Nicola Sturgeon asks Scots to trust her with trains as Govt takes control

1 April 2022, 19:41

Nicola Sturgeon marking the moment Scotrail become nationalised.
Nicola Sturgeon marking the moment Scotrail become nationalised. Picture: Alamy

By Gina Davidson

Nicola Sturgeon has said it is up to the Scottish Government to prove that public ownership of Scotrail is a good idea as the rail company was re-nationalised.

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Scotland's First Minister said taking the trains back into state control after 25 years of the private sector running Scotrail was a "significant moment" but admitted there was a lot of work to do to gain public trust that the service would improve.

Dutch firm Abellio had run the trains since 2015 before being stripped of the contract after years of complaints.

Speaking to LBC during a visit to Glasgow's Queen Street station, she rejected suggestions that the ferries fiasco had any cross-over with how the trains would be managed.

The two vessels being built to serve islanders in the nationalised Ferguson Marine shipyard are five years late and more than double the cost at £240m - with some suggestions that could rise to £400m before they set sail.

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"I'm not seeking to diminish the very real, serious problems with the delays and cost over-runs on the ferries but I do think that it is an over-simplicity trying to read across," she said.

"Firstly, nationalisation of the Ferguson shipyard hasn't caused the problems with the ferries, on the contrary, nationalisation has been part of trying to resolve the problems with the ferries. Secondly, there are some unique challenges there [with the ferries] that can't simply be read across to the railways.

"But that said we have a duty now the railways are in public ownership to demonstrate to people that it brings advantages not just in the principle of public ownership but the practical experience of that as well."

She said changes would not come "overnight" but that more direct ownership by ministers will make addressing issues easier - including decarbonising the railways to meet net zero targets, which also meant making rail travel more attractive in its convenience and cost.

On fares, Ms Sturgeon stressed that they were 20 per cent lower in Scotland than in England, but added: "Affordability of travel on our railways is important and I think it's an important part of what we want to do through public ownership.

"This is one of the key issues that we need to take forward. Obviously, we need to marry that up with the issues around service provision, reliability and accessibility of services, and also the consideration around the change to travel patterns that have come from the pandemic."

Pressed on whether she would always keep rail fares lower than the price of taking journeys by car, Ms Sturgeon said she had no power over the cost of petrol, and that a review of fares will be undertaken in the coming months with the results to be outlined before the end of the year.

Unions also celebrated the public ownership move, and RMT Scotland director Mick Hogg said: "No longer will there be private shareholders receiving dividends or any profits from Scotland's railway, so in that sense we believe there is a great opportunity for Scotland's railway to receive the proper investment that it deserves."

But the Scottish Conservatives stressed the need for change to be felt across the rail network for the project to be a success.

Tory transport spokesman, Graham Simpson, said: "We need to start to change things otherwise what's the point in all this? We need quick action because, at the end of the day, we want to encourage people to start using trains, we want to get people back on the trains and out of their cars."

To celebrate ScotRail being welcomed into public ownership, up to four children will be able to travel with an adult for free on Scottish trains this weekend.

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