Abellio could be stripped of Scotrail power
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.”
0 Scotrail’s performance is expected to have fallen to ‘breach’ level in the four weeks to last Saturday