The devolution of rail services in Scotland could be a step closer, after a report released today by think tank Reform Scotland harshly criticised ScotRail for failing to deliver an acceptable standard of service.
Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf, renewed calls for devolution of responsibility for Scottish train services, to the Scottish Government.
The Minister said:
“Network rail should be devolved to Scotland. That’s a call I’ve made, that’s a call my predecessors collectively have previously as well, and now it seems Labour politicians are making the same case as well. I welcome that [agreement] from Tom Harris and welcome that [report] from Reform Scotland.”
At a press conference today at Waverley Station he told Edinburgh Napier News that greater devolution meant greater accountability, and that he would be pushing to meet his parties manifesto commitments to nationalise services. The Minister said:
“I wouldn’t ever suggest that a public sector operator putting together a public sector bid is the answer, is the silver bullet that will solve all our problems – what we have done is made a manifesto commitment to bring forward a public sector operator and facilitate the public bid.”
However, the Minister first hopes to diffuse criticism that the Scottish Government is not doing enough to mitigate the ongoing transport crisis:
“We’ll be publishing the performance and inclusion plan, almost 250 action points in that plan will be published…”.
He added that the new plan would improve services, amid growing criticism from opposition parties:
“I’m pleased that Scotrail have put forward a winter preparedness plan – I’ve seen a draft of that. We’re to be given more information in the coming time, so passengers can have faith that certainly everything is being done to mitigate against the weather [conditions].”
The report released today by the think tank, heavily criticised Network Rail for making passengers board slower trains and put up with disruptive services. Tom Harris, former UK Transport Minister, who co-wrote the report, said greater accountability was important and therefore devolution of rail powers to the Scottish Government was necessary to avoid further train disruption and commuter frustration.
This announcement came only hours after a Virgin train service derailed and disrupted services between Kings Cross and Edinburgh.
However, the report fell short of endorsing nationalisation of the rail service in Scotland.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Network Rail said:
“We work closely with the Scottish and UK governments to continually enhance and improve our railways. Any discussions over further devolution of Network Rail in Scotland would be a matter for those governments”.
Pressure is mounting on Dutch firm Abelio who currently operate the Scottish Network Rail services. The report by Reform Scotland claims 54% of all delays in Scotland by more than three minutes were due to faults with Network Rails infrastructure and railway lines.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) are planning a protest tomorrow, calling on the Scottish Government to set out a timetable for bringing Scotrail under public ownership.
The Minister said: “We’ll always speak to the RMT and do so on a regular basis and I welcome them being part of the solution”.
By Cormac Rae