on Thursday that the Scottish Government had handled the situation “appallingly”.

He said: “Nicola Sturgeon has to recognise that the pay dispute can only be settled with a resumption of immediate talks.

“We need a fair pay deal and there must also be a clear and proactive plan to recruit more drivers.

“Aslef stands ready to resume talks with the company anytime, anywhere, any place.

“We have said this from day one and today we repeat that call. Relying on drivers to work rest days is no way to run a 21st-century railway.

“This situation will not be resolved if ScotRail fails to engage in meaningful talks.”