CALLS have been made for an inquiry into the performance of Scotland's train network as services were being decimated for a fourth day in the wake of the 'beast from the east'.

It comes as Scotrail Alliance - the partnership between the train operator Abellio ScotRail and Network Rail Scotland - said that they had faced "unprecedented" weather issues.

ScotRail which does not expect to run trains across its full network until Monday were due to run seven services in Scotland on Saturday morning including a limited service planned to be every half-hourly on the key Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh via Falkirk service.  

Some campaigners and industry experts have said there should be inquiry to examine whether there were lessons to be learnt to improve the railways' response to extreme weather in Scotland.

One rail industry insider said it was a "longer period of closure than I can recollect or most people can recollect".

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On Friday morning ScotRail continued to cancel services in areas covered by the amber weather warning in the wake of heavy snow, although in the afternoon began running limited services between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Limited services were also running between Aberdeen-Inverness, Edinburgh-Aberdeen, Edinburgh-Dundee, Inverness-Perth, Inverness-Kyle of Lochalsh and Glasgow Central-Ayr.

There was further train paralysis for nearly all of Thursday as the rail company run by Dutch company Abellio mostly ran just four services for the whole of Scotland.

There were further major disruptions on Wednesday when the so-called snowmaggedon hit Scotland.

Questions have been raised about the effectiveness of the ScotRail Alliance winter resilence plans outlined in November, last year, which included use ten snow ploughs on standby and a £1 million ‘winter train’ to defrost points and other key parts of the railway affected by snow or ice.

If severe weather was expected "contingency timetables will be created and customers informed" they said.

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"We have invested in specialist equipment, so that when bad weather strikes we can keep our customers moving," said ScotRail Alliance infrastructure director David Dickson at the time.

Dr. John McCormick, chairman of the Scottish Association for Public Transport said withdrawal of train services avoids passengers being stranded for hours on disabled trains and prevents damage to trains or overhead wiring due to snow or ice.

But he added: "There may, however, be lessons to be learned in future train and equipment design to better withstand extreme weather events. An inquiry along these lines could be useful."

Prominent rail campaigner, journalist Gordon Casely said there should be an inquiry to find out if rail services were properly prepared for the extreme weather.

"Do they have a crisis plan," he said. "Snow falls it happens every winter and suddenly nothing moves. It would be admitting defeat if we cannot do anything about this. "There has been an increasing tendency since 1994 when the railways were privatised for trains just to be taken off if high winds or snow is forecast.

"The privatised rail companies are now so risk averse that nobody wants to take the decision to run.

"Part of the problem lies with the fragmentation of the rail industry with Scotrail Alliance in Scotland, and then there's the train operating company Abellio Scotrail. Fragmentation does not help the travelling public. Change there is a matter for government and it would require a huge amount of knocking of heads together."

A senior rail consultant who has close connections with ScotRail and Network Rail said: "People have just lost the plot of running the railways in the snow.

"It is not clear what value the expenditure on winter resilience has been when they give up the ghost halfway through Wednesday.

"I don't understand what has happened because things should have been better than this.

"As an insider it is a mystery why the services were curtailed in the way it was, leaving people marooned, and why it is that we have had no snow since Thursday evening, and there were still very few trains running.

"Have Network Rail lost the skills to operate the railways in snow? The answer has to be 'yes'. "They have lost the ability to do what railwaymen used to do and that is to continue to run a service no matter what.

"There are questions here. We need an inquiry that understands why the trains stopped running, why it didn't keep going, why the government isn't putting pressure on and how to make this better."

A ScotRail Alliance spokesman said: "Our engineers and train crews have been working hard around-the-clock to clear the railway - defrosting track, removing ice from tunnels and clearing snowdrifts up to eight feet deep.

"We plan carefully for winter and invest millions on improvements to our infrastructure and our fleet of snow ploughs and snow clearing trains.

"The conditions we have see over the last three days have been exceptional and we must prioritise the safety of our customers when deciding if services can run."

A ScotRail spokesman added: "Our focus is on keeping customers moving and clearing more routes to allow more services to run.

"This has been unprecedented weather. We are working day and night to get as many routes open as possible, and we are grateful for the continued patience of our customers."

The train operator said it had faced "a lot of challenges" to get the rail network up and running.

It said in some parts of the country there were high winds of up to 40mph, which was causing snow to drift back onto tracks in exposed areas.

"In many cases our snow ploughs clear a line, only for the snow to drift back as soon as the ploughs move on," the operator said.

"Freezing temperatures were also causing severe icing on some of our trains and in tunnels. And some local roads remain impassable, making it difficult for our people to get into position to run our trains and staff our stations. "
 

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