DUTCH firm Abellio has agreed to significantly improve train reliability at ScotRail as it took over the franchise yesterday, The Scotsman has learned.
The new operator has promised to more than halve breakdowns on some of the fleet over the ten-year contract.
The revelation came as industry experts feared passengers could suffer increased disruption when ScotRail’s least reliable trains are drafted on to the new Borders Railway and the lines to Glasgow-Oban/Mallaig.
Abellio, which The Scotsman revealed as the winning operator last October, said it wanted to be the “exemplar” of Britain’s railways.
Group chief executive Jeff Hoogesteger told the formal launch at Stirling Station: “As the new stewards of a vital part of Scotland’s society and economy, we understand the responsibility given to us, and will work every day to earn the faith that has been shown in us.”
Abellio has pledged two new train fleets and revamped carriages on “scenic” rural lines, cut-price advance fares, including for the over-50s, smartcards, and more bike storage.
I will not pretend you will see an overnight transitionJeff Hoogesteger
Mr Hoogesteger announced steam trains three times a week for six weeks after the opening of the Borders Railway in September – although regular trains may have to be cancelled to accommodate them.
Markedly better train performance is also included in the detailed franchise agreement with the Scottish Government to underpin the £2.5 billion deal – ministers’ largest contract. They show the class 158 diesel trains, whose operations will be extended to the Borders and Mallaig lines, must improve from suffering a “technical incident” every 5,540 miles to 8,234 miles by the end of the franchise.
An even bigger improvement is required for the next worst trains, electric class 334s, which operate on routes such as Edinburgh-Glasgow via Bathgate.
Their breakdown rate must be cut from every 7,902 miles to 19,329 miles by 2025.
By contrast, the brand new Japanese-designed Hitachi electric trains which Abellio will run on the main Edinburgh-Glasgow line from 2017 will have to go 30,000 miles without incident by 2020.
A second new fleet, of refurbished “High Speed Trains” which will run on other inter-city routes from 2018, are due to be ScotRail’s most reliable diesels, despite being more than 30 years old. Their breakdown target is every 12,699 miles by 2020.
One industry figure said: “The class 158s are pretty scabby trains – they have never been great.
“They were made by British Rail when it was starved of cash.
“The improvements are going to require a lot of investment.”
Abellio UK managing director Dominic Booth admitted some ScotRail trains were not “top of the league” compared to some in use south of the Border.
He said: “We want to make it better through continuous improvement.” However, Mr Booth said there was “not a significant risk” of reliability problems.
Transport minister Derek Mackay said he was expecting “solid performance” from Abellio. He said: “I will be looking at the figures week to week and it will be for Abellio to manage their assets effectively.”
Frank Roach, of the Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership co-ordinating body, said: “We welcome this ambitious target to improve the performance of the class 158 fleet, which operates on Highland and Aberdeen routes, and will form the scenic train service to Wick, Kyle and the West Highlands.
“It is good to know significant engineering investment will be made to overcome the well-documented problems that have dogged services.”
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