Over recent weeks Scotland’s Transport Minster Humza Yousaf has come under fire from opposition parties after thousands of commuters were faced with delays to their train service.
On Wednesday Mr Yousaf made an emergency statement to Holyrood where he apologised for delays to trains and said he would be closely monitoring the performance of ScotRail over the winter period. He added that if the quality of the service dips again then the Scottish Government will have to examine its options regarding the ScotRail contract.
The ScotRail franchise is currently run by the Dutch company Abellio, but following widespread criticism of the service – after a train breaking down in Edinburgh and damage to a line in Glasgow caused delays throughout Scotland – opposition parties have demanded to see the improvement plan for ScotRail and asked if the Scottish Government would be prepared to examine a public sector bid for the service.
In his statement, the Minister outlined the improvement plan that would be implemented. This included £16 million to upgrade key junctions, track and signalling equipment as part of a £5 billion five-year programme intended to ‘transform’ Scotland’s railways. The plan also promises an extra 200 carriages by 2019, 50% more than were in use in 2007.
Mr Yousaf said:
“Let me be clear, this Government expects the highest possible standards of our rail industry and to achieve that we have set some of the toughest targets of any franchise in the UK.
“It is the duty and responsibility of Abellio to fulfil their obligation under that contract.
“It is my job to hold them to account and I will personally be closely monitoring Abellio and their progress on the improvement plan until performance returns to acceptable contractual standards.”
The Minister confirmed to the Chamber that he would be willing to meet with unions and opposition parties to discuss the option of a public sector bid for the railways, but any proposals face a lengthy wait as a the retender process could not take place until 2022.
However, whilst admitting that the service need to be improved, Abellio pointed out that they are limited by the number of trains than can put on by the terms of the Government contract. A spokesperson for the operator said that there is ‘nothing new in discussions about a public sector bid for Scotland’s railways’ and that the company had ‘no problem competing with public bids’. He also stated that as ‘Ministers set fares and essentially determine how many seats are available’, any overcrowding issues should be attributable to them.
Yousaf has already brushed off calls from Scottish Labour to resign, describing them as a ‘political opportunism’, but any further disruption to ScotRail this winter and he will likely find himself under increasing pressure.