MSPs have called for tougher rules on late trains in Scotland. Currently, train services are allowed to arrive up to ten minutes after scheduled times before they are considered late. However, the Scottish Parliament’s infrastructure committee says this threshold could be reduced to just one minute.
The committee has been looking into the state of train services and says the current regulations are causing headaches for passengers. Local trains are currently considered on-time if they arrive within five minutes of their scheduled time, and this increases to ten minutes for long-distance journeys.
The Holyrood committee said in a report that train operators are already planning for right-time scheduling. However, the committee considers the thresholds don’t adequately reflect the inconvenience and difficulties to passengers who are on trains arriving late but still within in the regulated threshold. Therefore, they recommend that the thresholds be reduced, and if necessary, it should be done on a phased basis. They recommend trains be considered on time only if they arrive within one minute of the scheduled time.
This report comes before the £1.5 billion contract to run Scottish rail services expires in mid-2014. The seven-year contract was won by FirstGroup in 2004 and was one of the biggest awarded by Scottish ministers. It has since been extended for three years, which was a controversial decision at the time. In the latest figures revealed by Network Rail for April, First ScotRail trains were 98.1% on time, while East Coast trains were 86.4% on time.
In regard to the next franchise, the committee says that it must ensure value for money is provided in line with the McNulty Report. It said there’s a strong case for a longer franchise period and suggests a ten-year contract with a three-year extension. The committee also concluded that fare and ticketing structures need to be more simple, and it’s not convinced that the railway network in Scotland will represent better value for money if the franchise is split into several contracts.
It’s also been warned by MSPs that the Scottish government is limited in the changes it makes due to the way the rail industry is operated throughout the UK. SNP MSP Maureen Watt, the convener for the infrastructure committee, said that the passenger underpins all actions in relation to the future of Scottish rail services. Travellers don’t care so much about how the franchise is run, as long as they get value for money, frequent services, a seat and on-time services.
A spokesman for the Scottish government said they are thoroughly dedicated to encouraging more people to use public transport. Their record investment in the rail network is evidence of this, he added. Labour infrastructure spokesman Richard Baker said they should look at new ways to run rail services, as well as consider private sector models.
Railfuture Scotland chairman Donald MacPhee has welcomed the moves to improve train services. However, he warned that the proposed system may still cover up delays. A train may be late for many passengers en route from Inverness to Edinburgh, but in theory, it could still arrive on time in Edinburgh because its reaching its destination only one minute behind schedule.
Meanwhile, MSPs are also calling for a review of prices after revelations that Scottish passengers are paying one-third more for fares and taxes than the rest of Europe. The McNulty Report found that fares in the UK are about 30% higher than elsewhere in Europe, while taxpayers are paying 30% more at the least.
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