Posted 22nd June 2012 | 8 Comments
Future of Scottish rail services set out
THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT has revealed its plans for the next ScotRail franchise, which are being described as a '£5 billion overhaul'.
After a lengthy public consultation, the government has decided to offer a ten year franchise starting in 2014, which will have a five-year break point.
Caledonian Sleeper services, which are to benefit from a £100 million investment, will be let separately under a contract which is expected to last for up to 15 years.
The plans have been announced by transport minister Keith Brown, and 'will also ensure attractive and affordable fares, support growth in freight and demand better integration of rail services with buses, bikes and ferries'.
There will be investment both across and outwith the central belt, including the completion of electrification of the main Edinburgh-Glasgow Queen Street line and improvements on the main lines to Inverness and Aberdeen.
Electrification of other routes will continue at the rate of 100km a year, while wi-fi and smart ticketing are also on the agenda. Many fares will continue to be regulated.
Mr Brown said: "I particularly want to see a fully-integrated transport network to improve connections across Scotland and the new franchise will demand that operators ensure rail timetables synchronize with local buses and ferries and that infrastructure is in place to connect up train and cycle journeys.
“I am calling on the industry to work together to deliver high quality, reliable and resilient services in a way which maximises value for money for rail users and taxpayers.
“Increasing rail travel is vital to this Scottish Government’s key objectives of supporting economic growth, protecting the environment and improving links between Scottish communities and their access to employment opportunities."
The Rail2014 consultation which led up to this announcement had gained some notoriety for some of the more extreme options which had been included.
These abandoned proposals included the appointment of several operators to serve different parts of Scotland, the closure of some little-used stations or those which are close to an alternative railhead and the withdrawal of cross-border services from England north of the central belt.
Ideas like these attracted a blast of public criticism, and ministers were quick to distance themselves from most of them, even while the consultation was still in progress.
Transport Scotland, the government agency responsible for managing Rail2014 and also the next contracts, defended the inclusion of the more extreme options.
A spokesman said: "When we extended the present franchise to 2014 we were criticised for the absence of consultation. So it was decided to lay out a wide range of ideas this time, and to consider all the options with the aid of public feedback. The options in the consultation did not necessarily represent ministerial policy, because the results of the consultation were needed to help decide that policy."
But the announcement has come against a background of discontent at Holyrood about how much freedom the Scottish Government has to decide the future of the railways north of the border.
Ministers preceded the main announcement by calling for a change to the 1993 Railways Act, which presently allows a foreign state-owned railway to bid for the next ScotRail contract but excludes a publicly-owned body based in Scotland or indeed anywhere in Britain.
In spite of the widespread consultation, there is some discontent elsewhere too. RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said:
“This plan is a mess. The lifting of the indemnity that allows train operators to force industrial action knowing that the taxpayer will foot the bill is only being reviewed and not scrapped and the splitting away of the sleeper services on a separate 15 year franchise will leave it wide open to asset stripping, exploitation and potentially it could be run into the ground.
“The Scottish Government are wrong to complain that they can’t examine the publicly-run option under duress from the British Parliament and the EU – East Coast runs in the public sector so why not ScotRail?"
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