A MAJOR upgrade of the ScotRail fleet has got underway in a move which will see 180 extra carriages added to the fleet within three years.

The largest-ever improvement programme will overhaul two thirds of existing stock by 2018 to give passengers more access to wifi and at-seat plug points, along with the delivery of brand new trains from 2017.

Rail bosses said the £475 million revamp would deliver thousands of extra seats, improved accessibility and enhanced facilities for commuters.

By the end of the process, three quarter of the ScotRail fleet will be either new or fully refurbished.

HeraldScotland: ScotRail Alliance MD Phil Verster and Transport Minister Derek Mackay. Free wifi is to be rolled out to an extra 346 trains over the next three yearsScotRail Alliance MD Phil Verster and Transport Minister Derek Mackay. Free wifi is to be rolled out to an extra 346 trains over the next three years

Transport Minister Derek Mackay signalled the start of the overhaul with a visit to Milngavie railway station in East Dunbartonshire, where he joined ScotRail Alliance managing director Phil Verster to unveil one of the first newly-refurbished Class 318 trains.

All 21 of ScotRail’s Class 318s are being fully refurbished inside and out, with new accessible toilets, wheelchairs spaces and companion seating. Further enhancements will also see power sockets fitted for the first time, with cycle storage, CCTV and free wifi to follow next year.

These trains are used on various Strathclyde routes linking Balloch/Milngavie/Dalmuir to Airdrie/Cumbernauld/Lanark/Larkhall via Glasgow Queen St and Glasgow Central Low Level.

In addition, ScotRail will roll out an extra seven Class 320 trains between early 2016 and August next year to increase capacity across the network. The refurbished three-carriage trains, leased from rolling stock company Eversholt, will also be used on routes in the Greater Glasgow region.

It comes after demand for ScotRail stock was squeezed by the launch of the highly popular Borders Railway in September and the temporary closure of the Forth Road Bridge for repairs which ramped up commuter numbers of ScotRail's Fife-Edinburgh routes.

HeraldScotland: Rail bosses also promised more cycling spaceRail bosses also promised more cycling space

Transport Minister, Derek Mackay, said: “The Scottish Government wants to see more people choose to leave their car at home and make use of public transport. That is why we are investing a record £5 billion in our rail network, including significant improvements to rolling stock, to ensure that infrastructure keeps pace with demand and that Scotland’s rail passengers are offered the very best value for money.

“When completed, this major train improvement programme will mean that 75 per cent of trains on our railways are either brand new or newly refurbished, meaning all passengers across the network will have access to more modern, comfortable and accessible trains.”

From the second half of 2017, the first of 70 brand new trains will also be launched on the flagship commuter route between Glasgow and Edinburgh. The Hitachi 385 electric trains will be built at Hitachi's Kasado factory in Japan and its new manufacturing site in Durham, England, and gradually introduced between autumn 2017 and December 2018.

The Class 385s AT200s will be used on a number of Central Scotland routes including Edinburgh Waverley-Glasgow Queen Street, with trains of up to eight carriages expected to be used.

Meanwhile, ScotRail will also take delivery of 27 full refurbished high-speed trains in the second half of 2018. These will be used on various inter-city routes including Glasgow-Aberdeen and Edinburgh-Inverness.

As this fleet is made up of four and five-carriage trains, rather than current three-carriage trains, the seating capacity will typically increase on these services by more than a third.

Mr Verster said: “I know that one of the biggest issues concerning our customers is busy trains. I hope, with the programme we are announcing today, people will see we are taking action."