Jamie Stone insists return of full ScotRail timetable 'should not be the end of the line'
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North MP Jamie Stone has declared that this week's return of a full railway timetable comes "not a moment too soon" for his constituents in Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.
But he warned that the move should not be seen as "the end of the line" as train passengers need to see many other improvements.
Mr Stone was speaking after ScotRail confirmed it is to restore its full summer timetable from Wednesday, July 20, after members of the drivers’ union ASLEF voted to accept an improved pay offer.
It brings an end to the temporary timetable that has been in place since May 23 and means almost 700 services a day will be added.
Mr Stone said he had been lobbying the Scottish Government and ScotRail to prioritise rail services in the Highlands since the temporary timetable came into effect.
The Liberal Democrat MP highlighted the "disproportionate cuts" that rural Highland services had been subjected to compared with other parts of the country. He told Scotland's transport minister Jenny Gilruth that many people in the far north rely on the railway to get to medical appointments in Inverness.
“The restoration of the full ScotRail timetable comes not a moment too soon for my constituents," Mr Stone said. "Existing transport challenges have been made even worse these past few months.
"I salute the resilience and determination of our Highland communities, which have dealt with the travel chaos admirably.
“This also serves as a reminder of the many more improvements we need to see on our Highland railways to make sure we have a public transport system fit for the 21st century. Restoring the timetable is a positive step – but it cannot be the end of the line.”
ScotRail said the temporary timetable had been introduced "due to the impact of a significant number of drivers declining to make themselves available for overtime or rest day working, as they are entitled to do, during the pay dispute".
Like many other train operators, ScotRail has relied on drivers working overtime or on rest days. In 2019, ScotRail committed to employing more drivers to phase out its reliance on this practice, but the pandemic meant that driver training was "significantly delayed".
Speaking on Friday, ScotRail's service delivery director David Simpson said: “We are delighted to be able to reintroduce the timetable, adding almost 700 services each day, and delivering the service that our customers expect and deserve.
“It has been a very challenging few months, impacting those across the country who rely on rail travel and our staff too. It is a big step forward to reach such a positive resolution and continue in our efforts to provide the safest, greenest and most reliable railway we can.
"We thank customers for their patience through this period.”