AN SNP minister has confirmed Scotrail will be nationalised on April 1 – but has warned passengers can expect cuts to services while people remain too “scared” to use public transport.
Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth admitted that “it’s clear that much work still needs to be done” before the service is taken into public ownership.
Speaking in Holyrood, Ms Gilruth, said she was unable to rule out any compulsory redundancies and told MSPs that some services will need to be scaled back as passenger numbers have dropped significantly since the onset of the pandemic.
The SNP minister also invited elected members and rail unions to take part in talks to help shape a rail service that is fit for a post-pandemic world.
She said: “I want to kick-start a national conversation about what our new beginning for ScotRail should look like – an affordable, sustainable, customer focused rail passenger service in Scotland in a post pandemic world.
“We want to take all of ScotRail’s staff with us on this journey into Scottish Government ownership. That’s why this invitation is also extended to the rail unions. We know the unions are passionate about the industry, and through open and frank discussion we can work together to harness that aspirations for the future. I look forward to those conversations tomorrow.
“I also take the issue of women’s safety on public transport extremely seriously and we will be consulting with women and women’s organisations across the country to better understand their experiences and how we can improve our public transport system to make it safer and more enjoyable for them to use.”
Ms Gilruth stressed that in order for Scotland to meet its climate targets and an aim to reduce care kilometres by 20 per cent by 2030, an “efficient, effective, productive and profitable railway is critical”.
But opposition MSPs raised concerns over cuts to services and rising rail fare prices.
Labour transport spokesperson Neil Bibby warned “there needs to be a new direction from the Government”.
He added: “The starting point for the new Scotrail is cuts of 250 daily services, 50,000 fewer seats on trains, the biggest fare hike in a decade as we face a climate emergency.
“Scottish Labour is prepared to work with the minister but we are not prepared to work with the minister to cut people’s services and cut people’s jobs.”
Mr Bibby asked the minister if she supports plans to cut services by 10%.
Ms Gilruth said that “people are not using the trains in the way that they were two years ago”.
She said that in order to restore passenger numbers back to pre-pandemic levels, it would require “a seachange in how many folk were actually using the trains”.
Ms Gilruth added: “Folk are scared to go back to public transport because of the pandemic.
“Government can help with that with some of the messaging, but if people aren’t using the trains, there has to be a question about the sustainability of running empty trains.”