Keith Baker: I'm a rail commuter - it's time to admit ScotRail is broken

Rail commuter Dr Keith Baker, researcher in fuel poverty at Glasgow Caledonian University (writing in a personal capacity), says the decline in the quality of service provided by ScotRail has reached such depths he has taken to complaining directly to Abellio and Scottish Government Ministers

SCOTRAIL is broken. Since Dutch-owned Abellio took over the franchise in May 2015 the services have been heading towards a cliff.

From reports in the press and the many complaints on Twitter, it’s clear that the new year has taken it over the edge, and at a time when demand is growing.  

By 2014-15 the number of passenger journeys on Scotland’s rail network had reached 96.1 million, almost double that of 1995-96. Network Rail has forecasted that this will double again on many major routes and at major stations.

Frequent travellers have experienced first-hand the impact of this rapid growth on the quality of services. Network Rail has been doing its bit by upgrading its stations and railway lines, but these need trains to use them and drivers to drive them. Yet as late as November 2017 the TSSA was lambasting Abellio over its introduction of a voluntary redundancy scheme to reduce staff numbers, and in August 2018 it had to be forced to recognise the employment rights of employees at its Fort William call centre.

READ MORE: Petition launched for ‘People’s ScotRail’ as prices set to rise as service quality declines

Whilst ScotRail’s performance and customer satisfaction ratings show a downward trend, the latest figures have yet to capture the problems, and the fare increases, experienced by passengers this winter.

As one of those unfortunate millions, what prompted me to start raising complaints was the dire situation of commuters from East Lothian, where a surfeit of new housing is being developed. However, since starting this little campaign I’ve realised that our situation is far from uncommon away from the main intercity lines, for which customer satisfaction would be expected to be cushioned by the frequency of the services.   

Just last week, my partner was one of around 30 passengers unable to get on the 08:22 cattle truck from Musselburgh to Waverley – she was later told that someone fainted on it, but ScotRail have denied this. As the next service didn’t leave until 09:10 she was half an hour late for work, for which ScotRail offered her a frankly insulting £1 in compensation for the inconvenience, and zero compensation to her employer.

Keith Baker on Edinburgh to Musselburgh peak time train

Then the next day I had to suffer the dreaded 17:15 back to Musselburgh after the 16:42 was cancelled due to the lack of a driver. If that wasn’t bad enough, a last-minute platform change had us dashing over the overpass to get all the way from Platform 7 to Platform 10. Needless to say, there was barely room to breathe, and when we finally departed there were passengers still trying to get on and at least one saying they were feeling sick. I dread to think what would’ve happened if someone actually collapsed.

So, as well as emailing ScotRail’s Managing Director and the Minister for Transport, I took to Twitter to complain to the complete joke that is their ‘customer service’. If you check my feed (@Stumpysheep) it was so bad that at one point they claim I say something I didn’t, the whole exchange is completely devoid of any detail they might later be held accountable for. I’m still waiting for a response from Alex Hynes, ScotRail’s MD, but you can tweet at him with your photos of ScotRail’s failings at @AlexHynes (and the Minister is @MathesonMichael).

It’s time Abellio were honest and admitted they have a critical lack of capacity, and unless they can set out a clear and time-bound plan for adding new rolling stock and recruiting new train staff it is time the Scottish Government stepped in to either mandate the improvements passengers need, or strip them of the franchise. 

Picture courtesy of Tom Parnell

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