NEWLY nationalised ScotRail launched a huge half-price rail tickets sale today with a view to tempt back travellers to using the train after the Covid pandemic which led to a huge drop in passenger numbers.

It is being presented as the latest ‘Yours to Use’ initiative from the newly publicly owned train operator, and is focused on "welcoming customers back to rail as the country continues to recover from the pandemic".

Customers can book their discounted tickets between now and 15 May 2022 inclusive.

But travel can only be used to buy off-peak tickets which are for trains that run between 9:15am and 4:40pm and after 6.15pm on Monday to Friday. They are also available all day at the weekend.

But ScotRail, while saying that they are available on services across Scotland, have also said they are also only available on "valid routes". ScotRail said the offer is not available on routes such as the Far North Line that do not offer off-peak tickets "because there is no discernible difference in demand patterns by time of day".

They are also only valid for journeys between today and May 31.

It comes after ScotRail warned that a driver shortage over the coming days, meant that some services will be cancelled.

The train operator said on Saturday the services were "reliant on drivers working overtime or on their rest days because of delays to training new drivers caused by the pandemic".

It went on: "Unfortunately, since the drivers’ union ASLEF announced its intention to recommend a ballot for strike action after receiving an offer of a 2.2% pay increase, a significant number of drivers have declined to make themselves available for overtime/rest day working.

"The pay offer in full is a 2.2% increase with the addition of a revenue share scheme, which, subject to targets being exceeded, could amount to more than a 7 per cent salary increase. Drivers have received four pay rises since May 2019."

ScotRail’s Kids for a Quid can be used in conjunction with this offer, which means up to four children can travel, for £1 return each, with each adult.

The offer will reduce the price of an off-peak return between Edinburgh and Glasgow, which is valid for a month, to £9.55.

Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth MSP said: “In February, I set out the Scottish Government’s vision for a publicly owned ScotRail as a rail service which is focussed on passengers’ needs and interests and provides value for money to the taxpayer. This offer is further demonstration of our commitment becoming a reality.

HeraldScotland:

“The Scottish Government understands that people are struggling right now and that the costs of travelling have risen sharply. We want to show people that travelling by train might offer an alternative. Clearly there is more to do to make rail travel more affordable all year round and our fair fares review will look at the cost of travelling on all modes of public transport.

“Our National Conversation on rail services will also help shape what ScotRail services should look like in the long term – allowing the public, staff and our Trade Union partners to be part of that future vision. Public ownership should mean railways that work for the people and deliver for our communities and this Government remains committed to doing just that, working in partnership with ScotRail.”

The deal comes after rail fares on routes across Scotland rose by 3.8% this year.

Peak, off-peak and all season tickets will all see the biggest hike in nearly a decade.

The price increase was criticised by unions amid soaring inflation rates.

But the Scottish government said it had put in £450m of emergency funding to the rail franchises since the pandemic started and that level of funding was "not sustainable in the longer term".

The amount of the rail fare rise, first announced in December, was determined by the level of the Retail Price Index (RPI) in July - but while in previous years the cost of off-peak tickets has gone up by a lower amount, this time the increase is across the board.

The announcement meant the price of a season ticket between Glasgow and Edinburgh was to go up by £162 to £4,430.

Lesley Kane, ScotRail commercial director, said of the half-price sale: “This fantastic offer will mean more people can get out and enjoy Scotland throughout the month of May, whether for a day out or a holiday.

“The pandemic has fundamentally changed the way people travel, and it is an absolute priority for ScotRail to do everything we can to attract customers to Scotland’s Railway. This offer is a reminder that Scotland’s Railway is ‘Yours to Use’.

“Travelling by train has many advantages over other modes of transport, and it’s crucial that we not only get our pre-pandemic customers back, but also encourage more people to use the low-carbon alternative for their journeys.”