The Scottish Government has put plans in place to run the railways as an “operator of last resort” if ScotRail’s performance fails to improve, the transport secretary has confirmed.
Michael Matheson said the current Abellio ScotRail franchise could be terminated if it fails to deliver on the remedial plan it was issued with earlier this year.
He said ministers had “ongoing plans in place” in case the Scottish Government needs to step in.
Mr Matheson said: “We have ongoing plans for putting in place the provision for operator of last resort, we’ve got various contracts with consultants and agencies who would support us in delivering that if that was necessary.
“We have arrangements and contracts in place that if we had to employ an operator of last resort we would be in a position to be able to do so.”
In February, ministers handed ScotRail its second improvement notice in less than two months after passenger satisfaction plunged to its lowest level in 15 years.
Mr Matheson told MSPs on Holyrood’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee the rail operator was making “good progress in a range of different provisions that were set out in the remedial plan”.
But he cautioned: “Some of the benefits that will come from the remedial plan will take longer to be delivered, purely because of the complexity of these issues.
“The recruitment of an extra 55 drivers is not something they can do overnight, it takes time for them to go through the recruitment process, the training process and to get route knowledge.”
He stressed the “consequences of failing to deliver on the remedial plan and to get out of breach is very serious for the franchise plan holder”.
The transport secretary said this could result in ministers terminating the franchise “which would allow us to employ operator of last resort”.
Mr Matheson was giving evidence to MSPs a week after ScotRail boss Alex Hynes told the committee a review planning for major events was taking place after passengers faced significant disruption to services at Edinburgh Waverley last month.
He said the disruption experienced by passengers then was “completely unacceptable” as the rail service was “overwhelmed by the demand that was placed on it”.
The minister added: “We need to look at what lessons can be learned from the events that particular evening.”
Hundreds of passengers were crushed while fights broke out amid chaos on train services to and from Edinburgh last month.
Rail users travelling from Waverley and Haymarket were left stranded due to the dangerous overcrowding.
Scotland played France at Murrayfield and it was the last weekend of the Edinburgh festivals, causing services to be busier than normal.