THE clamour of calls for ScotRail to reverse its plan to axe a busy Largs commuter train is growing - after the town's constituency MSP pointed out that the service is being cut despite a rise in Scotland's rail budget.

Politicians from across the divide at Holyrood have united to ask the rail operator to reverse its plan to axe the 7.42am Monday-Saturday train from Largs to Glasgow - cutting the number of morning peak services from three to two.

Constituency MSP Kenneth Gibson (SNP, Cunninghame North) pointed out that the Scottish Government's budget for rail services in Scotland is £1.420.8 million - more than £1.4billion, an increase on £1.397bn for the previous year.

And Conservative West Scotland MSP Jamie Greene has also pleaded for a rethink - echoing calls previously made by Labour's Katy Clark.

Mr Gibson also told the News that the change in the rail timetables had even affected staff in his own constituency office.

He said: "I was contacted by several constituents about this, which is why I contacted ScotRail, asking them to reconsider any decision that would mean reduced train frequency between North Ayrshire and Glasgow.

"I note that outwith peak periods the Largs branch remains with an hourly service.

"Ultimately, the aim is to grow the number of passengers which will enable ScotRail to make services more viable which will in turn increase future service frequency.

"One of the difficulties is that passenger numbers are still well below pre-pandemic levels.

"The cost of additional services outweighs the extra passenger numbers thereby brought in, even with a record rail subsidy from the Scottish Government this year of £1,420.8 million."

Largs and Millport Weekly News: The £1.420.8m figure includes investment in ScotRail, The Caledonian Sleeper Franchise, and Network Rail in Scotland for its workThe £1.420.8m figure includes investment in ScotRail, The Caledonian Sleeper Franchise, and Network Rail in Scotland for its work (Image: Scottish Government)

Mr Greene has written to both ScotRail and transport minister Kevin Stewart to urge them to reconsider the decision to axe the service - which is due to disappear when ScotRail's timetables change on May 21.

In his letter to Mr Stewart and Scotland's Railway managing director Alex Hynes, Mr Greene also pointed out that the changes due to come into effect later this month will also extend journey times between Largs and Glasgow to more than an hour, due to extra stops being added between Kilwinning and Paisley.

ScotRail says the adding of more stops to trains on the Ardrossan and Largs route will "improve connectivity in the Garnock Valley".

Mr Greene said: “Residents will be extremely frustrated at the proposed cut to the 7.42am train from Largs to Glasgow. 

“Many commuters rely on this train to get them into work before 9am, so it’s not surprising that many are considering using the car in light of these cancellations. 

“The Scottish Government cannot, in one breath, set ambitious climate targets, and in another, cancel scheduled trains left, right and centre. 

“Largs residents deserve a lot better than this.”

Largs and Millport Weekly News: The axing of the 7.42am service to Glasgow has angered commutersThe axing of the 7.42am service to Glasgow has angered commuters (Image: Newsquest)

ScotRail’s head of business development, Ewan Tait, said: “The May 2023 timetable in Ayrshire will see a significant recast of services.

"The timetable will continue to provide a core level of service of two trains per hour during the day to all communities.

“The Largs branch remains with an hourly service outwith peak periods, while Johnstone and Kilwinning retain four trains per hour due to the level of demand.

"The peak timetable provides extra services, and the evening timetable remains hourly to North Ayrshire.

“During the Covid-19 pandemic, we faced well publicised challenges with its driver training programme. Approximately 160 trainees in the driver training programme had their training suspended for 15 months as it was not possible to practice physical distancing in a train driving cab. 

“The greatest impact of the delay in training was felt at the large depots which operate suburban services into Edinburgh and Glasgow including the Largs route.

"Whilst this initial batch of trainees have now passed out and are working productively, the numbers aren’t sufficient to replace those who have left the business since the onset of the pandemic.

 "We are continuing to recruit as many trainee drivers as our programme can accommodate, but the result of this is that we are limited in the number of services which we can operate, and we are not able to operate the number of services we would like to, until the backlog is cleared and the number of new trainees passing out are greater than the numbers of drivers leaving the business. This is expected in 2024.

“In the autumn of 2021, we launched a consultation on our entire timetable for May 2022. The consultation allowed us to share details of how busy services were pre-pandemic, and an analysis of costs and revenue.

“The Fit for the Future Consultation from 2021 is shared on our website. In the case of Ayrshire, the analysis that we undertook found that revenue for the two routes was £32.5 million in 2019/20, with costs of £53.8 million per year.

“That meant that we needed £21.3 million in subsidy, equivalent to between £1.97 (Largs and Ardrossan) and £2.80 (Ayr) subsidy per passenger journey. At the same time, when reviewed demand compared to capacity, we found that services were, on average, only between 27 per cent (Largs and Ardrossan).

"Despite this, we did not make any significant changes to our timetable in Ayrshire and Inverclyde in 2022.

“However, for our upcoming May 2023 timetable, we identified the need to make some changes to the timetable help to support a more reliable service in Ayrshire during this interim period.

"This change includes removing station calls at Dalry, Glengarnock, Lochwinnoch, Howwood, and Milliken Park from services to Ayr and adding them to services to Largs, reducing the journey time between Glasgow and Ayr, and ensuring that the timetable can support the temporary move of Arran ferry services from Ardrossan to Troon.

“At the same time, we have changed departure times to minimise the connection time at Kilwinning.

"Services from Glasgow to Ayr are typically five minutes before services from Largs and Ardrossan to Glasgow, and in the other direction services from Glasgow to Ardrossan and Largs are typically seven minutes before services from Glasgow to Ayr.

“We are now designing new future timetables for services in Ayrshire  which we believe will help grow passenger numbers.

"Our future timetable will add more trains to the timetable at the times when our customers want to travel."

The £1,420.8m Scottish Government budget for rail services does not all go to ScotRail - some is spent on subsidising the Caledonian Sleeper trains that link Scotland with London, and some goes to Network Rail for its work on the country's railway infrastructure.