The pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives. From vaccines to face masks, and from home working to lateral flow tests before you leave the house, life isn’t the same as before.
The railway isn’t immune. At the height of lockdown, our passenger numbers dropped by 95 per cent. We were only able to keep running services and pay staff wages thanks to more than £500million of emergency government funding.
Passenger numbers have recovered to some extent, but we are still far from being back to normal. Around 60 per cent of our pre-pandemic passengers have returned. This is great news, but it still means we are running a lot of empty trains, which is a waste of taxpayer funds and damaging for the environment.
And the way people travel has changed. Our consultation found that 47 per cent of commuters travelled into the office every day before the pandemic but will now work from home at least some of the time.
The morning and evening rush hour aren’t the same anymore, with more journeys spread throughout the day and a greater focus on travelling for leisure – for example, shopping or going out for a meal – rather than for work.
Even before the pandemic, on average, each seat was empty more for more than 75 per cent of its journey. That’s just not sustainable – either financially or environmentally – as we look to rebuild the railway to make it fit for the future. Which is why we need to change how we do things, and why we can’t go back to the pre-pandemic timetable.
However, we know our customers want more train services. That’s why the timetable we are introducing 150 more services than we are running today, which provides more seats, and a more reliable railway for our customers.
From May 2022, ScotRail will operate around 2,150 daily services providing more than 590,000 seats. That is an increase of nearly 150 services each day compared to when the consultation began last year and more daily seats than was provided in 2018 when 97 million passengers used ScotRail services.
Based on the feedback received, we’ve made some changes to our initial plans where the evidence supports such a step. For example:
- A direct service will operate all day between Perth and Kirkcaldy rather than via Dunfermline as was proposed. More services will also operate during the evenings in Fife.
- An additional early morning service will operate from New Cumnock to Glasgow and evening peak and late evening services from Glasgow to Dumfries.
- The interval between services at the stations between Perth and Inverness is better spaced with more trains stopping at some stations.
- A half-hourly service will operate during the day on the Borders railway on a trial basis to test how quickly off-peak demand recovers and grows beyond pre-pandemic levels, compared to the original proposal of an hourly off-peak service.
- More services will be added to the Edinburgh Waverley – Glasgow Central via Carstairs and via Shotts routes in December 2022 and May 2023 due to a delay in driver training during the pandemic.
As we have done throughout the pandemic, we will continue to listen to what our customers are saying and act if it’s appropriate.
But many of the consultation responses asked for changes that weren’t backed by the evidence. Given the significant reduction in passenger numbers and the big financial challenge faced by the railway, we need to make the best use of taxpayer funds and run services where the demand for them exists. Operating trains that nobody uses isn’t in anybody’s interests.
The consultation on our new timetable from May 2022 produced an unprecedented response. We received 3,450 responses, more than for any other consultation in ScotRail’s history, and the consultation website was viewed more than 25,000 times.
You can read the detailed response to the timetable consultation here.
What is clear from the evidence we’ve made publicly available is that providing a good rail services does not on their own attract significant numbers to public transport. Other policy levers are required from all levels of government.
We’ll keep the timetable under regular review. Where passenger demand justifies more trains, we’ll do our best to deliver.
Thanks to everyone who took part in the consultation and shared their views. We welcome any and all feedback.