Businesses across the Highlands and Aberdeenshire fear they will be “out of pocket” as ScotRail temporarily axes a third of services.
Rail bosses confirmed on Thursday a temporary timetable will come into force next week, with early morning and evening services among the worst affected.
The move has been prompted amidst an ongoing dispute over pay with staff, with workers now pulling back from overtime.
Business representatives across the region have criticised the move saying a reduction of footfall will hinder their ongoing recovery from the pandemic.
‘Aberdeen cut off by rail in evenings’
Speaking to lunchtime live on BBC Radio Scotland, Fergus Mutch, policy adviser for Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce said the situation in the north-east is “pretty grim.”
He said their concern is the temporary measures could run on for a considerable amount of time.
He added: “It’s going to have a huge impact. It’s a pretty grim situation all round to be honest.
“Going the other way under the new timetable, trains from Aberdeen south essentially stop at 7pm, trains from Aberdeen northwards stop at 6pm so after teatime we are cut off by rail.
“For people going to and from work in Aberdeen, up the main line in Inverness to commuter towns like Inverurie, Insch and Huntly, it’s a massive inconvenience. I think there is no doubt that this is going to put businesses or members of Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce out of pocket.”
Fears for Inverness firms
Stewart Nicol, chief executive of Inverness Chamber of Commerce said: “It is concerning in terms of the impact on particularly hospitality and tourism and that will have an inevitable impact on those businesses. In that respect, it is concerning.
“I understand the challenges that ScotRail have operationally and keeping the services running and I just hope it is, as they are indicating a temporary measure, until they see some progress with the pay negotiations.”
Mike Smith, manager of Inverness Bid says local traders are bracing for another challenging period amidst the changes.
He said: “Obviously the city centre businesses are very disappointed to hear of this reduction which we understand to be caused partly if not mainly by industrial relations.
“It’s extremely difficult for all business at the moment and having this reduction is not going to help, in fact it will hinder the recovery that we are hopefully seeing at the moment.”
Tony Story, owner of the Inverness-based Kingsmills Hotel Group, said most of their clients travel by coach or by car.
However, he says the reduction in services is “not a good message” and is yet another difficulty facing businesses.
He said: “It’s not great news. All of these difficulties, with rail and air, they’re not good.”
Aberdeen Inspired working with transport providers
ScotRail’s temporary timetable, which will see up to 700 journeys suspended across Scotland, is set to remain in place until June 3.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon admitted the cutbacks are “not acceptable.”
In the north-east, representatives have aired concerns over the underlying impact a reduction in footfall will have on the city.
Ewan McLean, evening and nighttime economy manager for Aberdeen Inspired is among those airing his concerns over the plans.
He said the organisation is working closely with transport providers to come to a solution to services return to normal.
He said: “The city relies on the transport network, the whole transport ecosystem to bring people in and out of the city.
“The offering we have got in town at the moment is pretty good when it comes to hospitality at least. We have new people coming into the market but they are struggling.
“Footfall is a concern and anything that reduces footfall is going to be felt by the businesses.”
He added: “You look at the things they are facing. There has been a minimum wage increase which is definitely going to affect them, there’s the VAT rise for hospitality food businesses, there is the national insurance rise, there’s business rates coming back online and on top of that you have supplier costs going up and people feeling the pinch because of the cost of living.
“It’s a perfect storm and transport links coming down just makes that slightly less desirable.”
Conservative MSP Liam Kerr, shadow secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, said: “Train passengers will be deeply alarmed at the chaos which has unfolded since the SNP took over the running of our rail service.
“Businesses in Aberdeen are still reeling from the impact of the Covid pandemic and now face the loss of another summer due to this dismal timetable situation.”