The severe weather of the last few weeks put everyone under strain. While much heated discussion was about keeping roads and pavements clear so that people could go about their business as best they could, little has been said about how well public transport has stood up to the test. With its rural hinterland and distance between its towns, many East Lothian residents rely on public transport to get to work, to shop and to socialise. We have invested heavily in transport infrastructure, with East Lothian projects including the dualled A1, the A720 City Bypass, Wallyford station and upgraded ScotRail trains. With many cars stuck in recent wintry conditions, this was a chance for public transport to shine and lure people from their snowbound cars.
In reality, the picture was mixed. FirstBus came through well, keeping most services running, albeit late, with missing journeys and some part-route runs. Local companies like Eve and Prentice, with more rural routes, should be commended for doing better in atrocious circumstances; their services ran except some housing estates where even their smaller buses could not beat deep snow and stuck cars on narrow streets. That lasted only briefly until ELC winter crews—whose many hard jobs well done also deserve commendations—reached them. But there was no wholesale loss of service, such as Edinburgh had on December 7th when Lothian’s entire bus fleet was pulled.
But I have to commend local crews and depots. As a user of local buses myself, I was impressed how they were kept running under very trying conditions. The quiet patience of passengers waiting in fierce cold for delayed services was usually rewarded. Buses provided a lifeline for those trying to get to work or from isolated rural houses to the shops.
However, the same cannot be said for ScotRail. Not only was service very erratic but their information system lost all credibility with huge inaccuracies. While I sympathise with their difficulties and praise train crews struggling to run to time, ScotRail’s inability to keep sets running as snow accumulated on them simply compounded the effect of Network Rail’s unheated points failures in such weather.
In common with most of Scotland, significant service reductions meant days with no trains to Dunbar or North Berwick or erratic, partial and delayed services even on ‘good’ days. Worse was the complete dislocation of ScotRail’s website and telephone information from reality. Worst of all was ficticious data on station screens showing many non-existent trains. Three people were stranded at Longniddry in bitter cold on December 6th, waiting for a last Edinburgh train, showing ‘On Time’ for 22:33 until well past that. It never came. By the time they realised this, the last bus had gone.
Nobody expects everything to work like clockwork in such difficult weather. But, since they insist on upping fares from January 1st yet again, the least ScotRail could do is address its public information meltdown, and thereby treat its customers properly under normal conditions—let alone under these extremes.