Posted 22nd August 2018 | 9 Comments

ScotRail under fire over Harris report and HSTs

A NEW report which advocates leaving ScotRail as a franchise has come under fire, while the arrival of the first HST for ScotRail has also angered a union leader.

The report, called ‘Scotland on the right track’ was commissioned by ScotRail’s operator Abellio and written by former Labour transport minister Tom Harris.

His conclusions are based on a survey carried out by Mark Diffley Consultancy and Research. More than 1,000 passengers were questioned about their priorities for the railway in Scotland, seeking their views on such matters as crowding on trains, fares, staff numbers and the condition of stations.

Even so, half of those who responded said that ‘spending more on bringing railways into public ownership’ was among their top three priorities.

When the report was launched in Glasgow, Tom Harris said he was frustrated by the extent of support for nationalisation, and praised the benefits of the present system. Statistics from the ORR show that in 2016-17 the Scottish government subsidised ScotRail by £247 million, and that each passenger kilometre travelled on ScotRail was subsidised on average by 20.7p.

Mr Harris said: “It would be expensive, childish and counter-productive to dispense with the clear and indisputable benefits of private sector involvement in our railways, without which we would not have experienced the renaissance we have seen.”

The report and its conclusions have met a bleak response from TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes, who said: “The fact that Abellio have commissioned this research is a sign of how desperate they have become to cling on to ScotRail, regardless of the cost to the Scottish people.

“The report fails to make any convincing case for privatisation. The improvements to rail services this century are largely down to Network Rail – which the last Labour government nationalised. All Harris does is claim that everything good on the railways is down to the TOCs and everything bad is down to factors outside their control. If Abellio can’t run an efficient railway on a 45 per cent subsidy then they should hand back the keys.”

Meanwhile, Mr Cortes was also among those who have criticised the arrival of HSTs in Scotland, as a ‘make do and mend’ solution.

The first set arrived on 18 August.The eventual fleet of 26 cascaded sets will consist of 17x5-car and 9x4-car formations, and they will be used to provide intercity services within Scotland, connecting a total of seven cities.

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • dave barry, wallasey

    Cortes has made a typical trade union comment to an innovation in regard to HSTs. Trade unions were once useful but now they are just dinosaurs......they were wiped out as superfluous !

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    Criticism of class 800's in comparison to HST's is probably quite justified. But the basic concept seems to have been dreamt up by someone at DfT in the first instance.

    There is now not much differencc between the current Whitehall controlled passenger railway and the old BR in terms of what is public sector and what is private - a railway commentator uses the phrase "pretend capitalism" to describe the situation.

    The only part of the modern railway that appears to be genuinely private sector is railfreight. Would the 800's ever have seen the llght of day if the TOC's had been able to make their own choices ?

  • Douglas, Edinburgh

    The Class 43 sets have proven to be both iconic and reliable over the last 40 years so what is Manuel Cortes' issue?

    Granted they are not modern, and diesel locomotive isn't the most eco-friendly option however in the absence of wholesale electrification in Scotland the EMU/DEMU option isn't viable for the seven city programme (at the moment)

    Surely if nothing else the MK3 carriages having slam door opening removes the TSSA's fear around door closure?

    So while not a step forward in terms of modernisation a definite positive in running our railway's now

    [The refurbished Mk3 HST trailers no longer have slam doors, as our earlier report of 20 August ( explains.--Ed.]

  • Steve, Kuwait City

    Down South, we needed a modern HST, diesel only, using tried and tested technology. What we have in the 800/802's is extremely intimidating (ridiculous bright lighting), uncomfortable (HUNDREDS of complaints already on various other websites about spinal nervous system damage over longer distances), and according to one industry insider on a local website, half a fleet of trains with neither the power or fuel capacity to fill in for the other half throughout the network, should there be a shortfall, which there was on DAY TWO of these new trains being in service in the west country. Congratulations, private sector, you ballsed up again by being 'involved'.

  • Steve, Hants

    Just wondering: when did Mr Cortes make his "make do and mend" statement? Was it in connection with the Harris report?
    [We understand it was in connection with the first arrival of a refurbished HST for ScotRail, but the Harris report did turn up the gas a little.--Ed.]


    HST 125 's are simply the best diesel electric trains ever to run on British Rail. Only equalled by Virgin Pendolinos, however the Pendolinos require overhead electric wires.

  • Garth, Dunkeld

    Mr Cortes is not a reliable source about HSTs, and seems to know little about rail comfort. As a former member of the TSSA, he would do much better to represent his members rather than engage in such criticism. The HSTs are known as probably the most comfortable trains to have been designed and built in the UK for more than 50 years.
    I certainly look forward to being able to use HSTs regularly.

  • Neil Palmer, Waterloo

    Typical union response. Scotrail obtains refurbished trains better than what they currently had to run those services and all they can do is complain. Has a union leader EVER said anything positive about the railways? If not maybe they're in the wrong line of work, as like it or not that's what[pays their members wages, and therefore their own pay.

  • Colin Redman, Rugby, Warwickshire

    So, has Manuel Cortes sampled a refurbished HST set? No. Therefore proffering a slanted opinion on something he's not even travelled on is pure dog whistling.

    Most people seem excited by the prospect of travelling in comfortable HSTs rather than cramped and overcrowded 170s or some other sub-standard offering straight off the current production line, so his judgement is a tadge premature and at best, unwelcome.