Fears grow for the future of Badenoch and Strathspey's railway ticket offices
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There are growing fears that the rail ticket offices in Kingussie and Aviemore could be axed as the operators look to make savings in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic.
An internal report for Abellio ScotRail is advocating wide ranging cuts across the country's rail network to ticket offices and services with major job losses.
The operators did nothing to dispel the concerns when approached by the Strathy yesterday citing the impact of coronavirus and emphasising the 'need to modernise to deliver a sustainable future for the railway'.
The report, written by Professor Iain Docherty, a former non-executive director of ScotRail and Transport Scotland, was leaked by union members at RMT and shared with the Strathy.
Highland Council convener and local councillor Bill Lobban said: "This newly surfaced report should raise concerns with rail users all across the Highlands and any attempt to further reduce the level of service must be strenuously opposed.
"I am particularly worried about any possibility of the closure of ticket offices in Aviemore and Kingussie.
"This would result in a considerably poorer service for rail users and a loss of valuable jobs.
"Surely given our climate emergency and the massive impact of tourist numbers we should be investing in our railways not cutting services and facilities.
"The time to oppose these potential cuts is now – not when they become official Scottish Government policy."
The report questions whether ‘the provision of ticket offices is viable in the future’.
The RMT claims it is an attempt to justify attacks on ticket offices and could mean the closure of up to 140 of them across Scotland.
The union stated: "The report also advocates service cuts, predicts a workforce reduction and talks of a ‘unique platform’ to ‘reduce staff costs quickly’.
"The savage cuts proposed would mean more than 85,000 annual rail services being cut and a loss of more than 1000 jobs.
"RMT believes that it is crystal clear that this report has been commissioned with the sole purpose of attempting to legitimise damaging cuts to Scotland’s rail network which will be disastrous for passengers and are a kick in the teeth for Scotland’s key worker rail staff who have risked their lives throughout the pandemic."
The union has demanded clarity from the Scottish Government, which is managing the ScotRail franchise under its Emergency Measures Agreement, on any role it had in the production of the report.
It is seeking urgent confirmation that services, jobs and ticket offices on the country's rail network will be protected now and in the future.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch claimed the report '[is a blatant attempt to further a cuts agenda that will be devastating for Scotland’s railway'.
“On the one hand the report rightly acknowledges that Scotland’s rail network has a central role to play in meeting climate change targets, yet it goes on to advocate service cuts, ticket office closures and job losses.
"This will make Scotland’s railway far less safe, secure and accessible for passengers and runs counter to Scotland’s Net Zero targets.
“It was recently revealed that Dutch state-owned Abellio received nearly £9m in fees, funded from public money, under its initial six-month EMA, and it appears as though there is now a blatant attempt to force passengers and rail workers pay the price of the Covid-19 pandemic."
The RMT is currently fighting for 'pay justice' with Abellio ScotRail and the company accused the information of being 'not factual and reckless' when they wanted positive dialogue on the 'recovery of the railway'.
A spokesperson told the Strathy: "We are only surviving due to emergency taxpayer support of more than £400 million.This has allowed us to protect jobs, without using furlough, cutting wages, or reducing staff benefits.
"But there is a need to modernise to deliver a sustainable future for the railway and everyone who works in it.
"We appreciate the hard work of everyone in the railway to keep key workers moving during the pandemic.
"The focus of everyone should be on making the railway an attractive travel option for passengers, so we can recover ScotRail, and keep people moving."
A spokesperson said: "These are recommendations that we have shared with the trade unions, and we want to work together on the sustainable recovery of the railway.
Abellio said it was seeing a 'gradual increase in the number of customers returning to the railway due to the easing of travel restrictions and coronavirus controls'.
But it pointed out with passenger numbers at only 50 per cent of the pre-Covid level, this was 'not the time to put that recovery in jeopardy'.
The spokesperson said: “Railway jobs are being put at risk by the reckless actions of the RMT and we are urging union bosses to call off divisive strikes and false narratives.”