Friday, December 17, 2010

Liberal Democrat Iain Smith calls for enquiry into rail failures

I'm pleased to see that I'm not the only Liberal Democrat who is disgusted with the shoddy service First Scotrail has been providing recently. I know that they've had a challenge, but their management and communication is shambolic. If you don't believe me, go back and read about my game of musical platforms the other week or my husband's frozen encounter with the train that wasn't really cancelled.

Iain Smith, Liberal Democrat MSP for North East Fife is generally a very lovable human being. He does get grumpy, though, if his trains don't run on time, or if First Scotrail muck him about, at the best of times. I remember seeing a video profile on the Parliament website in which he was asked about what made him angry. Many other MSPs had said things like poverty and war and pestilence. Iain talked about shops selling Christmas stuff too early and Scotrail's rubbish communications, both causes very close to my heart. I am not sure if this is the one as I am stuck on the slowest laptop in the world but I'll check it later. (Update, much later, actually it's not, but it's worth watching anyway. And a note to the Test Match Commentary Team - if you are lucky enough to get an invitation to dinner at Iain's house, go, for goodness sake. The food will be amazing.

Anyway, he stood up for long suffering commuters by writing to Patrick Harvie, Convener of the Parliament's Transport Committee, to ask for there to be an enquiry into First Scotrail's many shortcomings over the Winter period.

During a debate on Winter resilience yesterday in Holyrood, Iain said:

"Part of [the problem] is simply down to ScotRail's inadequate information systems; its website failed to provide accurate information. If we wanted to find out whether a train was running, it was guaranteed that if it said on the live rail departure board that a train was on time, it had been cancelled. If the board said the train was delayed, it had been cancelled. The only way of knowing if the train was running was if it could be seen moving down the line.
"There is also the issue of whether the rolling stock is capable of the job. ScotRail says that the brakes freeze and the snow accumulates under the carriages, which causes damage to the equipment. We are told that there are infrastructure problems, such as freezing points. Those issues are all of concern and need to be addressed. A once-in-a-lifetime event has happened twice within 12 months, and we need to upgrade our railway network so that it can cope."

This will resonate with the many thousands of people who rely on a functioning rail system to get them to work. It's ridiculous that here in West Lothian we didn't have any service at all for 10 days with an occasional replacement bus service that turned up when it felt like it and was wholly inadequate to cope with the number of passengers.

Iain also raised the issue of heating oil supplies. It's awful that some people have been told that it'll be January before they will get a delivery and even the suppliers have no idea how much it'll cost when it does come. He said:
The issue is that the heating oil companies are being told that they are unlikely to get supplies at present, and the customers are unlikely to get deliveries until January. That is the situation on the ground, and it needs to be addressed. I accept the point about the derogation of the drivers' hours regulations, but that does not help if there is no heating oil to supply, which seems to be the problem. Someone has that heating oil, but they are trying to make a huge profit from it, and that is unacceptable.
Let's hope that that gets sorted and that people don't have to spend a cold and miserable Christmas either because they have no oil, or they're keeping their boilers turned down low to make the supply that they do have last.

1 comment:

jruddy said...

I think there are a number of issues which have caused this, especially when compared to the last major snowfall like this in the early 80s.

I think firstly, privatisation has had a major effect - in essence, Scotrail is not responsible for keeping the track clear. Its like taking Stagecoach to task for not keeping the A9 clear of snow and ice. In years gone by, locomotives would be fitted with snow ploughs and even run on important routes overnight in order to keep lines clear, but because Network Rail doesnt run any services itself, it has few locomotives at its disposal. I think there are only a dozen snow ploughs in Scotland. Having said that, I dont think many units operated by ScotRail have minature snow ploughs fitted in winter - I dont think the 170s they use on the Edinburgh/Glasgow - Aberdeen route can be, maybe thats why I've seen more 158s recently, though the smaller train must lead to overcrowding.

Secondly, our rail system actually has less use at night than at virtually any time since the start of the 19th century. Years ago, at night many frieght and mail trains would be running up and down the country so that snow didnt have time to build up - or that problems could be identified sooner. nowadays, when the first communter trains begin running at 6 am in the morning, theres been nothing using the rails of r 6 or 7 hours, plenty of time for snow to build up.


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