Minister ‘too busy’ to meet MP for talks on Fife trains

Pic: Michael Gillen
Pic: Michael Gillen

Scotland’s transport minister has been accused of dodging Fife’s rail commuters after knocking back a request for a meeting for several months.

Lesley Laird, MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, asked for an ”urgent meeting” to discuss the problems of overcrowded trains, cancelled services and issues with compensation.

She wanted to sit down with Michael Matheson MSP and Alex Hynes, Scotrail MD, to keep the pressure on them to improve services in Fife.

In a letter back, Mr Matheson said his heavy diary commitments meant he couldn’t offer a date in the coming months.

Ms Laird described his response as “outrageous.”

She said: “What can be more of a priority for the Minister of Transport than standing up for commuters in Fife – a region suffering probably its worst rail services in living memory?”
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Mr Matheson, who has already knocked back a call to cut fares in Fife by way of an apology for the poor service, said Scotrail had reduced the number of cancellations, but more still needed to be done.

He said ScotRail’s remedial plan would be overseen by an independent railway expert to ensure continued focus on improving performance, while Transport Scotland would also investigate ‘potential’ improvements to the Delay Repay scheme.

The comments come after Mr Hynes faced a grilling at a public meeting in Kirkcaldy in February.

Organised by Ms Laird, it drew a big crowd to the Town House, but, she said services have yet to improve.

“In mid-April, an astonishing 14 services were cancelled in just one day,” she said. “We’re now hearing that punctuality targets might not be met at the end of 2021. Meanwhile, people are collapsing on overcrowded carriages.

“Yet Mr Matheson is just too busy to do anything about it. With summer months approaching, I do hope Mr Matheson does not regret his disregard of these very real concerns.”

Describing the situation as “a shambles” she added: “At the very least, those in charge should be prepared to sit down and talk through specifics with me about how they propose to improve matters for hard-working tax payers.

“Instead, they’re hiding behind letters of intent and expecting Fifers just to suck up the misery until the problem is resolved sometime in the future.

“Fifers are already paying too much per rail mile than other regions, and poor service is yet another layer of insult. Proper compensation in the form of a price reduction could be resolved now if only the political will was there to do it.

“The Transport Minister needs to stop dodging the issue and face up to his responsibilities and get a date in the diary to meet me to discuss these critical service issues.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “Performance has been unacceptable and if ScotRail does not deliver its contractual commitments in the Remedial Agreement, it runs the risk of the franchise being terminated early.

“Transport Scotland officials have already been in conversation with Lesley Laird to offer a meeting to discuss these issues. In addition, senior ScotRail staff have also met with elected officials in Fife several times in recent months.

“Ministers have also been clear that franchising in its current format doesn’t work and that is why they continue to push Scotland’s interests, including further devolution of rail powers, to the UK-wide Williams review.”