Rail services on the Highland Main Line are at risk of being axed as Scotrail conducts a review of their timetables following a significant drop in passenger numbers.
Commuters onboard Scotrail services has decreased by an average of 80% since March as demand for services fell dramatically.
Many services across the country have been running with little or no customers since lockdown, due to a number of factors including restrictions on travel.
The change in pace for the Scottish business follows a tough year for the economy with millions of pounds in trade and revenue lost due to the pandemic.
In light of the changes being felt by the business, Scotrail is now revising their timetables with various services at risk of being removed from operations from next month.
Several services ferrying along the Highland Main Line between Inverness and Edinburgh may be at risk of being dropped as its believed passenger numbers on the line have dropped below 20%.
David Simpson, ScotRail Operations Director, said reviews were underway as they strive to maintain a reliable and vital service for passengers.
He said: “Throughout the pandemic, everyone across Scotland’s Railway has worked tirelessly to deliver a robust and reliable timetable, with services across the country keeping key workers moving.
“We are currently in the process of looking at a revised timetable that allows us to continue delivering that reliable and vital rail service, but better reflects the reduced demand and changing nature of travel in Scotland and the need to ensure value for taxpayer money.”
MSP Rhoda Grant said the decision was “deeply disappointing.”
She said: “Any reduction in services is deeply disappointing. ScotRail have said these are temporary measures but given that they are being done to cut costs in the firm and we are unlikely to see a significant rise in passenger numbers anytime soon, the fear for many will be that these services will not be reinstated.
“This whole thing highlights that the current model for running our railways has failed.”
The news comes just days after Scotrail announced the reduction of early morning services from Elgin to Inverness due to a shortfall in passengers making use of the service.
The 7.28am service from Elgin to the Highland capital will cease operating from next month.
However, the transport operator has pledged that once demand increases and passenger numbers begin to recover, services will be reinstated.
Mr Simpson added: “The changes have still to be finalised and we will let customers know when that has happened. Our targeted approach will deliver more than enough seats to allow customers to travel safely.”
Mrs Grant has now written to Scotrail’s chief executive Alex Hynes for reassurances on the future of Highland services.
She added: “I have written to ScotRail’s chief executive Alex Hynes today seeking his reassurances that ScotRail is fully committed to returning these services when that demand returns, and that it will do this willingly, otherwise communities could be badly hurt by this. I have also asked for assurances that during the pandemic there will still be sufficient services to allow for proper social distancing.”
Councillor Bill Lobban said the cuts will have a detrimental effect on Highlanders, located south of Inverness, travelling north towards the Highland Capital.
He said: “I think it’s very unfortunate but I suppose it is understandable. Bearing in mind that most of the central belt is in total lockdown then it is quite understandable that there is not going to be as many passengers travelling.
“I think it has quite a detrimental impact to Highland communities and residents of Badenoch and Strathspey who could be travelling northwards rather than south towards Edinburgh or Glasgow.
“It is very unfortunate but I do understand the dilemma and I would encourage them to rethink it once the pandemic lessens and the central belt opens up more.
“It would be quite important that they start these services again before Christmas if we have the potential to do so.”