Scotrail bosses have admitted “shooting themselves in the foot” over timetable changes and cancellation problems which have left north-east communities furious.
Timetable changes put in place by ScotRail in December have resulted in stations such as Laurencekirk, Stonehaven and Portlethen, being stripped of the Intercity trains which run between Aberdeen and the Central Belt.
Now, people travelling from those towns to Glasgow and Edinburgh have to make a detour to Montrose to catch connecting trains – which they say are often delayed.
At a heated meeting at Mearns Community Campus in Laurencekirk yesterday, Scotrail management was grilled about the “unacceptable” facilities at Montrose and faced claims that the north-east was “getting left behind”.
Reece Watt, a blind student from Laurencekirk who attends college in Arbroath, said the changes in timetabling, and raft of cancellations, had left him forking out on taxis.
Mearns councillor, George Carr, added: “A businessman who travels from Aberdeen to Edinburgh is not more important than this chap who needs to travel to college.
“The current situation is unacceptable.”
Scotrail chief executive Alex Hynes pulled out of yesterday’s meeting due to a “diary clash”, leaving Scott Prentice, head of head of business development at Scotrail, to respond to the complaints.
Mr Prentice said: “We don’t always get it right first time and we have shot ourselves in the foot here.
“The service has not been good enough and I’m sorry about that.”
He added that the decision to cut Intercity trains from village stations was made in order to keep up with competition and improve overall journey times between cities.
Packed public meeting in Laurencekirk where @ScotRail reps were questioned by members of the public annoyed by the changes to the timetable and the woeful service experienced on trains going south. @MairiGougeon and I working together & holding those responsible to account. pic.twitter.com/EREE1f3lep
— Andrew Bowie MP (@AndrewBowieMP) June 28, 2019
One resident said: “It’s as though you’re saying a pound spent in Edinburgh or Dundee is more important than a pound spent in Laurencekirk.
“We want to get our trains back.”
Yesterday’s meeting was facilitated by SNP MSP Mairi Gougen and Conservative MSP Andrew Bowie, who crossed party divides to represent their constituents.
Ms Gougen said: “There are people with appointments at Ninewells in Dundee or Foresterhill in Aberdeen who simply don’t take the trains due to fears about being late.
“I don’t think people should be punished for living in a rural area – but we are currently hit hardest by these timetable changes.”
Mr Bowie added: “The communication has been poor.
“The rural north-east is getting less attention than our urban centres.”
At the end of yesterday’s meeting, Mr Prentice promised to come back in six months with a plan.
Speaking afterwards, he said: “It was important to hear first-hand from our customers and that’s why we’ve committed to look at the issues raised and continue to engage with them.
“Everyone across Scotland’s railway is working flat out every day to improve the service we deliver, and achieving this consistent level of performance will provide us with the platform to make the changes to encourage more people in the Mearns area to travel by rail.”
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Bowie said: ““It was obvious today that many people in Laurencekirk and the surrounding area are unhappy about the changes ScotRail have made to their services.
“Although there are more local trains, people who take cross-country trips have been massively inconvenienced.
“Businesses which rely on tourism also believe fewer travellers will use Laurencekirk as a gateway into Aberdeenshire – something also felt in Stonehaven.
“No timetable is permanent and ScotRail would do well to reflect public demand in the near future.”