STORM Gerrit, Storm Pia, Storm Henk and Storm Elin – just four of the recent weather “events” that have wreaked havoc on Scotland’s railways.

Passengers left stranded as trains are cancelled have become a ­familiar sight and could become even more common with global warming ­increasing extreme weather ­conditions, it is feared.

Rail workers claim cancellations are taking place more often because of “dangerous” cuts to ­infrastructure funding, with the 2020 ­Stonehaven crash a tragic example of what ­happens if there is not enough ­investment.

Network Rail, which is ­responsible for rail infrastructure in the UK, was fined £6.7 million in September ­after admitting health and safety ­failings over the disaster which claimed three lives when a high-speed ­Aberdeen to Glasgow train left the tracks ­after hitting landslide debris during heavy rainfall.

Network Rail has also had to pay out compensation costs of £92m in 2022/23 for delays, service changes, cancellations and other disruptions – up from £41m in 2020/21.

The National:

Gordon Martin (above), RMT regional ­organiser in Scotland, told the ­Sunday National that the union was “deeply concerned” about the ­­safety, ­resilience and reliability of the ­railway as there was a “dangerous managed decline”.

He said there was “year on year” degradation of the infrastructure while renewals work was not being carried out due to cuts in scheduled maintenance tasks.

This lack of maintenance means services are more likely to be cancelled rather than run under speed restrictions, according to Martin.

He pointed out that extreme ­weather events are more likely now due to climate change so it was “­vital” that railway infrastructure receives the necessary investment.

“On Scotland’s railways, what we find across the board is a managed ­decline in terms of funding which stems from the UK Government but we do think the Scottish Government could do more,” he said.

“There has been £315m stripped away from total renewals ­expenditure and core renewals has also been cut significantly.”

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Network Rail has responsibility for infrastructure like track maintenance and Martin claimed that its “degradation” meant ScotRail, which runs the services in Scotland, had to ­implement go-slows more often and was more likely to cancel services.

“Train services need to be reliable as well as affordable and if services keep getting cancelled, people won’t have the confidence to travel by train,” he said.

“The Scottish Government has targets for reducing car mileage by 20% by 2030 and obviously rail is key to that and the future of our ­environment. RMT is deeply ­concerned about the safety, resilience and reliability of our railway for the next five-year period and we will not stand idly by whilst this dangerous managed decline takes place.

“As a result, in the coming months we will be doing specific campaigning around network rail funding across Scotland, England and Wales.”

'Far from resilient'

In a recent survey of workers by the union, 92% said they believed a rail safety incident in the next two years was “very likely” or “likely”.

The union has written to ­Transport Minister Fiona Hyslop outlining its “deep concern” about “current and future cost-cutting” at Network Rail Scotland.

“We believe [it] significantly threatens the safety of passengers and ­railway workers and the performance of the railway in Scotland,” the letter states.

It adds that proposals to reduce ­renewals work and instead put a “sticking plaster” of increased maintenance and operational controls such as speed restrictions is simply a “dangerous and reckless” way to run a railway.

“This will ultimately pile more ­pressure on our railway and increase the risks to both passengers and ­railway workers,” states the letter, adding that this will also threaten thousands of skilled railway jobs.

Independent watchdog Transport Focus told the Sunday National that the recent rash of storms had shown the railway is far from resilient. It is currently putting ­pressure on ­Network Rail to address the “­fragility” of its signalling systems on the grounds that they are too ­susceptible to developing faults.

“Transport Focus continues to work on behalf of passengers in ­Scotland and is strongly advocating for improvement across the network,” a spokesperson said.

Driving is likely faster

It’s not just the delays and ­cancellations that are the problem on Scotland’s railways – it’s the length of time that many journeys take.

Last week, a new report laid out in full what many passengers know from painful experience – several major routes in Scotland take longer by train than travelling by car to the same destinations.

For example, despite the many complaints about the lack of ­dualling on the A9, it is still faster to travel on it by car to Inverness from ­Edinburgh (three hours if not held up by ­caravans and lorries) than taking the train between the two cities (three and a half hours).

The longest train journey mapped is from Inverness to Stranraer, which the Reform Scotland report says would take just over five hours by car but involves four changes and a ­journey time of more than seven hours by train.

Add to that the complaints about old carriages, a lack of storage space and refreshments and the service in Scotland starts to look pretty shoddy in the light of the advent of budget-high-speed rail options appearing in China, Japan, Germany, Italy, France and Spain with trains that can reach speeds of more than 300km/h.

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However, a Network Rail spokesperson said: “Climate change means Scotland is experiencing more ­weather events and named storms and this influences how we operate services while continuing to invest in our railway.

“We will spend over £2bn on our infrastructure over the next five years and are also investing in new ­technology to help us limit the effects of weather on our network.

“We employ specialist meteorologists to analyse how the weather may affect Scotland’s Railway and ­introduce targeted speed restrictions or line closures when needed. We are also employing additional ­drainage engineers.

“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.”

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A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “We wholly appreciate and share the RMT’s view that rail safety should be prioritised, however, the way the union has presented its comparative figures overlooks key aspects of rail funding that would explain year-on-year differences as being related to work profiling rather than being ‘cuts’. In particular, the high levels of investment (£196m) towards the end of the current five-year rail funding period (2019-2024) relate to just two unusually large projects that would only occur once in a generation.

“The RMT ­figures also downplay the 8% ­increase in ­maintenance spend (£1.135 billion) and fail to recognise a risk fund of £225m that could well be used for renewals.

“Total rail funding is at an unprecedented level and the £4.2bn allocated for rail infrastructures over the next five years is a ­significant increase on the £3.75bn funding provided in the current five-year period ending in March 2024. This funding is independently ­determined by the Office of Road and Rail and where it has specified increases, such as in operations to adapt to climate change, the Scottish Government has accepted and fully funded these recommendations.

“Scottish ministers’ priorities ­remain focused on a ­high-performing, efficient and safe rail network and ­significant planning for ­severe ­weather events is undertaken with ­industry partners. Safety of ­passengers and staff will always be at the forefront of these plans as climate change increases the frequency and severity of such events.

“These objectives are fully aligned with ScotRail and ­Caledonian ­Sleeper so that best value is ­secured for ­Scotland’s rail passengers, ­communities and businesses.”