Trade union bosses have lambasted recommendations for “disastrous” service cuts, ticket office closures and job losses on Scotland’s railway.
An internal report on the future of ScotRail questions whether “the provision of ticket offices is viable in the future” as the service begins to recover following the Covid-19 crisis.
It also suggests that the franchise, currently owned by Abellio but due to enter public ownership next year, could make a permanent 10% cut to services.
The RMT union claims this would mean more than 85,000 services being cut annually and a loss of more than 1000 jobs.
The union claims the report seeks to “legitimise damaging cuts to Scotland’s rail network” in a move that would be disastrous for passengers and a “kick in the teeth” to staff who have been key workers throughout the pandemic.
Officials also believe it runs counter to the country’s climate change targets.
Transport Scotland said both they and the Scottish Government had no involvement in the report, while ScotRail claimed the report is not a formal proposal but contains recommendations on the future of the railway post-pandemic.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “This report is a blatant attempt to further a cuts agenda that will be devastating for Scotland’s railway.
“On the one hand the report rightly acknowledges that Scotland’s rail network has a central role to play in meeting climate change targets, yet it goes on to advocate service cuts, ticket office closures and job losses.
“This will make Scotland’s railway far less safe, secure and accessible for passengers and runs counter to Scotland’s Net Zero targets.
“With COP26 taking place in Scotland in November, and ScotRail coming into public ownership in eight months’ time, we need an alternative future for Scotland’s railway which values passengers and staff, and invests in creating a sustainable, affordable and accessible rail network.”
The report, by professor Iain Docherty, a former non-executive director of ScotRail and Transport Scotland, talks of the changes seen during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as an expected 20% natural reduction in workforce, as a “unique platform” to “reduce staff costs quickly”.
It adds: “There is also a clear opportunity to explore how digital technologies and automation of certain functions could reduce revenue spend, but this will require addressing ‘difficult’ cultural and political questions.”
The publication comes after it was announced earlier this year that ScotRail will come under state control in March next year, with Dutch-owned Abellio being stripped of the franchise three years early in the wake of an outcry over service failings and rising costs to the taxpayer.
The franchise is also facing a serious financial crisis in the wake of the pandemic and a massive downturn in passengers, and is surviving only due to emergency taxpayer support of more than £400 million
Opposition politicians hit out at the report’s recommendations, describing them as flawed and irresponsible.
Scottish Conservative shadow transport minister Graham Simpson said: “The logic behind this report is deeply flawed. We want to see simpler fares and we want to make travelling by train easier, but you don’t do that by closing ticket offices.
“Not everyone will be able to buy tickets digitally so this kind of idea risks creating a travelling underclass.We should be looking to invest in and expand our rail network and not follow this slash and burn approach.”
Scottish Labour added that the the proposals are “irresponsible”.
Party transport spokesman Neil Bibby said: “This is an explosive report that appears to propose permanent cuts to pre-pandemic rail services of at least 10%.
“This would be economically, socially and environmentally irresponsible.
“The Transport Minister must immediately clarify the status of this report and rule out retrograde cuts to the rail network.
“We should be building up rail services not cutting them back and cutting jobs across Scotland’s rail network.
“Labour stands with passengers and the workforce in the fight against cuts.”
A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “Transport Scotland is pressing ahead to put in place arrangements to mobilise a wholly owned company of the Scottish Government to provide ScotRail services when the current franchise expires as expected on 31 March 2022.
“Permission from the Scottish Government was not required by Abellio to commission this report and Scottish Government and Transport Scotland officials did not hold any discussions with Professor Docherty in relation to his report.
“Transport Scotland, as part of the Rail Recovery Task Force, uses Transport Focus’s passenger pulse research to identify the changing priorities and requirements of rail passengers during and post Covid-19 which also provides a platform to assess the scale and pace of recovery from Covid 19 and, in particular, the potential to move towards our policy vision of an integrated public sector controlled railway.”
A Scotrail spokesman said: “We are seeing a gradual increase in the number of customers returning to the railway due to the easing of travel restrictions and coronavirus controls, but with passenger numbers at only 50 per cent of the pre-covid level, this is not the time to put that recovery in jeopardy.
“Railway jobs are being put at risk by the reckless actions of the RMT and we are urging union bosses to call off divisive strikes and false narratives.”