ScotRail to be given more time to run Scotland’s trains following West Coast fiasco

SCOTRAIL is to be given more time to operate Scotland’s trains because of uncertainties caused by the west coast main line franchise fiasco, The Scotsman has learned.

• ScotRail deal to be extended by between four and seven months

• Separate Caledonian Sleeper contest ‘to proceed’

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• Deal coincides with Government report on West Coast fiasco

Transport minister Keith Brown is expected to tell MSPs today that Aberdeen-based FirstGroup will be given between four and seven months longer in charge of the Scottish Government’s largest contract, worth some £2.5 billion.

It has run ScotRail since 2004 and has already received a three-year extension to 2014, which provoked anger from Labour and the unions because of a lack of consultation before the deal was signed.

The competition for the next franchise to run ScotRail, which carries more than 81 million passengers a year, was due to be launched early in the New Year, but it is now expected to be postponed to await any changes to franchising made by the UK Government after it was forced to abandon the west coast process following major errors in assessing bids by FirstGroup and Virgin.

The ScotRail announcement is due to coincide with the UK Government publishing a full report into the west coast debacle and confirming that Virgin will continue to run the franchise from Sunday for an extra 23 months pending a new competition for the contract.

However, it is understood that a contest to run ScotRail’s Caledonian Sleeper trains to London as a separate operation for the first time will proceed as planned so ministers can ensure there is sufficient interest from bidders - otherwise it could be lumped back in with the main ScotRail franchise.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The transport minister will be making a statement to Parliament this afternoon on issues of interest to rail passengers and those who provide our rail services.

“We look forward to expanding on the detail in the chamber, once Parliament has been notified in the appropriate way.

“It would be inappropriate to speculate on the detail of the statement before the minister addresses Parliament.”