ScotRail to release public survey on proposed new timetables
As customers return to using Scotland’s Railway, ScotRail amidst a public consultation, is unveiling plans for the release of new timetables from May 2022, showing that it is ‘Fit for The Future’.
The consultation comes almost 18 months after Scotland went into its first COVID-19 lockdown, leading to the worst financial crisis the rail industry has experienced as passenger numbers fell by 90 per cent.
Despite this, ScotRail has been able to continue to operate during COVID-19 due to significant financial support of more than £400 million, in the form of Emergency Measures Agreements, from the Scottish government.
How COVID-19 impacted timetabling
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the train operator responded to shifting travel patterns and demand as travel restrictions were revised and adjusted.
ScotRail made 12 timetable changes during a period, when normally there would only be three, giving the train operator concrete evidence upon which to base its timetables going forward.
Furthermore, there has been a gradual increase in the number of customers returning to the railway due to the easing, and now the ending, of most COVID-19 restrictions. Passenger journeys have risen to around 50 per cent of their pre-COVID-19 levels, however, it is forecasted that future customers will be using the railway for different purposes and travelling at different times.
Research developed by Transport Focus shows how much value customers place on a dependable service. ScotRail’s punctuality has improved significantly over the last year, and the company aim to maintain this improvement in its new timetables.
The train operator is proposing a new, higher standard of performance timetable operating around 2,100 services per weekday, as the foundation to encourage a return to public transport following COVID-19. Most customers will find the number of calls at their station and the destinations served are like today. However, there are some areas where there is greater change, which is being done for several important reasons.
A timetable before COVID-19
ScotRail’s analysis demonstrates prior to COVID-19, on several routes across the country, significantly more seats were being provided than were required for the number of passengers travelling. For example, 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 or seats were empty for 77 per cent of the distance that was travelled.
Therefore, returning to a pre-COVID-19 timetable would result in trains operating 26 million more vehicle miles each year for little customer benefit, as well as increased emissions, that would raise ScotRail costs to the taxpayer by £30 million to £40 million each year.
The future of post-COVID-19 timetabling
The proposed new timetable will also focus on improved punctuality and reliability of services, building on the record punctuality delivered during COVID-19, as the research from Transport Focus highlighted this as a key priority for customers.
“The significant cost of running the railway following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic means it’s essential that the railway meets the changing needs of customers, as well as provides the taxpayer with best value for money,” discussed David Simpson, ScotRail Operations Director. “Our timetable proposals do that.”
David added: “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.”
Added services to routes
New services are being added on some routes such as Dundee to Glasgow, which will benefit from an hourly service calling at all stations between Dundee and Stirling. On other routes, there are expected to be longer journey times as it is more efficient to operate one long train calling at all stations, in comparison to having two shorter trains which share the calls between them, e.g., between Kirkcaldy and Edinburgh. However, many routes will see little change compared to the current timetable.
As Scotland comes out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the railway industry has an opportunity to take control of operating costs and progressing towards a greener, more sustainable future for railway. The country will further work towards becoming a net-zero society including ScotRail, who will continue to work with the Scottish government to ensure that rail can play its part in decarbonising Scotland’s transport network.
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-19 levels of demand, and are sustainable.”
“We are consulting on the timetable changes being proposed and we would welcome the views of our customers,” added Alex.
The proposed new customer-focused timetable will reflect predicted levels of service, as well as the need to provide the best value for money for taxpayers. ScotRail commented on how the proposals are a new starting point, and in the future, new methods of analysis developed during COVID-19 will refine and improve the service offer as the operator learns more about how changing customer travel behaviours.
Graeme Dey MSP, Minister for Transport, commented: “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 that 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,” further mentioned Graeme.
“The timetable is ScotRail’s basic promise to its passengers, and as passengers we want a reliable railway that delivers on the promise of the timetable day in and day out,” said Robert Samson, Stakeholder Manager at Transport Focus. “The significant improvement in punctuality achieved over the last year must be maintained in the proposed timetable.”
“We welcome the opportunity that the public consultation affords to allow passengers who depend on delivery of the timetable to comment and make their views known on the proposals to inform the final content of the timetable, ensuring it is focused on the passenger.”
The consultation is available to the public from 20 August to 1 October 2021, to seek opinions on the proposed timetables.