THE decision to hand a ten-year contract for running most of Scotland’s trains to Dutch firm Abellio was today condemned as a missed opportunity to take services back into public hands.
Transport Minister Keith Brown today announced the £2.5 billion ScotRail franchise had been awarded to Abellio, an offshoot of the Dutch national railway, who will take over from current operator FirstGroup in April next year.
But rail union RMT described the move as a “disgraceful and shameful betrayal of the Scottish people” and said the franchising process should have been put on hold until the issue of extra powers for Holyrood had been settled.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “It is scandalous that just a few weeks after the referendum, and promises from all quarters that the Scottish people would have an increased say in every aspect of their lives, that the continued privatisation of Scotland’s railways has been bulldozed through with the SNP colluding with the political elite in Westminster to deny the opportunity for this franchise to be brought back into public ownership.
“Scotland could have taken control of its own railways. Instead they have opted to go Dutch, meaning that profits will be sucked out of the system to underpin investment and fares in Holland.”
Abellio currently has three UK rail franchises – Northern Rail, Merseyrail and Greater Anglia.
Its Greater Anglia services were at the centre of adverse publicity in the summer with complaints about commuters facing “nightmare” journeys on hot, crowded and severely delayed trains.
During one seven-day period in July, it was estimated the company cancelled 49 trains and announced 1896 hours of delays. Despite the complaints, Abellio Greater Anglia reported annual footfall grew by 500,000 in 2012-13, reaching 7.5 million.
FirstGroup said it was proud of its success in operating ScotRail and pointed out it had been named just last week as Rail Operator of the Year.
FirstGroup chief executive Tim O’Toole said: “We have kept our promises and more for ten years, delivering record levels of service. 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.”