Transport unions have backed Scottish Labour’s calls for ScotRail to be brought back into public ownership ahead of Wednesday’s vote in Holyrood.
Scottish Labour has tabled a debate urging the Scottish Government to strip Abellio of the ScotRail contract by 2022, a move which has been supported by the bosses of three transport unions.
More than 74,000 ScotRail trains have been cancelled since Dutch firm Abellio began running the franchise in April 2015, an average of 47 per day – figures Scottish Labour argues reflect a “miserable service” for passengers.
Wednesday’s debate on the ScotRail franchise seeks to commit the Scottish Government to not renewing the contract with Abellio, instead bringing train services into public ownership.
However, Abellio has warned that any change of franchise would result in “massive upheaval” and create uncertainty for passengers and staff.
Scottish Labour’s transport spokesperson Colin Smyth said: “It is clear that the absolute mismanagement of Scotland’s railways has led to anger among passengers, transport staff and the unions that represent them.
“The SNP promised a world-leading deal when they handed Abellio the Scotrail franchise but instead passengers have been hit by delays and cancellations, increased rail fares and a loss of confidence in the company and government’s ability to manage our railways.
“It’s time the government ended this failing franchise and for once put passengers before profits.”
Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ trade union Aslef, said: “We were stunned when the SNP, as a nationalist party, previously combined with the Tories to vote down the earlier call to re-nationalise the railways in Scotland, and so maintained their reputation as a party of privatisation.
“Now is the time to put that dogma aside and support Labour’s call in the interest of the travelling public, who have had enough.”
The TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes argued that “Scotland deserves, and must have, a public railway”, describing the current experience for ScotRail passengers as a “shambles”.
Mr Cortes said: “Time and again our union has called on Michael Matheson and Nicola Sturgeon to get a grip – and month after month the travelling public are served a diet of poor performance.
“It’s simply not good enough and the only thing which would address this appalling situation is getting the privateers off our railways, ending this franchise and taking it back in-house.”
RMT general secretary Mick Cash, said: “Abellio has brought devastation to the Scottish rail network with a catalogue of failures which has severely affected both the travelling public and the workforce.
“Passengers are losing out with regular cancellations, delays and disruption.
“RMT members working for ScotRail and Scotland’s passengers are paying the price of privatisation.
“The Scottish Government already has a public sector operator of last resort in place to take over the failing Abellio ScotRail franchise – our message from the protest will be: stop messing about and get on with it.
“ScotRail is in crisis – Abellio is not fit to run the franchise and this mismanagement has led to a serious deterioration in working conditions across the organisation.”
Managing director of Abellio UK Dominic Booth said: “Scotland’s railway needs stability and not the upheaval a change in the franchise would bring about.
“We have delivered more services, more seats, more jobs and more investment at less cost to the taxpayer.
“Abellio ScotRail has also invested an additional £20m to improve our performance and we are on track to deliver the remedial plan commitments made to Transport Scotland.
“Scottish Labour’s motion threatens not only the long term vision for Scotland’s railway, it creates uncertainty for thousands of staff and 100 million passengers across all of our communities.
“Any change would be far more costly to the taxpayer and will fail to deliver the benefits of this once-in-a-generation investment.”
A spokesman for Michael Matheson said: “Labour’s hypocrisy on this issue is astonishing – they have consistently blocked the right for a public-sector body to bid for a rail franchise.
“It was the SNP who won that right and, meanwhile, Labour has just handed the contract for rail services to a private sector firm in Wales.
“It’s essential that responsibility for our railways rests with the Scottish Parliament so that we can meet the needs of commuters.
“The only common-sense approach is for Westminster to hand over control of the rail infrastructure to the Scottish Parliament.
“We urgently need control of Network Rail to be devolved – allowing a joined-up, coherent approach to transport, rather than leaving our railways in the hands of the Tories.”