Publicly-run trains plan slammed

Taking Scotland's railways back into public ownership amid anger over rising fares and crowded trains would be 'childish and counterproductive', a former Labour transport minister has said.

The Scottish Government has met passenger groups, unions and political parties to discuss options for bringing Scotlands railways into public ownership. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images.

Tom Harris, a former Glasgow South MP, has rejected his former party’s call for nationalisation of the rail network, insisting it would be “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”.

But the former UK minister has come under fire from both the Labour Party and union chiefs who dismissed his report into the Scottish rail network published yesterday, pointing out that it was commissioned by Abellio, the Dutch firm that runs Scotland’s trains.

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The Scottish Government has said it is ready to back a publicly operated bid to run Scotland’s railways unless Abellio’s performance shows a marked improvement.

But polling carried out to accompany yesterday’s report – entitled Is Scotland on the Right Track? – suggests the public “in general are complimentary” about the rail network, Mr Harris said.

“There are problems, and those problems have led 
to some politically charged calls for blanket nationalisation.

“The Scottish Government should not ignore this, but also it should not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

“If it feels the need to change the franchise model, it should consider moving to a concession model where the government shoulders both profit and risk, but the private sector runs the service.

“It would be expensive, childish and counter-productive to dispense with the clear and indisputable benefits of 
private sector involvement in our railways, without which we would not have experienced the renaissance we have seen.”

Abellio has come under fire over delays, cancellations and so-called “stop-skipping”, where trains fail to stop at scheduled stations to make up lost time.

Labour transport spokesman Colin Smyth said: “A report carried out by a supporter of privatisation, commissioned by a company seeking to make a profit from privatisation, which calls for a continuation of privatisation will come as a surprise to absolutely no one.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said ministers would make an announcement about a public bid to run the rail franchise “in the near future”.