ScotRail under fire over Harris report and HSTs

A NEW report which advocates leaving ScotRail as a franchise has come under fire, while the arrival of the first HST for ScotRail has also angered a union leader.

The report, called ‘Scotland on the right track’ was commissioned by ScotRail’s operator Abellio and written by former Labour transport minister Tom Harris.

His conclusions are based on a survey carried out by Mark Diffley Consultancy and Research. More than 1,000 passengers were questioned about their priorities for the railway in Scotland, seeking their views on such matters as crowding on trains, fares, staff numbers and the condition of stations.

Even so, half of those who responded said that ‘spending more on bringing railways into public ownership’ was among their top three priorities.

When the report was launched in Glasgow, Tom Harris said he was frustrated by the extent of support for nationalisation, and praised the benefits of the present system. Statistics from the ORR show that in 2016-17 the Scottish government subsidised ScotRail by £247 million, and that each passenger kilometre travelled on ScotRail was subsidised on average by 20.7p.

Mr Harris said: “It would be expensive, childish and counter-productive to dispense with the clear and indisputable benefits of private sector involvement in our railways, without which we would not have experienced the renaissance we have seen.”

The report and its conclusions have met a bleak response from TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes, who said: “The fact that Abellio have commissioned this research is a sign of how desperate they have become to cling on to ScotRail, regardless of the cost to the Scottish people.

“The report fails to make any convincing case for privatisation. The improvements to rail services this century are largely down to Network Rail – which the last Labour government nationalised. All Harris does is claim that everything good on the railways is down to the TOCs and everything bad is down to factors outside their control. If Abellio can’t run an efficient railway on a 45 per cent subsidy then they should hand back the keys.”

Meanwhile, Mr Cortes was also among those who have criticised the arrival of HSTs in Scotland, as a ‘make do and mend’ solution.

The first set arrived on 18 August.The eventual fleet of 26 cascaded sets will consist of 17x5-car and 9x4-car formations, and they will be used to provide intercity services within Scotland, connecting a total of seven cities.

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