SCOTLAND’S rail services will be brought into public ownership from next year, Transport Secretary Michael Matheson has said.
Matheson announced in 2019 that the current contract with operator Abellio would be cancelled from March 2022. The Transport Secretary said it would not be advisable to seek a successor to Abellio during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a statement this afternoon, Matheson said: “Following a detailed assessment process and given the uncertainty caused by Covid 19, alongside the continuing delays to the UK Government white paper on rail reform, I have decided that it would not be appropriate to award a franchise agreement to any party at this time, either through a competition or a direct award.
“That is why I have confirmed that, from the expiry of the current franchise, ScotRail services will be provided in public hands through a company wholly owned and controlled by the Scottish Government. This is in line with our operator of last resort duty.
“ScotRail staff will transfer to the new Scottish Government-owned entity, with their terms and conditions protected.
“This approach will provide a stable platform for ScotRail services and certainty for passengers and staff.”
Asked about the financial implications of the decision, Matheson said: “In terms of the cost of the new body, that’s a cost which will be made internally within the existing rail budget.
“It will not be an additional cost over and above what we are already investing in rail.”
He also explained that the Scottish Government is working on further Emergency Measures Agreements (EMAs) for ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper franchises from April to September because of the financial impact of the pandemic, with support estimated to cost £173.1 million.
Reacting to the announcement, Kevin Lindsay, ASLEF’s organiser in Scotland, said: “We welcome the beginning of the end of the failed franchise system here in Scotland.
“However, never again should people’s railway ever be in the hands of the privateers.
“This move starts the end of franchising and the end of a failed Tory experiment.
“It’s now for all us in the railway to build a railway that’s accessible, affordable, and safe for the people of Scotland.”
Johnbosco Nwogbo, campaigns officer at We Own It, said the news is “fantastic” for rail passengers in Scotland.
“For far too long, Scots have suffered misery on the railway at the hands of Abellio,” he said. “The Scottish Government has now put this to an end, and we can finally have a proper railway that’s run for people not profit.
“Under public ownership, we can have a railway fit for the 21st century, with proper investment, lower fares and world class infrastructure. That’s been impossible for the decades private companies have been running riot on the rail network.
“It’s time for the Westminster Government to end the rip off. It’s time for them to do the right thing. It’s time to bring the whole of the UK’s railways into public ownership.”