ScotRail appeared to have given up on Perth’s rail link to Edinburgh when it was grilled by irate passengers during an online public meeting.
The rail operator’s business development executive Ewan Tait said the link was simply “not competitive”.
“If the journey time today is not competitive, we’re left with a service that can’t compete against the M90 and the Queensferry Crossing.”
Green MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife Mark Ruskell hosted a virtual town hall event on Wednesday evening.
Around 30 people from across Perthshire, Fife, Clackmannanshire and Stirling joined the meeting to have their say on ScotRail’s consultation on timetable changes.
ScotRail was haemorrhaging cash even before the pandemic.
It says by cutting 300 services it can make train travel more reliable and punctual.
Meeting told ScotRail passengers ‘lose the will to live’
Mr Tait faced heated questions.
During the meeting, someone described the consultation by ScotRail as “pointless”.
And another wrote in the comments section “ScotRail, you should hang your heads in shame”.
Susannah Rae said there was already no incentive for those travelling between Perth and Edinburgh to leave their cars at home.
And the journey is set to become 20 minutes longer from May as the route is diverted via Dunfermline.
“The route via Dunfermline – I don’t know anybody who is going to go from Perth to Edinburgh via Dunfermline,” said Ms Rae.
“I’ve done it once by accident and honestly, you lose the will to live.
“And that’s going to be our main service to Edinburgh?”
Mr Tait responded: “Yes, we are making it significantly slower. The journey time will increase.”
He said the only way to make the Perth to Edinburgh rail route faster would be through “significant infrastructure funding” – in other words build more track to make the journey shorter.
Connection times ‘not acceptable’
Anther of the losers under the shake-up is the direct service between Perth and Kirkcaldy.
There will now be a wait of at least half an hour at Ladybank for a connecting train.
A pensioner who uses the service described the delay as “not acceptable”.
However, Mr Tait indicated this might be reviewed.
We’ve had to make some really difficult decisions as to how we put together a timetable as a whole for Fife.”
Ewan Tait, ScotRail
“This is probably one of the areas where we’ll need to have another discussion with our timetable teams to see if we can reduce those connection times.”
He reiterated the significant Scottish Government subsidy needed to keep trains running.
In Fife, each passenger journey costs ScotRail £5.31 more than the revenue generated.
“We’ve had to make some really difficult decisions as to how we put together a timetable as a whole for Fife.”
Threat to climate change targets
Gary Kelly from trade union the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) said the timetable changes were “based on financial decisions”.
He said ScotRail had offered “no defence” to the changes during the meeting.
“Ultimately if we don’t support the railways in Scotland, people will use the car.
“That’s not going to do anything for the environment in any way, shape or form.
“In the lead up to COP26, we have widespread industrial dispute amongst all four unions.
“We have service levels being cut.
“We also have the prospect of booking offices being shut down, essentially, where they don’t sell many tickets.
“We’re looking to the Scottish Government. You need to support the railway because you won’t be able to meet your climate target if you don’t have a well funded public railway.”