TRAIN passengers in the Highlands continue to face travel chaos in the build-up to the launch of a new timetable.
And it is feared the problems could get even worse when the timetable is introduced on Sunday.
The new schedules already caused massive disruption after train crews were taken off duty to go on timetable training – leading to staff shortages.
As a result, furious travellers have had to face late services, cancelled trains and replacement buses in the last few weeks.
Last May the introduction of new timetables led to widespread disruption in parts of England, with tens of thousands of passengers facing travel misery.
Hundreds of services were disrupted, leading to calls for the Transport Minister to resign.
The timetable training problems have come at a time when there is growing disquiet over rail services in the North.
ScotRail yesterday refused to give any assurances that the introduction of new timetables would be trouble free.
A spokesman said: "The new timetable will be introduced on December 9, which requires a significant amount of training for our drivers and conductors.
"We're sorry to our customers who have experienced disruption to their journey.
"The majority of the impact is a result of our final push to deliver the December timetable improvements which will bring faster journeys, more seats and better services for customers."
The staff shortages at the weekend also coincided with an RMT union overtime ban that meant no working on rest days, but this dispute has now been settled.
ScotRail was unable to say how many services had been disrupted by timetable training.
The delays and cancellations were at their worst last Sunday right across Scotland including many Inverness and Highland services.
One Glasgow Queen Street to Inverness service started from Perth with buses taking customers from Queen Street to Perth, and one Edinburgh to Inverness services was terminated at Perth with buses taking customers from Perth onwards to Inverness.
The spokesman added: "I’m unable to provide the numbers (of timetable training-affected services) you’re requesting as the rostering system isn't as straightforward that you can simply assign a shortage cancellation solely to the training programme.
"For example, from a pool of three possible drivers, one might be on training, one might be sick and one might be on annual leave. So you couldn't attribute that solely to training."
The staff shortages became part of growing dissatisfaction with rail services, with many passengers hitting out through social media.
One was Inverness man David Balfour who said his train trip to Inverness on Sunday was "packed to the rafters" with dozens invading First Class and sitting on the floor.
And yesterday there was widespread disruption when a signalling fault near Aviemore led to cancellations and delay.
There was also a problem with the 6.50am service out of Inverness to Edinburgh after a fault in the brakes was detected only yards from the station and the train was cancelled.
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said: “ScotRail’s performance has been plummeting, official figures have shown.
“Meanwhile, reliability is getting worse too and with winter under way, ScotRail passengers have also been experiencing widespread disruption while continuing to pay extortionate sums for failing services.
“If new timetables add to those woes then the Scottish Government must act.
"Labour forced a vote in the Scottish Parliament asking the Government to scrap the ScotRail franchise - but the SNP joined forces with the Tories to vote it down.”
This week transport secretary Chris Grayling was told he should resign over the "chaotic rollout" of new railway timetables in England.
A UK government transport select committee report into the widespread disruption to tens of thousands of passengers back in May, said Mr Grayling should have been more proactive to prevent the delays caused by the timetable changes, which saw Govia Thameslink Railway fail to run 12 per cent of its planned service in the weeks following May 20, and Arriva Rail North not running around 11 per cent of its trains.