Minister tells MSPs 'ScotRail has learned lessons'
Transport Minister Humza Yousaf has told MSPs that "ScotRail has learned lessons" following a series of problems on Scotland's railways.
In an emergency statement at Holyrood, he apologised to rail passengers who have been affected by disruption.
It came on the day commuters faced severe disruption after overhead wiring problems affected services in Glasgow.
ScotRail declared a major incident after finding a broken insulator between Partick and Glasgow Central.
The rail operator said the issue caused disruption and cancellations between Glasgow Central and Dalmuir, Milngavie and Maryhill.
There has been widespread criticism of the reliability of ScotRail trains since Abellio took over the franchise.
Abellio has said the terms of the contract meant government ministers were responsible for overcrowding on the network.
In the Scottish Parliament, Mr Yousaf admitted that ScotRail's performance was not "up to scratch" but he said it was higher than the UK average.
He also outlined a series of actions and investments Scotrail will make.
They include an earlier commuter service between Inverness and the central belt, which will begin in mid-December, and the addition of carriages to peak services on the Borders Railway in a bid to reduce overcrowding.
The minister said: "Everyone rightly expects a railway network that operates effectively. So when things go wrong I fully understand the dissatisfaction of passengers and the inconvenience that is caused.
"Although there are no guarantees major failures won't happen, I give my reassurance that ScotRail has learned lessons and is far better prepared for contingencies, including communication with passengers, when such incidents do take place."
He added: "I know about the work that is required and the service that is to be delivered. I am taking action and a plan is now in place. This government has a track record of delivering for our railways and it is my firm intention that we will continue to do so."
In his statement, Mr Yousaf also highlighted:
- Acceleration of £16 million over two years to upgrade key junctions, track and signalling equipment;
- A £5 billion five-year programme to 2019 to transform the railway;
- An extra 200 carriages by 2019: 50% more carriages than in 2007;
- 70 new electric trains from 2017 providing up to 40% extra seats at peak times on the main Edinburgh -Glasgow route;
- £475m for new trains and modernising the current fleet to improve reliability and comfort;
- £14m of which is investment in improving the reliability and comfort of the class 158 diesel fleet, serving much of rural Scotland;
- refurbishment programme underway across 90% of our existing trains;
- increased focus at major stations on prompt departures;
- measures put in place to reduce skip-stopping during peak times.
ScotRail was ordered to produce a performance improvement plan in September after punctuality and reliability fell below the expected standard.
At Holyrood, the minister faced calls to publish the plan in full from Liberal Democrat Mike Rumbles.
Mr Yousaf agreed to speak to ScotRail about its publication in the interests of "accountability and transparency".
Scottish Labour's transport spokesman Neil Bibby said the rail service has become worse since the improvement plan was demanded.
He added: "His handling of the rail crisis has seen him fall out with Abellio, Network Rail and the transport unions.
"Humza Yousaf claims he's not a transport expert - and he's right. Humza Yousaf must ditch the spin and publish his 246 point improvement plan in full."
Murdo Fraser, of the Scottish Conservatives, said it was time the government started taking responsibility for the railways' poor performance.
The latest performance data showed 86% of ScotRail trains were on time or less than five minutes late between 16 October and 12 November, with wide variations in reliability across the country.
ScotRail's figures remained better than the average for all UK train operators - with the company also enjoying better than average customer satisfaction figures when the latest data was published earlier this year.
But Abellio's contract to run the ScotRail franchise requires the company to ensure 91.3% of trains arrive within five minutes of schedule.
The Scottish government can cancel the contract if performance drops to 84.3% for three months in a row.