FirstGroup ‘keen to bid on’ next ScotRail franchise, as Labour raises cancellation concerns
FirstGroup has indicated it is interested in taking back the ScotRail franchise after Scottish Labour claimed that the current operator, Abellio, is cancelling up to 50 trains a day.
Abellio took over the franchise from FirstGroup last year, but has run into performance problems and been required to submit an improvement plan to Transport Scotland.
Scottish Labour released aggregated figures from the Office of Rail and Road today, which show that 1,360 ScotRail services have been cancelled or delayed by more than 30 minutes every four weeks, equivalent to 49 trains a day on average, since the new franchise started last year.
Neil Bibby, the party’s transport spokesperson, said: “These figures are just the latest demonstration of the problems passengers are facing.
“Not only are people travelling on expensive and overcrowded trains, nearly 50 services a day are significantly late or even cancelled. This causes huge problems for commuters trying to get to and from work.”
A spokesperson for FirstGroup said: “We are keen to bid on further rail opportunities, including the next ScotRail franchise when it arises and we will look at each upcoming competition on its merits before deciding what we have to offer and whether to bid.”
Abellio holds the contract until 2025, but Transport Scotland can replace it at the ‘break-point’ halfway through in 2020.
The Scottish government has proposed establishing a public sector body to take over ScotRail if it doesn’t improve its services.
A ScotRail spokesperson agreed that the company needs “to deliver better punctuality and reliability”.
They added that services will improve once the current programme of upgrades is completed and has “transformed rail travel in Scotland”.
The Scottish government recently called for Network Rail in Scotland to be devolved after an independent report criticised the planning of the upgrade programmes, which have gone over budget in many cases.
Responding to criticisms, Charlotte Twyning, Abellio UK’s director of policy, strategy and communications, has previously attributed blame for overcrowding on ScotRail to Transport Scotland, saying the government “essentially determines how many seats are available”.
Scottish Labour has also launched a campaign for a fares freeze on all ScotRail services from next year.
Writing in the Daily Record newspaper today, Kezia Dugdale, the party leader, said: “Passengers want improvements today, not years down the line. A fare freeze won’t fix the problems with delays or overcrowding. But it will give passengers the break they deserve.”
A Transport Scotland spokesperson said that to put the numbers “in perspective” ScotRail operates around 58,700 services every four weeks, and its performance is higher than the UK average, with almost 90% of trains running on time.
In an emergency statement at Holyrood last week, Humza Yousaf, the Scottish transport minister, apologised for the problems and said ScotRail had learned for them.
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