FERRY operator CalMac has confirmed its interest in taking over the running of Scotland’s railways.

The publicly-owned firm said it was keen to open discussions with the Scottish Government around submitting a bid for the ScotRail franchise.

David McGibbon, chairman of CalMac Ferries, said detailed talks had yet to take place, but revealed the company had already “indicated” to Transport Scotland it wanted to discuss the matter further.

He said: "We've not had detailed conversations but we've indicated to Transport Scotland that we are willing to talk.

"We have indicated our interest in having a discussion with Transport Scotland about the possibility of us operating a rail service."

It comes after it emerged Scottish ministers were considering the "Caledonian MacTrain" bid as they look to take over the £2.5 billion franchise.

ScotRail’s current operator Abellio has repeatedly come under fire over its performance, receiving record-breaking fines for falling short of targets.

Transport minister Humza Yousaf is preparing a public sector bid to take over the railways, with state-owned CalMac said to be one of two favoured options – the other being to set up a new company entirely.

Dutch-owned Abellio has repeatedly said it would have "no problem competing with a public bid".

A Transport Scotland spokeswoman said an announcement on a future bid for ScotRail would be made in the next few weeks.

She said: “Our consistent view over many years is that there ought to be a level playing field between the private and public sector in bidding for rail franchises. 

“It is vital that we take the time to think through the various scenarios as ministers want to enable a competitive public sector bid which offers best value for the public purse while delivering continuous service improvements.”

CalMac bosses were giving evidence to Holyrood’s rural economy committee, where they also revealed the company had spent six years looking for new vessels to replace its ageing stock.

Meanwhile, delays to two new ferries under construction at Port Glasgow mean they will not come into service until this winter.

CalMac manager Robbie Drummond said there was not a “high expectation” that new ships would be found that suited the shallow depths of Scotland’s waters.

He added: "But we will continue with that process because there may be one emerging, in which case that may offer a shortcut to providing some additional resilience.

"The most likely and obvious way to bring resilience in is to build more vessels for the future."

Mr Drummond apologised for recent disruption caused by repairs to one of the firm's major vessels, the MV Clansman, and the lack of any spare ships.

He said the disruption was the worst in eight years, with repair work due to continue for another 10 days.

He said: "I would like to sincerely apologise to all of our customers for the inconvenience that's been caused.

"We care deeply about our communities and we do understand the economic impact on island residents and businesses, and we are very sorry for the recent disruption.

"Communications have not always been as quick and accurate as we would have liked. It's not an easy place for us to be at.

"It's an uncomfortable situation we do not want to be in. We have no relief vessel available to provide cover."

Mr Drummond said booming demand across the network had also added to problems, with traffic growing by 37 per cent over the past five years.

He insisted lessons had been learned from the recent troubles including the need to improve communication and replace the ticketing system, but warned "some impact on the service is likely" as vessels age.

Green MSP John Finnie said islanders were “crying out” for a better ferry service.

He added: “Ferries provide lifeline services to island communities and support the hugely important tourist trade and it’s therefore astonishing the number of cancellations caused by mechanical breakdowns.

“Every reasonable person accepts that any transport systems can experience delays and cancellations, but this number is completely unacceptable and I will continue to press the company and ministers to demonstrate that improvements are being made.”

Bruce Williamson of transport campaign group Railfuture said there was no reason why CalMac couldn’t take over the operation of Scotland’s railways.

But he argued the company may need to draft in a rail partner to provide the necessary expertise to ensure a smooth service.

A ScotRail spokesman said: “We are investing £475 million in Scotland’s railways, the biggest investment since the Victorian era delivering more seats and faster journey times and better stations for passengers.

"These improvements are part of our plan to build the best railway Scotland has ever had and we fully expect to see this work through to completion when the franchise expires in 2025.”