Minister slams poor, ‘unacceptable’ train times

The train now arriving ... is almost as likely as not to be unpunctual. Only 57 per cent arrived bang on time last year.  Picture: Iain Georgeson
The train now arriving ... is almost as likely as not to be unpunctual. Only 57 per cent arrived bang on time last year. Picture: Iain Georgeson
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MINISTERS have ordered urgent improvements to the “unacceptable” performance of Scotland’s two main rail firms, The Scotsman has learned.

Rail regulators have also criticised the record of track firm Network Rail and train operator ScotRail, with the government concerned about the impact on passengers.

ScotRail’s punctuality has slid by 2 per cent since last year, with 88.3 per cent of trains arriving within five minutes of schedule in the month to 9 November, according to the official industry measure.

However, figures for “right time” arrivals – within one minute of the scheduled time – showed only 57.6 per cent of trains were punctual over the last year, a figure that has dropped by 2.2 per cent since April.

A spokeswoman for Transport Scotland said transport minister Keith Brown had met the firms this week, when he “informed both parties that recent performance has been unacceptable and must improve as a matter of urgency.

“He was assured the industry is working collaboratively to do so and all steps are being taken to ensure rail passengers across Scotland get the quality of service that they rightly deserve.”

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) said performance had deteriorated over the last seven months after a year of punctuality improvements.

It said the performance of Network Rail, which was responsible for the majority of ScotRail delays, had got worse.

Causes included track faults which had forced speed restrictions, especially on the Stirling-Alloa line and routes north of Inverness.

It emerged last month that the Alloa line will have to be largely rebuilt just five years after it was opened because track had moved out of shape after being laid on soft ground.

And the ORR reported that improvement work to fix the problems had been delayed by a shortage of drivers for engineering trains.

The regulator said: “These cancellations will make it difficult for Network Rail to recover the position in the short term.

“Network Rail is carrying out a lot of work and analysis and we have asked it to produce an improvement plan to demonstrate how it will recover the situation.”

The ORR said delays caused by ScotRail were nearly 22 per cent worse than the company’s target, mainly due to train faults.

Watchdog body Passenger Focus said punctuality was travellers’ number one priority.

Passenger manager Robert Samson said: “This will come as no surprise to those passengers who have had to suffer delays.

“Passengers tell us punctual trains are what they want most from the railway, and recently performance has been mixed.

“Scotland’s services suffered a decline in performance from last year. This needs to be reversed, with the revised punctuality targets set by the regulator being met.”

A Network Rail spokesman said: “Scotland is traditionally a high-performing route and last year we bettered the punctuality target set by the ORR, so we not only understand, but also share, concerns over the recent drop in performance.

“We have put in place plans to improve performance and are working alongside ScotRail, and others in the industry, to reduce disruption to passengers as much as possible.”

A ScotRail spokeswoman said: “Instances of fleet defects continue to reduce. We remain focused on improving services for customers so that factors beyond our control – such as passengers taking ill on trains and vandalism to train doors – have less of an impact.”