ScotRail on 'last chance saloon'

26 March 2019, 17:27 | Updated: 26 March 2019, 17:30

ScotRail train

ScotRail's been told it's on 'last chance saloon' as new investment in the country's railway network is announced.

Investment in Scotland's railway will increase by 21% over the next five years, but passengers have been warned to expect more delays.

Spending on the day-to-day running of the Scottish railway network is set to increase to £3.31 billion by 2024 the Transport Secretary has announced, alongside a range of maintenance projects.

Transport Scotland has unveiled proposals including more services between cities such as Aberdeen and Inverness and efforts to tackle overcrowding.

There are also plans to reduce emissions through electrification, as well as exploring new technologies such as battery and hydrogen trains.

The 21% increase in expenditure will see the budget for operations, maintenance, support and renewals rise from £2.74 billion in 2014-19 to £3.31 billion between 2019 and 2024 .

It aims to deliver improved performance and resilience, with projects funded by direct Scottish Government grants, meaning a shift away from the Rail Asset Base debt funding mechanism, according to the Transport Secretary.

In a pre-recorded speech shown to rail experts at the Rail North of Border Conference held in Glasgow on Tuesday, Michael Matheson called for complete devolution of the Scottish railway, adding that franchising has not worked.

Mr Matheson, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, said: "Rail provides vital connections between our cities, our communities, our businesses, and showcases all that Scotland has to offer.

"That is why we have invested an unprecedented £8bn in this key part of the economy across Scotland since 2007.

"Scotland saw the highest regional growth with passengers making 102 million journeys in 2017/2018. Despite the financial pressures imposed by the UK Government, we have confidence in the future of rail.

"Through our new projects pipeline we will address the cost and delivery challenges witnessed in recent years. It will also give confidence to the rail supply chain, in that it assures a steady stream of work for the next five years.

"My biggest frustration, however, has been operating with one hand tied behind my back.

"Franchising, in its current form, doesn't work and we must use the opportunity provided by Keith William's review of the industry as a means of delivering real and meaningful structural change in Scotland.

"Nothing short of full devolution of rail powers is needed."

Mr Matheson also told Capital ScotRail is on "last chance saloon" for it to improve its services, or the Scottish Government could revoke its contract.

Rail union TSSA welcomed the announcement of more funding but warned passengers can continue to expect yet more delays while Abellio is in charge of ScotRail.

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: "This will come as good news for Scottish commuters who have been hardest hit in ScotRail's year of record-breaking bad service.

"However, the simplest way to end delays on ScotRail is to get rid of Abellio and bring our railway into public ownership. Otherwise, the delays will continue.

"While Abellio continues to sacrifice customer service and sensible staffing levels in pursuit of profit, Scottish passengers will go on suffering.

"Bringing ScotRail into public ownership will not only greatly improve performance but end the intolerable practice of Scottish taxpayers' money leaking out of the railway network in the form of profits for the Dutch Government."