‘Unsustainable’ cost of railways ‘must be cut’ – but hope from rebound in ScotRail weekend travel

However, he said ScotRail’s passenger numbers at weekends had bounced back to those of 2019.

More than £500 million of extra funding has been provided to keep ScotRail trains running during the pandemic, when passenger numbers dipped at one stage to just 5 per cent of normal.

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Scotland’s Railway managing director Alex Hynes said returning ScotRail’s weekend revenue to pre-pandemic levels had been an “extraordinary achievement”. Picture: The Scotsman

Mr Hynes, managing director of Scotland’s Railway, which includes ScotRail and Network Rail Scotland, said: “We have to reduce the net cost of the railway.”

He told the Rail North of the Border conference in Glasgow: “At the moment, the amount of money that Government is shoveling into the network is unsustainable.

“On Wednesday, ScotRail’s revenue was 45 per cent lower than it was two years ago.

250 fewer daily ScotRail services will run from May compared to before Covid. Picture: John Devlin

“No business can tolerate a 45 per cent reduction in income and do not think about the way it runs its business.

“So whether that’s the timetable we operate, the way we sell tickets or the way we maintain track, we need to modernize our railway to reduce the cost.”

Mr Hynes told The Scotsman later: “We do not expect the commuter business to recover for a long, long time because so many people have switched to hybrid working.”

Mr Hynes told the conference that increasing revenue through boosting ticket sales would be also vital.

He said: “I was absolutely thrilled to see that last weekend, our revenue was back to pe-pandemic levels.

“That’s an extraordinary achievement, and what it shows is that leisure is bouncing back far quicker than other bits of the market.

“But we have got to think what that means for our railway – a leisure-led railway.

“Maybe it’s not a great idea to close the railway for engineering work at weekends – let’s move it to midweek if passenger markets are bouncing back in that pattern.”

Mr Hynes said later that costs would not be cut if it harmed revenue – so extra capacity would be added, such as more carriages on trains, “if the demand is there”.

This includes extending more of ScotRail’s Inter7City trains on its Edinburgh/Glasgow to Aberdeen/Inverness routes from four to five carriages, which had been put on hold because of Covid.

East coast cross-Border operator LNER reported a similar recovery trend.

Communications director Kate McFerran told the conference: “It is very much about leisure.”

She said passenger numbers had returned to about 90 per cent of before Covid, with Anglo-Scottish journeys “absolutely the busiest”.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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