RAIL unions have condemned ScotRail proposals to axe hundreds of rail services as a "transparent attempt to use the pandemic as cover for cuts".

The proposed ScotRail timetable from May 2022 would have around 2100 services per weekday, down from around 2400 before the pandemic.

The train company brought in a reduced timetable when the country first went into lockdown in March 2020 as passenger numbers plunged.

ScotRail said it has been able to continue to operate during the pandemic thanks to significant financial support of more than £400 million in the form of Emergency Measures Agreements from the Scottish Government.

It is now launching a public consultation on the proposed timetable.

Rail unions Aslef, the RMT, the TSSA and Unite have united to oppose the plans.

In a joint statement, they said: "It is incredible that in the year that the world comes to Scotland to debate the very future of our planet that ScotRail is proposing cuts to rail services in a transparent attempt to use the pandemic as cover for cuts.

"These plans would not only cull jobs, they would hit the most vulnerable hardest including elderly and disabled people. All the while diverting many passengers back onto the roads and increasing pollution, congestion and greenhouse gases.

"It is exactly this type of short-term thinking that has contributed to the climate crisis.

"We need a railway where trains are regular, reliable and affordable with services properly staffed.

"It is this model of a high-quality dependable service that will encourage car drivers onto our trains. ScotRail's proposals will achieve the opposite."

Passenger journeys have now risen to around 50% of their pre-Covid levels.

ScotRail said that returning to its pre-pandemic timetable would lead to increased emissions, and "would increase ScotRail costs to the taxpayer by £30 to £40 million each year".

The company said that under the proposed new timetable, most customers will find the number of calls at their station and the destinations served are similar to today, though others will change.

New services are being added on some routes, such as Dundee to Glasgow which will have an hourly service calling at all stations between Dundee and Stirling.

On other routes ScotRail said there may be slightly longer journey times, as it is more efficient to operate one long train calling at all stations than have two shorter ones which split the calls between them, for example between Kirkcaldy and Edinburgh.

David Simpson, ScotRail operations director, said: "The significant cost of running the railway following the impact of the coronavirus pandemic means it's essential that the railway meets the changing needs of customers, as well as providing taxpayers with best value for money. Our timetable proposals do that.

"That might mean offering a different service on different days of the week or different times of year as passenger demand varies across the week or through the year. But by doing so, we can ensure Scotland's railway remains sustainable into the future.

"During the pandemic we've provided outstanding, and sustained, high levels of punctuality and reliability for those travelling. Our proposals build on that as we know that a safe and reliable service is a top priority for customers."

The consultation runs from August 20 until October 1.

Transport Minister Graeme Dey said: "Organisations up and down the country are reflecting on how they can provide great customer service while at the same time ensuring their businesses are fit for the future.

"Rail is no different and that is why it is essential ScotRail review changes in travel patterns across Scotland so that timetables best meet demand."