Pressure grows on Humza Yousaf as train punctuality slumps

Under-fire transport minister Humza Yousaf. New figures show there has been a decline in train punctuality since ScotRail was ordered to produce an improvement plan. Picture: John Devlin
Under-fire transport minister Humza Yousaf. New figures show there has been a decline in train punctuality since ScotRail was ordered to produce an improvement plan. Picture: John Devlin
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The Scottish Government’s handling of railways is under renewed attack with new figures revealing deteriorating performance and almost half of all trains failing to arrive on time at some of Scotland’s busiest stations.

This week Labour will step up its attack on Transport Minister Humza Yousaf, who has been under pressure over the performance of the Dutch firm Abellio and its £7 billion contract to run the ScotRail franchise.

Labour will highlight official ScotRail train performance figures which show there has been a decline in the punctuality of trains since ScotRail was ordered to produce an improvement plan.

Transport Scotland, the Scottish Government agency, demanded that the plan was drawn up in September amid widespread concern about late trains and overcrowding on the railways.

Last week pressure grew on ScotRail and Yousaf when the rail network was brought to a standstill by a train breakdown which left thousands of commuters stranded.

The latest ScotRail figures show that just before last week’s breakdown – for the period from 16 October to 12 November – only 86 per cent of trains arrived within five minutes of their arrival time, a drop of 4.3 percentage points from the previous four-week period.

The fact that more than one in ten trains failed to meet the industry’s five-minute target angered Labour, who said passengers were fed up with ScotRail’s “shoddy service”.

A service actually being “on time” is defined by the more stringent criteria of arriving at the station early or within one minute of the advertised arrival time.

When this more rigorous measure was applied, the official data shows that the big city stations are struggling to provide a punctual service.

Only 53.8 per cent of trains arrived within a minute of their booked time at Edinburgh Waverley. There was a similar pattern at Glasgow Central, where only 54.1 per cent of trains arrived on time and at Glasgow Queen Street, where the figure was 55.8 per cent.

Inverness fell in the same category, with just 55.6 per cent of trains arriving on time. Dundee (61.3 per cent) and Stirling (62.3 per cent) were little better.

Among the problems identified by ScotRail for the four-week period were signalling failure, train failure, points failure, a broken rail and track circuit failure.

Scottish Labour’s transport spokesperson Neil Bibby said: “Passengers are fed up with the shoddy service they are receiving from ScotRail, which led to an improvement plan being submitted more than two months ago.

“Commuters will be astonished to discover that hundreds more trains have been late and performance has plummeted since that improvement plan was presented.

“The deal with Abellio to run the ScotRail network was described as ‘world-leading’ by the SNP. But passengers and rail workers are fast losing confidence in the SNP Transport Minister Humza Yousaf.

“With winter around the corner, passengers deserve less spin and more substance from the SNP, with a guarantee they will see improvements to the punctuality and reliability of services in the coming months. The clock is ticking for Mr Yousaf.”

Last week Nicola Sturgeon faced calls to sack Yousaf following the chaos caused by an engine breakdown between Waverley and Haymarket stations in Edinburgh. This blocked one of the busiest arteries on the network, bringing numerous services to a standstill and bringing chaos to commuters.

A total of 225 trains – one in ten – were cancelled. ScotRail issued an apology, as did Sturgeon when she was challenged on the disruption by Labour’s Kezia Dugdale at First Minister’s Questions.

The First Minister also repeated her threat to strip Abellio of its contract to operate ScotRail if the situation continued to deteriorate.

The pressure mounted on Yousaf when Aslef General Secretary Mick Whelan called for his resignation as transport minister. The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) said it “may be time” for Yousaf to “consider his position”. Yousaf has defied their calls saying he would “definitely not” step down.

When challenged about their performance figures, ScotRail pointed out that autumn and winter were traditionally more difficult for rail operators than spring and summer.

ScotRail said a better indicator of overall performance was provided by looking at the situation for the whole year. ScotRail compiles a rolling annual average figure of trains arriving within five minutes of their advertised arrival time. ScotRail’s target is to achieve 90.3 per cent for the network. The current figure stands at 89.8 per cent.

A ScotRail Alliance spokeswoman said: “Passenger journeys have increased by 30 per cent over the last decade. Over 93 million journeys a year are made on our railway and around nine out of 10 trains run to time. Scotland’s railway is among the most punctual in the UK at 89.8 per cent, compared to 87.9 per cent for operators in England and Wales. We are going through the biggest change and improvement in our railway infrastructure since the Victorian era. That upgrade to our track is being matched by what we are investing in our fleet. Our largest ever train improvement programme will deliver new and better trains, with more seats and customer benefits like enhanced wi-fi and at seat power sockets.

“All of this will take time. While we are working on it, we will do everything we can to minimise disruption and to keep people moving.

“However, there is no doubt that we need to deliver better punctuality and reliability. Our Performance Improvement Plan contains 246 individual actions to make things better, every single day.”

A spokesman for Yousaf said: “We know the rail service has work to do – which is why we are monitoring ScotRail’s performance on a daily basis to make sure that people and businesses see improvements in the service. 

“Our plans will see £5bn invested by 2019 to deliver major track and station upgrades, provide new and refurbished trains to increase capacity by 23 per cent, at the same time as capping fares to make sure rail travel remains affordable for business and for commuters.”