Scotland politics

Call for improvement as ScotRail improvement plan published

Humza train Image copyright PA
Image caption Transport Minister Humza Yousaf said he wanted to see "immediate improvement" in rail services

Scotland's transport minister has called for "immediate improvement" in rail services as a major improvement plan for ScotRail was published.

Humza Yousaf said passengers "deserve better" train services, but insisted that "improvements are being made".

There has been criticism of train services since Dutch firm Abellio took over the ScotRail franchise in 2015.

Managing director Phil Verster said he was "determined" to "deliver a railway of which Scotland can be proud".

The Scottish government has come under pressure from opposition parties about the level of services and details of the improvement plan, which has now been published.

It includes measures to improve punctuality and reliability through a series of local and nationwide programmes, from infrastructure developments to "performance workshops" for managers and staff about running services on time.

Mr Yousaf, who visited Waverley Station before speaking at a rail conference in Edinburgh, said there was an "improving picture" in terms of performance.

He said he was "delighted" that the improvement plan was being published, hoping for "immediate improvement in the performance from ScotRail".

He said: "I understand passenger frustration. The standards that they expect are not being met and the standards that I expect ScotRail to meet are not being met either. So, I understand their frustration but improvements are being made here and now.

"Improvements are being made, I want to continue to see them made, bearing in mind that there will be disruption.

"I can't as transport minister promise that there will never be disruption because of train failure or track failure or weather disruptions, but we're doing what we can to improve the situation because passengers and commuters certainly deserve better than the standards they're experiencing just now."

Image copyright PA
Image caption There has been concern over the reliability of ScotRail trains since Abellio took over the contract last year

Opposition parties have repeatedly questioned the government over the level of services, with Labour saying the "clock is ticking" for Mr Yousaf.

Transport spokesman Neil Bibby said the publication of the plan was "two months late", adding that "in that time the full scale of the SNP's mismanagement of the railways has been exposed".

He said: "This January, rail fares across Scotland are due to rise once again and the service passengers have been receiving hasn't been good enough. After weeks of misery on Scotland's railways, passengers deserve a break. That's why we're calling for a fare freeze in 2017."

Tory finance spokesman Murdo Fraser said: "It's quite clear that the fleet of trains we have right now are struggling to cope with the demands of thousands of passengers and that delays, cancellations and disruption will continue to be a regular feature of our railways until they are overhauled.

"Ultimately it is the responsibility of the SNP government as the client to ensure that we have a rail system fit for purpose. We need to know what sanctions will be applied if the 249 action points in this document are not met."

Mr Yousaf has apologised to passengers and suggested services could be taken into the public sector in future, warning Abiello that the franchise contract could be reviewed.

The plan was published on the same day as improvements to train infrastructure were unveiled in Edinburgh, in the form of new couplers which allow trains to be linked and separated more quickly.

Phil Verster, ScotRail Alliance's managing director, said the latest investment was "another milestone achievement in our overall train improvement programme", which "sees £475m spent on refurbishments and new trains for Scotland's railway".

He added: "We are going through the biggest improvement in our railway since the Victorian era and this investment in our rolling stock is another significant signal of our determination to deliver a railway of which Scotland can be proud."

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