ScotRail has admitted it won’t finally hit its punctuality target for another two years.
But industry experts and politicians doubt that what would amount to the biggest performance improvement for nearly a decade could be achieved in that timescale.
The key measure is currently 87.3 per cent, but the train operator predicts it will reach the required 92.5 per cent by March 2021.
Such a rapid a turnaround has not been seen on Scotland’s railways since 2011/12.
ScotRail has also not achieved annual performance of 92.5 per cent since 2013.
The figure has fallen or remained unchanged every month since September 2017.
The measure is known as the moving annual average – the proportion of trains arriving at their destination within five minutes of schedule over the last 12 months. ScotRail is understood to be confident following a series of improvements to cut track and signalling fault delays.
It is also weeks away from completing the training on newly acquired trains and routes that has caused 60 cancellations a day.
However, fewer than half these 96 trains have been delivered because of manufacturing and refitting delays.
Ministers have ordered a remedial plan be submitted by next month to cut the cancellations.
ScotRail also remains a hostage to fortune from extreme weather, having suffered from the heaviest snowfall for 20 years in parts of Scotland, followed by record summer temperatures, in 2018.
Last month, a report for the Office of Rail and Road Regulator by assessors Nichols on ScotRail’s last improvement plan, raised doubts.
It concluded: “Despite the evidence of significant activity in regard to the implementation of the recommendations since the publication of the Donovan Report, there has been a further decline in performance and this raises questions about when the positive effects from implementation of the recommendations will materialise and an increased reliance on the Donovan recommendations to deliver the expected improvements against the 92.5 per cent regulated target by 2021.”
Scottish Labour transport spokesman Colin Smyth said: “The truth is this failing franchise has never met its performance target and no-one now seriously believes they ever will, even by the projection of 2020-21.”
Jamie Greene, his Scottish Conservatives counterpart, said: “In effect, this is an admission of complete failure from the SNP. They will effectively see their term in office end with ScotRail having failed to achieve its performance targets.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency said: “We fully expect ScotRail to submit a robust remedial plan that gives them every opportunity to achieve this target at the earliest opportunity.”
A ScotRail spokesperson said: “Actions from the Donovan review have been praised in the Nichols report, and these actions have seen the banning of skip-stopping except as a last resort and improvements in train reliability.
“But our performance is not where we want it to be, and as this year progresses our customers will see improvements.”