Shape of Scotland’s railways revealed but ministers want control

After a lengthy public consultation, the Scottish Government has outlined its plans for the next ScotRail franchise, but has called for legislative changes that would allow the franchise to be publicly-owned in the future.

Announcing that the current franchise will be split, with the operation of the overnight Caledonian Sleeper service between Scotland and London spun off into a separate franchise, Scottish transport minister Keith Brown said that the Scottish Government maintained its aspirations to bring control of ScotRail back into public control. However, this was “still stifled by the powers held at Westminster”.

He added that the Scottish Government would “continue to campaign for full control of our own railways as we will then be able to do so much more”.

Brown’s comments echo those of Alex Neil, Scotland’s infrastructure and capital investment secretary, who wrote to transport secretary Justine Greening last week, calling it “perverse and verging on the ridiculous” that state-owned rail operators from Europe can bid for UK rail franchises while home-based public bodies cannot.

Brown announced that the main ScotRail franchise will commence in 2014 with a 10-year contract that will include a five-year break point. The separate sleeper franchise will be let at the same time with a contract that is expected to last for up to 15 years.

The Scottish transport minister said that he was determined to “see a 21st century rail service for Scotland” and that over £3bn will be invested in Scotland’s railways during Control Period 5 between 2014 and 2019.

The operator of the main ScotRail franchise will be expected to improve journey times, increase reliability and roll-out wireless internet connectivity and smart ticketing across Scotland. Communities will also play an influential role in the franchise via Community Rail Partnerships.

“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 synchronise with local buses and ferries and that infrastructure is in place to connect up train and cycle journeys,” said Brown.

“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.”

Some of the more controversial elements of Transport Scotland’s Rail2014 consultation have been abandoned, including the appointment of different operators for “commercial” and “socially necessary” parts of the network, station closures and the withdrawal of cross-border rail services from England north of the central belt.

 

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