DUTCH rail firm Abellio is expected to be named tomorrow as winner of the next £2.5 billion ScotRail franchise, industry sources have told The Scotsman.
The offshoot of Dutch national railways will take over the Scottish Government’s biggest contract to run most of the country’s trains for ten years from next April.
Current operator FirstGroup had been among five shortlisted bidders, along with National Express, Arriva and Hong Kong operator MTR.
Abellio operates three rail franchises in England, including Merseyrail and Northern Rail, which it jointly runs with Serco, which will run the Caledonian Sleeper - also from April.
One source said: “It’s 100 per cent Abellio”.
Another said: “They have been out and about with an air of confidence. All the talk has been about them.”
The firm have been the most mentioned of the five bidders in industry circles pretty much since the shortlist was announced last November.
Abellio was also the first to announce its interest in the franchise a year earlier, when UK managing director Dominic Booth said its experience and “enormous pool of expertise” well positioned it to run the franchise.
He added: “Northern Rail in particular shares many of the characteristics of the ScotRail service.”
ScotRail has seen a boom in rail travel since the current franchise started ten years ago, with passenger numbers increasing by one third to 87 million in the year to March.
This is expected to continue to grow with further rail expansion, such as the re-opening of the Borders line next September, and longer and faster trains on the main Edinburgh-Glasgow route from 2016-19.
The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency would say only that transport minister Keith Brown will make a “major transport announcement” at Waverley Station in Edinburgh tomorrow morning.
General Secretary Mick Cash of the RMT said the deal should not have been struck until negotiations over further powers for the Scottish Parliament were complete.
“It is scandalous that just a few weeks after the referendum, and promises from all quarters that the Scottish people would have an increased say in every aspect of their lives, that the continued privatisation of Scotland’s railways has been bulldozed through with the SNP colluding with the political elite in Westminster to deny the opportunity for this franchise to be brought back into public ownership.
“There is no question that this whole franchising process could and should have been halted, pending the ratification of the post referendum devolution settlement, instead of rushing headlong into a deal that will deny the Scottish people ownership and control of their railways for many years to come.
“Scotland could have taken control of its own railways, instead they have opted to go Dutch, meaning that profits will be sucked out of the system to underpin investment and fares in Holland. It is a disgraceful and shameful betrayal of the Scottish people and makes a mockery of promises made both before and immediately after the referendum vote. RMT will continue the fight for public ownership with every means at our disposal. “