ScotRail to be re-nationalised
By World Infrastructure Journal-
Scotland's rail operator ScotRail is to be put under public ownership from next March, after contract with Abellio comes to an end.
Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity announced the news yesterday in the Scottish Parliament. He explained that Scotrail will be brought into the public sector but run by an arm’s length company owned by the Scottish Government.
Mr Matheson said that: “Following a detailed assessment process and given the uncertainty caused by Covid 19, alongside the continuing delays to the UK Government White Paper on rail reform, I have decided that it would not be appropriate to award a franchise agreement to any party at this time, either through a competition or a direct award.
“That is why I have confirmed that, from the expiry of the current franchise, ScotRail services will be provided in public hands through a company wholly owned and controlled by the Scottish Government. This is in line with our Operator of Last Resort duty.
“ScotRail staff will transfer to the new Scottish Government owned entity, with their terms and conditions protected.
“This approach will provide a stable platform for ScotRail services and certainty for passengers and staff. ”
ScotRail is the largest operator in Scotland, running roughly 2.400 train services a day and 93 million passenger services per year, covering all services except those that cross the border.
The contract was awarded to Abellio in 2015, a Dutch rail operating company who also run East Midlands Railway and multiple bus services across the UK.
There have been concerns over how the Scotland service has been run with Mr Matheson citing the Williams Rail review verdict in his announcement yesterday that “franchising is not fit for purpose”. There have been critics however, that Abellio was “tightly controlled” by the Scottish Government and so any problems cannot be blamed entirely on franchising.
An Abellio representative for ScotRail stated yesterday that “We want to reassure you that we’ll keep operating a reliable service to support the vaccine rollout and the opening up of the economy over the coming months, as preparations are made for the introduction of the changes the Scottish Government have announced”.
They added that since they had been awarded the contract they had invested £475 million in new trains and railways and had continued good service throughout the pandemic.
They finished by saying “we’re proud of our role in such challenging times. ”
Others have welcomed the news with the RMT General Secretary Mick Cash outlining that this represents “a clear victory” and will “help enable the creation of an affordable, accessible and sustainable rail network that contributes to Scotland’s decarbonisation targets. ”
Whether this will be more affordable still remains uncertain. Responding to questions in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, Mr Matheson said that the SNP Government will “try our very best” to keep prices down.
Kevin Lindsay of the ASLEF Union was undeterred however, stating that “we welcome the beginning of the end of the failed franchise system here in Scotland.
“However, never again should people’s railway ever be in the hands of the privateers.
“This move starts the end of franchising and the end of a failed Tory experiment.
“It’s now for all us in the railway to build a railway that’s accessible, affordable, and safe for the people of Scotland."
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