Leader comment: Draw a line under ScotRail troubles

ScotRail Alliance Phil Verster is leaving after nearly two years in charge. Picture: Network Rail

ScotRail Alliance Phil Verster is leaving after nearly two years in charge. Picture: Network Rail

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While transport minister Humza Yousaf has been at the centre of the political storm over ScotRail’s performance, Phil Verster has been at the sharp end of sorting it out.

The unexpected departure of the ScotRail Alliance managing director has been predictably seized on by opposition politicians as a sign that he failed and decided to go.

In fact, after all the flack, punctuality has been improving, albeit slowly, and while it is still below officially acceptable levels, it is moving in the right direction.

As we report today, Mr Verster was approached last year to lead an innovative rail project in England, and yesterday’s announcement reads more like being the next step on his career path, having previously run the east coast main line for Network Rail.

If Mr Verster had stayed, he would also have seen the likely benefits of ScotRail’s long-awaited new train fleets in further boosting performance and easing overcrowding.

The first train is already being tested in Scotland and among those due to enter service in a matter of months.

Nevertheless, it has added nothing to ScotRail’s - or Mr Verster’s reputation - to be ordered to implement a performance improvement plan in September, something that never befell previous franchisee FirstGroup over its decade at the controls.

In that respect, Mr Verster’s departure can be seen as an opportunity to draw a line under ScotRail’s troubles and for new relationships to be developed with ministers.

A new face at the top will also provide the organisation with a chance to redouble its efforts to tackle the causes of delays, albeit much of the hard work is already underway.

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