The number of train services being cancelled on Scotland’s railways has reached a new high amid growing calls for services to be take into public hands.
Operator ScotRail says the recent Storm Ali was mainly to blame as cancellations hit 3.66 per cent of services across the country between 16 September and 13 October. Many axed services are also down to Network Rail which maintains the tracks and has seen engineering works run over.
MSPs will vote on the future of the ScotRail franchise tomorrow with Labour calling for the Scottish Government to exercise an early “break clause” in the deal with Dutch national operator Abellio which currently runs services.
Labour transport spokesperson Colin Smyth said: “ScotRail’s cancellations are now the worst on record, with more and more passengers being left stranded.
“The number of services being cancelled is now more than triple the same period of previous years – meaning ScotRail’s failings are getting worse.
“That is a failing franchise, in a failing franchising system and passengers have had enough.”
The spike in cancellations has been put down to the impact of Storm Ali on 19 September which battered the country with torrential winds and brought widespread disruption to the entire transport network. Most high level trains between Glasgow and Edinburgh were suspended due to unsafe conditions and ScotRail issued a warning to commuters not to travel with an amber weather warning in place.
It accounted for 2.3 per cent of the 3.66 per cent of cancellations during this period. This is the worst under the current performance and cancellation performance figures going back to 2015. It compares with a previous high of 3.13 per cent between mid December and January.
ScotRail Alliance managing director Alex Hynes said: “We faced significant challenges during Storm Ali which had an understandable impact on our performance.
He added: “We are investing billions in improved infrastructure and hundreds of millions of pounds on new and upgraded trains as we continue to do everything we can to improve performance. It’s part of our plan to build the best railway Scotland has ever had.”
But ScotRail has come under fire in recent years amid growing anger among travellers about overcrowding, delays and cancellations, as well as the controversial practice of skip-stopping.
It was criticised in August when it emerged that its performance for punctuality and reliability of trains had fallen to a three-year low, against official PPM targets.
Transport secretary Michael Matheson revealed recently that he has allowed “temporary waiver” on targets until next June.
The issue will come under the spotlight at the Scottish Parliament tomorrow when Labour will bring a vote on the prospect bringing trains back into public hands.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We know performance is not where it should be - that is why Ministers can and do hold Abellio ScotRail to account within the terms of the franchise agreement. This includes the ability to end the contract if its terms are not met and it is in the public interest to do so - nothing has changed in this regard.
“As has been stated before, the significant increase in Network Rail infrastructure issues, many caused by severe weather and Storm Ali, have clearly had an impact on performance. The removal of the practice of skip-stopping - which was used for service recovery – has also been a factor as services which previously skip-stopped to get back on timetable may now require to be cancelled.
“ScotRail performance has remained consistently ahead of the GB average, but that GB average has got steadily worse since Network Rail moved timetable planning for Scotland to its Milton Keynes HQ in 2012. It is clear that these essential railway functions must be devolved back to Scotland to allow any franchise operator to perform at its best.
“We have already secured the right for a public sector operator to bid for a rail franchise in Scotland – after being denied by previous UK Governments (including Labour) - which will enable a level playing field between the private and public sector in bidding for rail franchises for the benefit of passengers and best value for the public purse.”