AN experienced railway worker has said that Network Rail are “excessively” slowing down Scotland’s trains.
The staff member, who wished to remain anonymous, told The National that “the fear of public prosecution is making Scotland’s railway a fair weather one”.
In September, Network Rail – a public body that manages most of the railway network in the UK – was fined £6.7 million and pleaded guilty to health and safety failings in the Stonehaven tragedy which killed three people in 2020.
Train driver Brett McCullough, 45, conductor Donald Dinnie, 58, and passenger Christopher Stuchbury, 62, died in the derailment near Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire.
Network Rail accepted it had failed in its duty of care to passengers and staff in the construction, inspection and maintenance of drainage on the line.
But the worker claimed that Network Rail has become “so risk averse” following the tragedy, and are now excessively relies on weather forecasts to delay services rather than investing in more staff.
The employee added: “In previous years services would run and may have been subject to significant delays, but they would have attempted to put passengers first.
“The service now is appalling, with passengers being left stranded and with no attempt to assist them.”
The worker's comments come after a period of adverse weather – including Storm Babet and Storm Ciaran – brought torrential rain to Scotland, flooding tracks and leading to massive delays and cancellations to the rail network.
And while delays due to extreme weather are to be expected and safety paramount, the railway worker says cuts to staff in recent years contribute to the issue.
He said: “Where we once had teams of workers available to clear snow and keep routes open, we are now reliant on a very small handful of individuals – sometimes bailed out by contractors.
“It is heartbreaking to see a once great institution throw in the towel in a country where inclement weather is normal.”
The worker said that, as a train operator running on the infrastructure maintained by Network Rail, it isn’t just ScotRail’s fault although it will receive the majority of complaints.
He said: “Network Rail have been increasingly modernising and centralising services so that more and more work is done by fewer people. Don't get me wrong, the staff we do have go to enormous lengths to keep things running, but we have a very top-heavy layer of restrictions now being imposed, in addition to less personnel to work with.
“I understand that ScotRail and other operators are the ones who take the direct flak for the cancellations during inclement weather, but the regulatory system allows both them and Network Rail to wash their hands of any responsibility to the travelling public.”
Network Rail, meanwhile, said the body have been “working hard to make our railway safer for our passengers and colleagues”.
A spokesperson added: “Immediately after the accident, we changed how we manage the running of train services during periods when severe weather warnings are in place.
“Our control centre now has a team of meteorologists who provide around-the-clock analysis on how the weather may affect Scotland’s Railway. This allows us to introduce targeted speed restrictions or close lines should the network be hit by extreme weather, which helps to keep our railway safe.
“Throughout the recent weather, our maintenance teams worked incredibly hard in challenging conditions to get train services back up and running. We’ll continue to support our colleagues by modernising working practices and deploying our resources more effectively.
“From our day-to-day operations to our future planning, we are working hard to make our railway as safe and reliable as possible.”
A spokesperson for Railfuture – an organisation campaigning for better rail services for passengers and freight – said that with the increase in bad weather due to climate change, she didn't see any particular issue with the slowing down of trains.
“If a risk has been identified, then measures must be taken to deal with that risk. They have no option,” she said, adding however that operators must then be prepared to deal with people who are delayed or left stranded.
It comes after huge numbers of passengers were left stranded at Edinburgh Waverley recently after an electrical failure.
The spokesperson added: "What I did find shocking was that there were no staff on the concourse to help.
“The welfare of the passenger is what comes first, enabling them to complete their journey safely.
“That means that they may well have to slow down the trains or cancel them if it's just not safe, but you've got to make sure you can get them home.”