THE Scottish Government could be poised to exercise a break clause in the ScotRail contract in 2020, ending the Abellio franchise in 2022, but this will depend on the result of a crucial vote in the Scottish Parliament this week.
Dissatisfaction with performance has fuelled criticism from politicians as well as passengers, and MSPs are set to vote in two days from now on a Labour motion to return ScotRail to public ownership.
Abellio, the overseas arm of Dutch Railways, has already been forced to prop up ScotRail with a cash injection of £10 million, and has also been hampered by delays affecting enhancement plans. The Hitachi fleet ordered for the Edinburgh-Glasgow Queen Street electrification had curved windscreens which proved to distort drivers’ view of signals at night, and the trains had to be fitted with different windscreens before they could enter service.
It was revealed last month that transport secretary Michael Matheson has allowed ScotRail performance targets to be waived until June 2019, in a bid to allow an interval for the franchise to recover. However, he was criticised for not informing Parliament, and the TSSA union called for his resignation.
With Wednesday’s vote now looming, Labour transport spokesman Colin Smyth said: ‘Passengers are fed up with overcrowded, overpriced and late running trains,
‘It’s time to hit the brakes on privatisation and bring our railways back into public ownership. The SNP claimed that the Abellio contract would be a world leading deal – instead the government has shifted the goal posts on targets and given the franchise a licence to fail.
‘For years the Nationalists have said they would work up a public sector bid, but that promise appears further behind schedule than the average train journey in Scotland. If the SNP was serious about a public sector bid it would be ready to step in at the first opportunity to end the franchise. On Wednesday Labour will make the case to end the franchise at the first opportunity, and accelerate the process for public ownership.’
A Scottish Government spokesman said: ‘We know performance is not where it should be – that is why ministers can and do hold Abellio ScotRail to account within the terms of the franchise agreement. This includes the ability to end the contract if its terms are not met and it is in the public interest to do so.
‘ScotRail performance has remained consistently ahead of the GB average, but that GB average has got steadily worse since Network Rail moved timetable planning for Scotland to its Milton Keynes HQ in 2012. It is clear these essential railway functions must be devolved back to Scotland to allow any franchise operator to perform at its best.’
Railnews has asked Network Rail to comment.