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Minister warns of ‘very, very serious consequences’ if ScotRail doesn’t improve

There will be “some very, very serious consequences” if ScotRail’s performance doesn’t improve quickly, Scottish transport minister Humza Yousaf has warned,  revealing that he will track the TOC’s performance “not just weekly, but daily”.

The minister once again issued a warning that the operator could lose its contract if train performance does not improve. Its performance is being monitored closely after a train breakdown in Edinburgh earlier this week caused major disruption to commuters, in the latest in a string of performance problems to hit the rail network.

ScotRail was forced to produce a performance improvement plan in September at the request of Transport Scotland after train punctuality and reliability fell below target. Yousaf, who also recently pressed Sir Peter Hendy to devolve Network Rail in Scotland, stated that he held talks with ScotRail on Thursday warning that improvement must be made soon.

“I will be monitoring that improvement not just weekly but daily,” Yousaf told STV Scotland Tonight yesterday. “I've just had a meeting with ScotRail's management to remind them of the obligations of that improvement plan, and I've told them we will be keeping that under review, and if performance doesn't improve there are some very, very serious consequences.

“I'm here to work with ScotRail but they were left with no uncertain terms that I expect improvement. ScotRail understand perfectly well that if their performance declines every option is open on the table that could result even in them losing their contract.”

Yousaf went on to explain that there is a break clause that could be discussed in 2020, but the possibility remains that the contract could be terminated early if performance does not reach the required standard. The Scottish government has already confirmed that it stands ready to take over the TOC through the development of a new public sector body.

The incident on Thursday took place between Waverley and Haymarket stations, with ScotRail admitting that this was “probably the worst place in the country” for a breakdown.

This breakdown resulted in numerous cancellations and alterations to services running in and out of Glasgow Queen Street, leading first minister Nicola Sturgeon to apologise for the disruption during First Minister’s Questions (FMQs).

According to figures raised by Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale during FMQs, performance figures for ScotRail on Wednesday were 79% compared to a target of 91%, meaning that  more than one in five trains failed to arrive on time. In rural areas this figure dipped to as low as 60%. The long-term figure is said to be around 89%.

Aslef, the train driver’s union, called the Scottish government’s response to the rail crisis “pathetic” and urged Sturgeon to sack Yousaf.

“Transport minister Humza Yousaf has stood by while Abellio ScotRail takes Scotland’s passengers and taxpayers for a ride,” argued general secretary Mick Whelan.

“[Sturgeon] should sack her incompetent transport minister. You can’t control what you don’t own so the Scottish government should do the decent thing and return the railway to public ownership.”

But the Scottish government said that currently 89% out of 100 trains achieve their contracted performance measure, 2% more than the average across Great Britain.

A government spokesman rebutted Aslef’s comments, saying: “As Aslef are well aware, having met ministers as recently as last week, we are making the best of a rail industry system imposed by the UK government which successive UK Labour governments failed to change.

“The Labour UK government chose not to stop franchising either in the Transport Act of 2000 or Railways Act of 2005. We pressed all secretaries of state in the UK government – each refused, the last in 2012 forcing us to go ahead with the tendering process.

“We were left with no alternative but to embark on a commercial procurement exercise and we did so. We are now committed to ensuring the success of the current rail franchise contracts we have left.”

The spokesman added that the Scottish government intends to use the additional rail powers provided to it through the Scotland Act 2016 which allows public-sector bodies to bid for future Scottish rail franchises.

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James   19/11/2016 at 09:52

‘very, very serious consequences’ - the bloke is a prat attempting to convey a message of fear.

Jerry Alderson   19/11/2016 at 10:42

If Transport Scotland dismissed Abellio and took it in house or replaced it with another operator then presumably Abellio's cave-in to the RMT over door closing could then be renegotiated for the benefit of passengers.

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