ScotRail’s overcrowded trains nightmare may be prolonged after fears were raised that a new fleet to ease the crush will be delayed.
Roomier trains to make long-distance travel between Scotland’s cities more comfortable may now arrive at least three months late.
The train operator has struggled to provide enough carriages to cope with rising passenger numbers, with lack of seats now travellers’ number one complaint.
A fleet of 27 High Speed Trains (HSTs) are due to start operating on routes between Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness in 18 months’ time.
They will cut journeys by several minutes but can’t reach their 125mph top speed because of speed limits.
The fleet will supplement new Hitachi electric trains which are expected to enter service on Central Belt routes from late next year.
However, the 40-year-old diesels could be held up by delays to the electrification of the Great Western Main Line in England for new Inter Express Programme (IEP) trains, which would have freed them up.
Industry sources said the delays could mean the trains not carrying passengers until summer 2018.
They could also could lead to the full fleet taking longer to reach ScotRail.
Modifications will need to be made to carriages for passengers with disabilities, followed by some three months of driver training.
Angel Trains, which owns the fleet, has admitted “timescales are being revised” for the trains to undergo a £40 million refurbishment from next autumn in preparation for their ScotRail use.
The Great Western Railway trains are even older than the HSTs used by Virgin Trains on its London to Aberdeen and Inverness services.
However, they are renowned for their reliability, and have much more space aboard than the Class 170 and Class 158 trains they will replace.
It is understood ScotRail would dig its heels in to prevent any of those trains being transferred south before the HSTs arrive, leaving it with a shortage.
The operator is also anxious nothing threatens its plans to run an extra 200 trains a day from 2018, in the biggest rail expansion in Scotland for a quarter of a century.
Angel Trains spokeswoman Rebecca Gudgeon said: “Given the anticipated delays in the electrification on the Great Western Main Line and the introduction of IEP trains, all parties are working collaboratively to revise the above timescales to meet the aspirations of all.
“Ultimately, the final arbiters will be Transport Scotland and the Department for Transport.”
However, the Scottish Government agency, which controls the ScotRail franchise, was uncompromising.
A spokeswoman said: “We have not agreed to any change to the planned introduction of HSTs in 2018. Of course, we would wish to assist with problems in England where we can, but the interests of Scottish passengers must remain our priority.”
A spokesman for the ScotRail Alliance, which includes track body Network Rail, said: “This new fleet will play a huge part in our work to transform rail travel in Scotland.
“We have a contract for their delivery, which we would expect to be honoured.”