Abel­lio could be stripped of Scotrail power

The Scotsman - - Front Page - By ALAS­TAIR DAL­TON

Dutch firm Abel­lio has been told it must come up with a suc­cess­ful im­prove­ment plan for Scotrail’s per­for­mance woes or risk be­ing stripped of the fran­chise.

Trans­port sec­re­tary Michael Math­e­son warned if the train op­er­a­tor’s lat­est re­me­dial plan failed it would be in breach of con­tract.

Fines, higher charges or an early re­moval of the con­tract, which is due to end in 2025, were all po­ten­tial penal­ties, Mr Math­e­son said. The plan is due to be sub­mit­ted next month.

Min­is­ters have is­sued their stark­est warn­ing yet to Abel­lio that it risks los­ing the Scotrail fran­chise if a new re­me­dial plan does not work.

The Dutch firm is “very clear about how se­ri­ous this is for them”, trans­port sec­re­tary Michael Math­e­son told MSPS.

The op­er­a­tor will have to de­vise an­other im­prove­ment plan af­ter its two pre­vi­ous ones failed to sus­tain im­proved per­for­mance.

Up to 70 per cent of Scotrail’s de­lay prob­lems are caused by its al­liance part­ner Net­work Rail. But these have been com­pounded by new fleets of trains be­ing de­liv­ered late by man­u­fac­turer Hi­tachi and re­fit­ter Wabtec.

That has caused a huge train­ing back­log, made worse by the old trains they are re­plac­ing be­ing taken away be­cause their leases have ex­pired.

Mr Math­e­son said per­for­mance had seen a “marked

im­prove­ment” this week, fol­low­ing hun­dreds of can­cel­la­tions caused by the prob­lems.

He ex­pected the plan to be sub­mit­ted around 18 Fe­bru­ary.

Once he has agreed to the plan, it will remain in force “un­til it is de­liv­ered in its en­tirety”, a Trans­port Scot­land of­fi­cial said.

The move was trig­gered by the num­ber of can­cel­la­tions on Ed­in­burgh area sub­ur­ban ser­vices on the Bath­gate, Dun­blane, Fife Cir­cle, North Ber­wick and Tweed­bank routes.

It was also or­dered be­cause Scotrail’s over­all per­for­mance over the four weeks to last Satur­day is ex­pected to fall be­low “breach” level.

Mr Math­e­son said if the plan failed, Abel­lio – an off­shoot of state-run Dutch rail­ways – would be in breach of con­tract.

The min­is­ter said that could lead to fines, higher charges or early re­moval of the con­tract, which is due to end in 2025.

He said: “This has got very se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions for the con­tract holder. They [Abel­lio] are very clear about how se­ri­ous this is for them.

“That could ul­ti­mately re­sult in them los­ing the fran­chise.”

How­ever, Mr Math­e­son said up to 70 per cent of de­lays were caused by Net­work Rail and called for full pow­ers over the track body to be trans­ferred to the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment.

He said: “Fix­ing Scotrail’s

train crew prob­lem will not be enough.”

Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tives trans­port spokesman Jamie Greene said: “I think it is right to give the Scotrail Al­liance the chance to meet its con­trac­tual obli­ga­tions, but it must know that all op­tions are now on the ta­ble, with much at stake if they can’t.

“The cab­i­net sec­re­tary has laid down the gaunt­let to the op­er­a­tor and, like many, I wait with baited breath to see if it will rise to the chal­lenge.”

Scot­tish Greens trans­port spokesman John Fin­nie MSP said: “Talk of im­prove­ment plans will be of lit­tle com­fort to com­muters who’ve heard such prom­ises be­fore and who can­not rely on the rail ser­vices they need to get them to and from their work.”

Scot­tish Labour trans­port spokesman Colin Smyth said: “Michael Math­e­son must per­son­ally take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the mis­er­able level of ser­vice Scot­land’s hard-pressed rail pas­sen­gers are re­ceiv­ing and apol­o­gise to them.”

Scotrail Al­liance manag­ing di­rec­tor Alex Hynes said: “We know the ser­vice our cus­tomers have re­ceived hasn’t been good enough re­cently.

“Ev­ery­body is work­ing flat out to de­liver the im­prove­ments our cus­tomers ex­pect and de­serve.”

PIC­TURE: JOHN DE­VLIN

0 Scotrail’s per­for­mance is ex­pected to have fallen to ‘breach’ level in the four weeks to last Satur­day

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