Alastair Dalton: Scotrail Alliance chief relishing the challenge

Alex Hynes took over as managing director of the ScotRail Alliance on 1 June. Picture: Joel Goodman/PA Wire
Alex Hynes took over as managing director of the ScotRail Alliance on 1 June. Picture: Joel Goodman/PA Wire
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The new man at the helm of the ScotRail Alliance made his first public appearance this week - with no half measures.

An ebullient Alex Hynes was so impressed with the train set he has inherited that he told MSPs the current major improvements would give Scotland not just “the best railway it’s ever had” but also one of the best in the world.

The new managing director revealed his enthusiasm had gone as far as becoming a “mystery shopper” to sample ScotRail as a passenger before he took up the job - and before anyone recognised him.

He was “super impressed” by the experience, which will perhaps chime with some, but by no means all his fellow travellers.

Mr Hynes was given a pretty easy ride by Holyrood’s rural affairs and connectivity committee, which has savaged his predecessor Phil Verster.

That’s probably because he is new, the ScotRail Alliance is off the hook - for now - after improving its train punctuality, and his Network Rail colleagues on the panel took the heat instead for the latest delays to the upgrade of the main Edinburgh-Glasgow line.

However, it’s early days for the new MD - “day ten” as he put it - and there’s still a long way to go before new Japanese-designed electric trains whisk commuters between the two cities ten minutes faster than at present.

Two years after the formation of the alliance, a working partnership between train operator ScotRail and track owner Network Rail, many people have not cottoned on to the fact that the person at its head is responsible and accountable for both parts of the railway.

MSPs may have directed their fire on Wednesday at Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne and alliance infrastructure director David Dickson sitting beside Mr Hynes.

But next time round, it’s likely to be him in the hot seat if more of the so called Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme (Egip) goes awry.

The electrification work is now underway, though there’s plenty still to do and attempts are being made to speed up the work.

The first of the new trains are being tested - but that hasn’t gone completely smoothly, and they have not been the trouble-free beasts that were hoped for.

I’m also told there are still some potentially-tricky construction still to be finished, such as work at the depot at Millerhill on the outskirts of Edinburgh where the new fleet will be maintained and stored, where old mine workings will have to be secured.

There’s also work needed at another depot at Eastfield in Glasgow.

Finally, platforms have still to be extended at either ends of the route, at Waverley Station in Edinburgh, and Queen Street in Glasgow, where the associated station overhaul, with its dramatic glass frontage onto George Square, will now be completed years later than originally expected.

On top of that, a second fleet of refurbished intercity trains, and retention of much of the current fleet, will see one in five more seats on the network - but can they really all run without slowing each other down?

Egip has had some big successes - such as the overhaul of Haymarket Station and upgrading of the Winchburgh and Queen Street tunnels, albeit disruptive. But it is the long-awaited improvements the overall project promises - along with his day-to-day stewardship of the network - on which Mr Hynes will be judged.