Scottish Conservatives claim nationalised ScotRail will become ‘CalMac on wheels’

ScotRail’s takeover by the Scottish Government on Friday could turn it into “CalMac on wheels”, Scottish Conservatives transport spokesperson Graham Simspon has told MSPs.

Challenging Nicola Sturgeon over the merits of the switch at First Minister’s Questions, he said: “We know the SNP is no good at running things – you just have to look at the ferries for that.

"Given that fiasco, rail passengers should be worried that ‘Nat-rail’ will turn out to be CalMac on wheels.

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"Rising fares, service cuts and ticket office closures – what part of that is an improvement?

ScotRail returns to public ownership on Friday - exactly 25 years after it was privatised. Picture: John Devlin

However, Ms Sturgeon described the change of ScotRail control from Dutch state railways offshoot Abellio as a “very significant milestone” and a “historic moment”.

She said ScotRail fares were on average 20 per cent cheaper than in England.

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The First Minister said improvements had already been made, such as new stations being opened across the country since 2009, with five more to follow over the next three years at Reston, East Linton, Cameron Bridge, Leven and Dalcross, near Inverness Airport.

She said a “national conversation” would be launched later in the spring for staff and passengers “to contribute to the future vision for Scotland’s Railway [ScotRail and track owner Network Rail] and “help shape this new beginning for ScotRail”.

ScotRail was privatised on April 1, 1997 with National Express winning the first post-British Rail franchise, followed by Aberdeen-based FirstGroup.

Passengers will see virtually no immediate changes from Friday other than Abellio signs being removed from trains and stations.

ScotRail follows LNER in being transferred to public hands after the cross-Border operator was taken over by the UK Government following the collapse of a franchise with Virgin Trains led by Perth-based Stagecoach.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) said it would hold a “day of action” in Glasgow on Friday “to call on the Scottish Government to create a properly-funded rail operator that delivers for passengers, communities, and workers”.

It said ministers “must ensure its new public sector operator breaks with past notions that rail jobs, services and ticket offices should be cut in pursuit of ‘efficiencies’”.

The union said this “sustained” investment was essential to help persuade people from cars to rail to meet the Scottish Government’s climate change targets.

General secretary Mick Lynch said: “As ScotRail enters public ownership, something RMT has long campaigned for, the Scottish Government now has the opportunity to break with the past and instead recognise the central role ScotRail has to play in meeting its climate change targets and invest in creating an affordable, accessible, reliable and improved rail network.”

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association, which represents ScotRail office staff, it would mean “Scotland’s railway can finally be run in the public interest”.

General secretary Manuel Cortes said: “We must ensure any decisions made in the future are made in the public interest.

"That’s why I’m calling for the new board of ScotRail to have passenger, local authorities and workers representatives on it.”

Transport minister Jenny Gilruth said: “Bringing ScotRail passenger services under public control and ownership puts passengers and staff at the heart of Scotland’s rail services.

“This is an opportunity to deliver a railway which is for the benefit of the people of Scotland and everyone who travels by rail – customers, staff and stakeholders, not shareholders."

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