Scotland politics

Nicola Sturgeon 'committed' to fixing ScotRail problems

scotrail train Image copyright PA

Nicola Sturgeon has insisted she is "absolutely committed" to fixing the problems on Scotland's railways.

The first minister was responding to claims by Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale that ScotRail passengers were "paying more for a shocking service".

Ms Dugdale said services across the country were regularly cancelled, delayed or overcrowded.

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that passengers had the right to expect services that ran on time.

And she said it was "absolutely incumbent" on operator Abellio, which was awarded the ScotRail franchise in 2014, to deliver services that met those expectations.

'World leading'

Keith Brown, the Scottish government's transport minister at the time, described the contract with the Dutch firm as "world leading" and predicted it would "deliver for rail staff and passengers".

But Ms Dugdale said figures released earlier this week showed that a third of all routes in Scotland had services that were late more often than they were on time.

Services have also been hit in recent months by industrial action by the RMT union in a dispute over driver-operated doors that has now been resolved.

The new statistics were raised at First Minister's Questions by Ms Dugdale, who said the Scottish government's cap on rush hour rail fairs had increased by four times more than average commuter earnings since 2011.

Image caption Nicola Sturgeon (left) was questioned on the issue by Kezia Dugdale in the Scottish Parliament

Ms Dugdale said Abellio was making £1m profit every month from ScotRail, and suggested the franchise "might be working for the transport bosses, but it's certainly not working for commuters."

She added: "I doubt commuters on the morning train from Dundee to Edinburgh or North Berwick to Edinburgh or the nightly commute from Cumbernauld to Dalmuir would agree that Scotland has a world-leading contract, or indeed that the expectations of the public are being met.

"Those who travel by train to their work every day are paying more for a shocking service and Scottish commuters are fed up of the first minister's excuses.

"This is her responsibility - when is she going to do to get things back on track?"

Ms Sturgeon responded by saying the Scottish government had requested an improvement plan from ScotRail on 26 August, which the rail operator had delivered on 16 September, and that the government was "absolutely committed to working with ScotRail to deliver a quality service to passengers".

'Our responsibility'

The first minister added: "I don't think anybody listening to this exchange will have heard me making excuses. What I have said is it is our responsibility, working with ScotRail, to make sure that quality service is delivered.

"That is exactly why the transport minister has been taking the action that he has been taking and it is why we continue to invest significant sums of money in the rail network to make sure that responsibility is discharged

"I do not quibble at all about Kezia Dugdale's right to come to this chamber to raise these concerns. I understand the concerns of the travelling public but my job, and the transport minister's job, is to get on with fixing the problems, not just to carp from the sidelines."

Abellio replaced Aberdeen-based FirstGroup as the ScotRail operator after promising to invest millions in improving services.

The contract is worth up to £6bn over the ten years from April 2015, with a provision for the government to cancel it at the halfway point if Abellio - a subsidiary of the Dutch national rail company Nederlandse Spoorwegen - fails to meet its obligations.