Passengers taking ill and fainting on overcrowded trains, MSPs told
Christine Grahame criticised claims by ScotRail boss Alex Hynes last week that people were enjoying improved services.
A pregnant woman took ill and two people fainted on overcrowded ScotRail services, MSPs have heard.
The SNP’s Christine Grahame raised the problems, which occurred on Thursday morning, during First Minister’s Questions at the Scottish Parliament.
She criticised ScotRail Alliance boss Alex Hynes over his claims passengers were already experiencing improved services after a remedial agreement was signed with the Scottish Government.
Improvements across ScotRail's services have been patchy, with passengers in the east of the country continuing to be let down by ScotRail First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
The Government has issued two remedial notices to ScotRail since December requiring the operator to submit a plan on how it will address performance issues, including delays and cancellations.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said improvements have been “patchy” and she would impress on Mr Hynes the importance of providing a safe, reliable, comfortable service.
Ms Grahame, who represents Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, said: “It gives me no pleasure to raise yet again failures on the Borders railway.
“However, just today there were two peak-time cancellations and as a result of overcrowding on later trains two people fainted – one even requiring medical assistance – and there was also a pregnant woman made ill.
“Does the First Minister agree with me that for Alex Hynes to claim at committee last week customers are already benefiting from improved service delivery, that he needs to get out and about on the Borders trains to hear what my constituents think of his improvements?”
Ms Sturgeon said: “I completely agree that this level of discomfort and inconvenience for passengers as a result of overcrowding in no way reflects the service level for which this Government, and indeed Scottish taxpayers of course, are paying.
“I’ve been informed that the cancellations today are a consequence of a train that failed early this morning but I will certainly reinforce to Mr Hynes and his colleagues the critical nature of providing a service that passengers can rely on and feel safe and comfortable to use.
“Improvements across ScotRail’s services have been patchy, with passengers in the east of the country continuing to be let down by ScotRail.”
She said Transport Secretary Michael Matheson met with senior officials from Abellio, the Dutch firm behind the ScotRail franchise, to reinforce the “absolute requirement for improvement”.
Ms Sturgeon added the railway operator must meet the commitments in the performance remedial plan.
Later, Labour’s Kezia Dugdale called on Mr Matheson to instruct Transport Scotland to “properly count” overcrowding.
She said: “Transport Scotland’s own definition of capacity only counts overcrowding when the carriages on are fewer than the number planned.
“It doesn’t capture overcrowding on trains that are poorly planned from the start, like those from the Borders and East Lothian into Edinburgh, where commuters regularly face delays, cancellations and overcrowding.
Mr Matheson said the franchise agreement takes account of overcrowding on particular routes and ScotRail is in “no doubt about the need to improve services” on the east coast.
Ms Dugdale asked what his position is on rail passengers being charged peak fares when they have to stand but he did not directly answer.
A ScotRail spokesman said: “We know that one of the biggest concerns for our customers is busy trains and we are really sorry to our customers who experienced overcrowding on the Borders railway today.
“It has been a challenging time for Scotland’s railway and everyone at the ScotRail Alliance is working flat out to provide customers with the service they expect and deserve.”
He said trains with more than 1,500 extra seats daily will be running on the Borders line by the end of 2019.