scotland (4K)
The Friends of the Far North Line
Cairdean Na Loine Tuath
the campaign group for rail north of Inverness - lobbying for improved services for the local user, tourist and freight operator
No More Cancellations!

ScotRail apologises for the cancellation of the train to Wick ...

This announcement (or its UP equivalent) has been heard a great deal more often in the last few months. Occasionally it's the train which is faulty, but much more often it seems to be because of "staff difficulties". I understand that one of the Wick drivers has retired (but was this sudden?) and another has been suffering from a long-term illness. Neither of course is to blame - people retire, sometimes early and without several months' notice, and people can become ill. It is management's job, however, to manage, and tolerating a position where there are too few employees to deliver the contracted services is - read my lips - not acceptable.

We are told that it can take 12 months for a driver to acquire route knowledge. If this is so then the argument for having additional drivers at each depot is surely strengthened. ScotRail has a workforce of a few thousand - having a dozen or so more employed at the out-depots like Wick, Kyle, Mallaig, Oban and so forth is not going to make much of a dent in their profits.

A TOC has to be made very clearly aware that cancelling a train because management has failed so to structure their employee bank that an essential crew member cannot be found will bear severe reputational damage and severe costs. It might be reasonable for Transport Scotland, when writing its franchise requirements, to state that a fine, big enough to exceed the annual cost of a staff member, should automatically be levied for a cancellation for this reason. I do not suggest that a cancellation for mechanical failure should be in this category - merely the staff shortage excuse. £100,000 would seem to be about right as this will be usefully more than a driver's salary plus other costs. The idea is to make such a cancellation so expensive, and so damaging reputationally, that every possible way of avoiding it - principally maintaining sufficient drivers at each depot to cover holidays, rostered days off, unexpected sickness and so forth - would be implemented.

As well as drivers and conductors there are other essential staff members, principally signallers. However these are likely to be employed at fewer, larger and more central locations, so the effect of one person unexpectedly being absent is less likely to lead to cancellations. However the principle remains - if a service is cancelled because of a "staff difficulty" then a whopping fine, and news about it in the news media, should automatically follow.

Mike Lunan