Minister Plans Urgent Statement On Rail Service Improvements

Transport Minister Humza Yousaf has agreed to make an urgent statement to Parliament over proposals to bring Scotland's railways into public ownership.

Labour and the Conservatives had called for Mr Yousaf to face questions at Holyrood on the future of ScotRail services after criticism of the current operator Abellio.

Mr Yousaf has said he wants to work with unions and other political parties to put together a public sector bid to run the railways, which could be ready for 2020 when a clause in the contract with Abellio would allow it to be broken.

Labour's transport spokesman Neil Bibby MSP described the situation as a ''shambles'', while Tory finance spokesman Murdo Fraser MSP said re-nationalisation proposals were ''half-baked''.

Mr Yousaf said: ''It is important to keep Parliament informed of the actions I am taking to ensure ScotRail improve our rail services and I will be proposing to make a statement to Parliament this week so all parties can discuss how we improve our rail services.

''I also reiterate my offer to the rail unions, opposition politicians, and public sector organisations to meet me to discuss the possible shape of a public sector franchise bid. I am prepared to work with anyone who is serious about improving rail services.''

ScotRail was forced to produce a performance improvement plan in September, at the request of Transport Scotland, after punctuality and reliability fell below standard, and a train breakdown in Edinburgh last Thursday caused widespread disruption for commuters.

Mr Yousaf added: ''As I have made clear, our focus is firmly on driving up standards for passengers and ScotRail bosses have been left in no doubt about the need for improvements, and the seriousness of my intent. I will continue to monitor their performance closely.

''While we are taking forward work to deliver a public sector operator to bid for future franchises, we must ensure the current contract delivers the service passengers desire and deserve, while front-line staff are recognised for their hard work.''

Charlotte Twyning, director of policy, strategy and communications for Abellio UK, said the company had ''no problem'' competing with public bids.

She added: ''However, it should be recognised that half of the rail industry is already nationalised in the form of Network Rail and any operator that runs the ScotRail franchise - public or private - does so to a tightly specified Scottish Government contract, which means that ministers set fares and essentially determine how many seats are available and therefore how much overcrowding exists across the network.

''We acknowledge that the performance of the ScotRail Alliance is not good enough, but we are working hard with our clients - Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government - to make the changes necessary to improve the service to rail passengers. We are also encouraging Network Rail in particular to raise its game.

''However, rail passengers are better served by organisations and individuals collaborating in customers' interests and not their own, and we encourage all parties to do so.''

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