Scotrail to go Dutch
Aberdeen-based FirstGroup have lost the Scotrail franchise to a publicly-owned Dutch company Abellio, Transport Minister Keith Brown announced today.
Measures by the new operator include a new approach to cycling with more than 3,500 parking spaces and bike-hire at a number of stations, 23 per cent more carriages across the network, reduced fares for jobseekers and advance fares of £5 between any two Scottish cities. The company has also committed to paying its staff the living wage.
"Abellio has come up with some truly innovative ways to make rail even more affordable, such as the £5 intercity fare anywhere in Scotland and reduced ticket prices for jobseekers and those newly in work, as well as a Price Promise for guaranteed best value fares," said Brown.
Abellio currently runs Merseyside Rail and Northern Rail, which it took up in 2003 and 2004 respectively.
First Group has expressed disappointment the contract was awarded to an overseas company.
In a statement Tim O’Toole, FirstGroup’s Chief Executive, said: "Our bid would have delivered even greater levels of service and growth, and we are disappointed we will not have the opportunity to implement the credible plans we submitted, building on our record of improvement across every measurable score, for the benefit of ScotRail's passengers and employees.
“We shall continue to operate First ScotRail until the new franchise commences on 1 April 2015. Until that time we will deliver further enhancements to trains and stations including further free Wi-Fi and continue important work to enable the extension of smart ticketing across the whole country and the opening of the Borders Railway next year.”
Scottish Labour’s Infrastructure spokesperson James Kelly MSP said the decision was a "total failure of leadership" by not waiting to see what new powers would be given to Scotland, which may have allowed the railways to be returned to public hands. "In awarding the ScotRail franchise to Abellio, Keith Brown has decided that the profits from Scotland's railways should be used to invest in lower fares and better services in Holland rather than here at home," he said.
Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie MSP said it was “ironic” to have another country’s national railway company taking over Scotland’s trains. “There's huge public appetite for bringing rail back into public hands. We need an assurance from the Transport Minister that the optional five year break in the Scotrail franchise will allow for a Scottish public sector operator to bid, assuming power is devolved from Westminster to allow it,” he said.