ScotRail’s dire new performance figures just made the argument for renationalising our railways a whole lot stronger

Image of a Scotrail train and Michael Matheson
Brian Finlay

Calls to bring Scotland’s railways back into public hands have intensified of late. And now the company has published its dire new performance figures. The report published on ScotRail’s website shows abysmal performance in comparison to targets. What this shows is Scottish rail users are not getting a good service from the private service provider Abellio.

ScotRail’s Public Performance Measures

ScotRail’s Public Performance Measure (PPM) report was published on 23 October. The report exposes that the Abellio-run franchise is not meeting targets. The ScotRail franchise has come under heavy criticism since Abellio took over in 2015. The SNP-led Scottish government has floated the idea of renationalising the Scottish railways. The government could potentially strip Abellio of the franchise as early as 2020. This is the halfway point in the franchise deal.

Bad day for Abellio

The PPM results show ScotRail has missed its 92.22% target by over 10% between 16 September and 13 October 2018. Abellio missed its moving annual average PPM target by nearly 5%. The PPM percentage is the number of booked services that arrive at stations within five minutes of their scheduled time. The train service must also have stopped at all scheduled stops.

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Only 16 stations out the total 81 stations in Scotland met the target of 92.22%. That’s less than 20% of all stations. The most damning results come from Arbroath station, where it failed to meet PPM expectations 44% of the time. Interestingly, Arbroath is on the main line between Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

Growing anger

In the wake of the latest missed targets, calls to bring Scotland’s railways back into public hands have intensified.

Earlier this month, it emerged Abellio ScotRail was given the “UK’s biggest public handout” last year. The Scottish government awarded the firm £307m, up 22% on the year before.

Despite this, Abellio was still hit with fines of over £2.2m in the first six months of the year for missing targets. The Dutch firm missed 15 of the 38 targets set by Transport Scotland. These targets included toilets, cleanliness and litter at stations.

A spokesperson for Transport Scotland told Rail Technology Magazine:

Action is already under way to address areas of concern outlined in the Squire (Service Quality Incentive Regime) report, resulting in some encouraging improvements and a reduction in penalties compared to last quarter.

A hundred and forty extra staff are being recruited to address the staffing issues which lead to ticket offices being closed when they should be open and to improve the availability of on-train staff.

ScotRail Alliance sustainability and safety assurance director David Lister said:

We know there is a lot of work still to be done but these figures confirm the progress ScotRail is making.

The investment we are making – in new and refurbished trains, in station facilities and in our people – is part of our plan to build the best railway Scotland has ever had.

It also emerged the government had agreed to waive performance targets so contract wasn’t broken. As the Evening Express reported, Transport Minister Michael Matheson waived some key benchmarks until June 2019.

‘Radical change’

Manuel Cortes, the leader of the TSSA union, claimed it’s now time for “radical change” in Scotland. He said:

Scottish taxpayers deserve better than simply seeing their money moved from one budget pot to another whilst their trains remain late and dirty and their stations understaffed…

What the SNP needs to do is remove the franchise from Abellio and run Scotland’s railway for the Scottish people rather than the Finance Ministry in the Hague.

Scottish Labour shadow transport spokesman Colin Smyth also urged the SNP to take ScotRail back into public hands. The MSP criticised the “growing pile of taxpayers’ money being handed to ScotRail”. He added that the government must take advantage of the “upcoming break in the franchise agreement”.

It’s clear that the Scottish government needs to get control of ScotRail and its performance. The company is providing taxpayers and customers with a poor service, while the owners profit.

The SNP-led government must inspire change across the UK by bringing the railway back into public ownership. ScotRail’s poor performance is just one example how the free market doesn’t offer a more effective service for consumers.

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Featured image via: Trains Trains Trains/YouTube and Aye For Scotland/YouTube

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