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ScotRail has announced a timetables shake-up in response to passenger levels following Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic; revisions include Highland services

By Philip Murray

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Inverness Railway Station.
Inverness Railway Station.

A SHAKE-up of national railway timetables will result in changes to some Highland routes.

ScotRail will launch a six-week consultation over its proposed changes later today (Friday).

It is understood that the changes include plans for 10 trains per day northbound and 11 southbound on the Inverness-Edinburgh/Glasgow route. ScotRail says that some timings will also be changed to "offer a better overall service" on the Highland mainline between Inverness and Perth.

Those passengers changing trains for Edinburgh or Glasgow will also now do so in Stirling rather than Perth.

Elsewhere in the north, the Kyle Line will operate the same levels of service it did in 2019, prior to the pandemic.

On the Far North Line, there will be four trains a day running the full distance from Inverness to Thurso/Wick, as well as plans for extra peak and off-peak services for stations towards the southern end of the line.

On the Inverness-Aberdeen line, ScotRail plans to provide additional services between Elgin and the Highland capital. And there will be a total of 11 trains a day in each direction for the full journey between Inverness and Aberdeen.

The proposed changes, which were drawn up in response to the Covid-19 pandemic's aftermath, will go live in May next year.

ScotRail claims that the new timetables will make its operations "fit for the future". They added that, while passenger numbers are rising once more, they are still at only 50 per cent of their pre-pandemic levels, and that "evidence shows that, in future, customers will be using the railway in different ways by travelling at different times and for different purposes".

ScotRail claims that its new nationwide timetable will still operate around 2100 services and that while most passengers will still see their station and the destinations served by services "similar to today", others will see greater changes owing to the relatively high number of empty seats on some trains. They cited an example, where under five and a half million passenger journey miles were completed on a typical weekday – which was just 23 per cent of the available number of seats. This meant that seats were empty for 77 per cent of the distance that was travelled.

"Returning to a pre-pandemic timetable would result in trains operating 26 million more vehicle miles each year for little customer benefit," said a spokesman. "As well as increased emissions, that would increase ScotRail costs to the taxpayer by £30million to £40million each year."

They added that the new timetables will also focus more on maintaining the "improved punctuality and reliability of services" that was seen during the pandemic.

Alex Hynes, Scotland’s Railway managing director, said: “Scotland’s Railway is committed to delivering a service that is safe, reliable, green, and clean. Our job is to keep people moving and connected to business, leisure, and education while meeting the expectations of our customers.

“The pandemic has changed how people travel across all of Scotland so our services will reflect these varied travel patterns and deliver timetables that are reliable, have enough capacity to meet pre-Covid levels of demand, and are sustainable.

“We are consulting on the timetable changes being proposed and we would welcome the views of our customers.”

David Simpson, ScotRail operations director, said: “The significant cost of running the railway following the impact of the coronavirus pandemic means it’s essential that the railway meets the changing needs of customers, as well as providing taxpayers with best value for money. Our timetable proposals do that.

“That might mean offering a different service on different days of the week or different times of year as passenger demand varies across the week or through the year. But by doing so, we can ensure Scotland’s Railway remains sustainable into the future.

“During the pandemic, we’ve provided outstanding, and sustained, high levels of punctuality and reliability for those travelling. Our proposals build on that as we know that a safe and reliable service is a top priority for customers.”

Graeme Dey MSP, minister for transport, added: “Organisations up and down the country are reflecting on how they can provide great customer service while at the same time ensuring their businesses are fit for the future.

“Rail is no different and that is why it is essential ScotRail review changes in travel patterns across Scotland so that timetables best meet demand.

“This consultation exercise offers a real opportunity for customers and businesses to help shape a reliable and responsive timetable change from May 2022.

“I would encourage anyone with an interest to share their views."

The ScotRail website, ScotRail – Fit For The Future, will have more details about the proposed timetables, as well as consultation links, from 4pm on Friday.

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