Trouble on the line for rail passengers with Nicola Sturgeon in the driver’s seat
“There’s nothing, absolutely nothing, half as much value to do as just messing around in boats.” To this wise advice from Ratty in Wind in the Willows, and on which she would have agreed in nationalizing a shipyard on the Clyde, Nicola Sturgeon could have added later “…and trains too”.
Because after obtaining a ferry construction company, Ferguson Marine, in her ministerial portfolio in 2019, the Prime Minister in April gave her government its own train, in the form of the nationalization of ScotRail.
However, that’s where the good news ends because after taking the ferry company into the public stable, it turns out that the ships are now up to five years behind schedule and their cost has gone up from £95m to at least £250m. , and possibly £400m.
Following its acquisition of ScotRail from its seemingly unpopular private – and Dutch – company Abellio, passengers are facing a reduction of, depending on which estimate you accept, between 700 and 1,000 services, no overnight trains between Glasgow and Edinburgh, some stations without any trains and with higher fares.
Beyond April Fools
For the Tories, Douglas Ross said the Prime Minister promised an “efficient, sustainable and future-proof” rail network when his government took over ScotRail on April Fool’s Day. Yet instead he insisted passengers were experiencing “chaos and disruption” every day.
The rail problem was not caused, according to the Scottish government and train drivers, by industrial action, although it looks much the same as where passengers stand – mostly on the platforms, waiting for trains that may or may not come.
Instead, drivers are refusing to work overtime or their “days off”, meaning that for much of the network there is an acute shortage of people to drive their trains.
Pay the litigation blues
In what she believed to be a factual statement but was also, no doubt, intended to prove to the railroad public that train conductors weren’t exactly the lowest paid civil servants, she said they earned around £50,000 a year. before overtime.
And as for all these disruptions not to be a social conflict, it must be borne in mind that the main reason for the ban on overtime and rest days is that Aslef, the train drivers’ union, rejected a 2.2 percent wage offer.
It has been suggested that this offer could be supplemented with some sort of profit sharing bonus. But given the Scottish government’s track record in this regard, train drivers are likely to tread carefully.
In any case, Kevin Lindsay, the spokesman for Aslef, said of his talks with the new owners of ScotRail: “Quite frankly, these are the worst negotiations I have been involved in in 30 years as a Union representative.”
Defining what is “fair and affordable”
For her part, the Prime Minister insisted that the current timetable was temporary and that she hoped to reach a “fair and affordable wage agreement” with Aslef, as well as progress in the recruitment of new drivers to reduce the need for work on rest days. .
However, after observing – from afar – various wage discussions involving the drivers’ union, I have come to the conclusion that it is normally Aslef’s negotiators who will ultimately decide what is “fair and affordable”. Plus, I also suspect that some drivers like the extra pay that days off add to their pay.
Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labor leader, attacked Ms Sturgeon for ‘jumping’ to the US to talk about climate change while cutting rail services, which were the greenest form of transport.
He said that following the SNP’s takeover of Scotland’s mainline rail network, the cost of travel had risen, people were finding it difficult to get to work or get home at night and asked: “Why have the Scots continually paid the price for the failure of the SNP? »