By Allan Mclean

ScotRail franchise under review as Minister takes personal interest

Published: 18th November 2016

Scotrail to be run by public sector body in the future?

Scotland’s transport Minister has a personal eye on the performance of train operations in Scotland. The future of the ScotRail franchise is at stake.

The row over ScotRail performance reached the chamber of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh on 17 November when even the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, apologised for late trains.

This follows delays that morning when a train broke down between Haymarket and Waverley stations in Edinburgh at 07.02 just before the morning rush.

In response to a challenge from the Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale MSP, Ms Sturgeon said delays were “deeply regrettable”.

She said that extraordinary circumstances had caused trains to be disrupted in parts of Scotland following the breakdown in Edinburgh.

Ms Sturgeon warned that there was an option available to break the ScotRail franchise early “and we will keep that option under review."

Phil Verster, Managing Director of the ScotRail Alliance, said that in all his years on the railway the incident in Edinburgh was particularly bad.

The train failure was in the “worst possible” place at the “worst possible time”.

Mr Verster also said: “We will be having a thorough review of this incident to see what worked and what didn’t and, crucially, to understand what we need to change or do differently.”

Close monitoring

Humza Yousaf MSP, the Minister for Transport and the Islands, took the extraordinary step of announcing that he is taking a close personal interest in ScotRail performance.

The Minister intends to turn up and watch what happens at first hand at peak times, starting in Glasgow on the evening of Thursday 17 November and then at unspecified stations on Friday 18 November. His concern has been raised in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh as well as in an astonishing statement on Thursday 17 November.

As Mr Yousaf himself put it in the strongly-worded statement, appearing to threaten the long-term future of the current ScotRail franchise operated since 1 April last year by Abellio:

“Looking to the future, as was discussed today in the Parliament, we [the Scottish National Party] will deliver on our manifesto pledge to ensure a public sector body is in position to bid for the ScotRail franchise itself when it comes up for renewal, either at the end of its ten-year term or earlier should the Scottish Government or ScotRail take steps to invoke the option to break at seven years (April 2022, but decided by March 2020).”

He said: “"I am personally monitoring ScotRail’s performance and will be travelling to the ScotRail control room in Springburn [in Glasgow] for this evening's peak-time rush. I will also be at our busiest stations from 6.30am tomorrow for the morning peak.”

Mr Yousaf and Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, both expressed considerable concern after trains were delayed on 17 November.

Mr Yousaf commented: “The First Minister and I have both sought assurances at the highest level in Abellio ScotRail that everything possible is being done regards contingency planning to resolve future incidents quickly and efficiently, this includes putting in place robust passenger communication. The railway must ensure that it does all it can to restore services, provide support and recompense passengers.

“We are committed to ensuring the success of the current ScotRail franchise contract. Performance, as we all know, is being tracked closely by passengers, government and the media. Currently 89 out of 100 trains achieve the contracted performance measure, this is around 2% ahead of the GB average. We expect ScotRail to improve upon this figure, as per their contractual obligations. As the First Minister said, if performance does not improve the Scottish Government keeps all options on the table.”

Mr Yousaf also said: “The Scottish Government acknowledges the severe rail disruption during the morning peak, due to a broken down diesel train between Edinburgh Waverley and Haymarket station, which has impacted on all services in and out of Edinburgh this morning .

“The breakdown occurred at the worst possible location due to it blocking all four lines in and out of Edinburgh from the west.

“We apologise for the inconvenience this has caused to passengers.”

Ms Dugdale said in the Scottish Parliament that there had been “yet another shambolic day on our railways, causing misery for passengers".

Ms Sturgeon said that Humza Yousaf was monitoring a performance improvement plan for ScotRail very closely.

Ms Dugdale questioned whether the First Minister would step in and sort the mess.

After his visit on 17th to Springburn, Humza Yousaf was at Glasgow Queen Street the next morning meeting commuters.

Despite the travel travails, a new Scotrail station is planned

A new station is to open with a link between trams to and from Edinburgh Airport and trains that cross the Forth Bridge. ScotRail confirmed the new Edinburgh Gateway station will open on Sunday 11 December and will feature through ticketing to facilitate connections between trams and trains.

Sited on the Edinburgh to Fife line between the existing stations of South Gyle and Dalmeny, Edinburgh Gateway will also serve trams running between central Edinburgh and the city’s international airport, Scotland’s busiest.

ScotRail said that the new station, which is part of the Scottish Government’s rail improvement programme for Edinburgh and Glasgow, will offer wider benefits than new airport connections. Local people will have direct trains to Perth, Dundee and Inverness as well as to Fife northbound and to central Edinburgh in the other direction.

The total number of calls every hour by trains at either Edinburgh Interchange or South Gyle will be six each way, compared to the current four at South Gyle. The number of trains calling at South Gyle will drop to two an hour each way but with an additional service in morning and evening peaks.

Edinburgh Gateway and South Gyle between them will provide 14 arrivals from the Fife direction between 07.00 and 09.00 each day, with a comparable number in the evening peak heading north for commuters working in the Edinburgh Business Park area.

They said:

Phil Verster, Managing Director of the ScotRail Alliance, said that the Ednburgh Gateway interchange would be “a hugely convenient transport hub for a vast array of customers. Thanks to the smooth transition with the tram network, this is another step forward for integrated travel and supports the future economic investment and activity in the area.”

The new timetable balances ScotRail calls between the stations at South Gyle and Edinburgh Gateway. Train services to call at Edinburgh Gateway include Edinburgh-Glenrothes (both directions on the Fife Circle), Edinburgh-Perth, Edinburgh-Dundee and Edinburgh-Inverness.

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