NETWORK Rail Scotland is being probed by the transport regulator as it emerged that it is responsible for two in three of the delays which has seen ScotRail forced to settle 65,000 successful claims from passengers in nine months.

Managers of Scotland's railways came under fire after official figures revealed that ScotRail were having to pay out up to 15,683 'delay repay' claims a month over the nine-month period between January and September this year.

The taxpayer will now bare the brunt of the claims estimated by industry figures to come to at least £1m as publicly owned Network Rail is expected to compensate ScotRail for issues they were responsible for.

While ScotRail bore the brunt of criticism and apologised for their performance, figures produced by the rail regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) seen by the Herald show that over the year to October 13, 61% of 'delay minutes' affecting ScotRail were blamed on Network Rail, the nationalised body that manages the infrastructure, such as the tracks and the signals. A further nine per cent were caused by another operator, while one in three delays were laid at the door of ScotRail.

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And now the ORR has that they are "holding Network Rail Scotland to account for delivery of its regulated performance targets" saying that the public body's performance was under "close scrutiny".

The new figures also reveal nearly half of delays to the Scotland to London Caledonian Sleeper were blamed on Network Rail.

The rail regulator has launched action against Network Rail requiring improvements over performance across the UK or face fines after the punctuality and reliability of Britain’s train services slumped this summer.

The ORR said problems in implementing the new timetable in May, as well as extreme weather, had contributed to the worst performance since 2014, possibly breaching Network Rail’s licence conditions.

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It has given the public sector body that manages Britain’s rail infrastructure three months to take action and report back on how it will improve.

Figures released last month put ScotRail's performance level at its lowest since Dutch firm Abellio took the franchise leading to Scottish Parliament calls for nationalisation. They showed 81.8% of services arrived within five minutes of scheduled time between 16 September and 13 October.

ScotRail's moving annual average for punctuality has also hit a franchise low of 87.5% - below the regulatory target of 92.5%.

Punctuality failures in Scotland attributed to Network Rail rose by 51% over a year. Failings blamed on Network Rail’s management of the network rose by 56%.

It has further emerged that the ORR has commissioned an Independent Reporter to investigate its concerns about the speed in which Network Rail Scotland has implemented recommendations from the Nick Donovan independent review of performance commissioned by the ScotRail Alliance - the partnership involving train operator Abellio ScotRail.

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A new report into the performance of Scotland's railways from the ORR says says officials have seen evidence to suggest "failings" in Network Rail’s underlying performance management capability from a series of industry reviews and "our own deep dives” into particular routes undertaken in the last two years.

"These concern Network Rail’s approach and commitment to performance planning and its capability to recover services following incidents on the network, working with train operators," the ORR said.

ORR said issues in 2018/19 on Scotland's railways had been affected by "significant weather events" and that Network Rail Scotland said that problems implementing the May 2018 timetable change affected cross border services which in turn impacted services in Scotland.

ORR said: "If targets are not met we must investigate further to determine the extent of Network Rail’s accountability."

Scottish Liberal Democrat transport spokesman Mike Rumbles MSP criticised ScotRail’s “dismal” performance over payments for delays. Later a Liberal Democrat spokeswoman said it was recognised there were wider issues.

HeraldScotland: Mike Rumbles MSP

The development comes two weeks after calls for the Scottish Government to end the franchise run by Dutch operator Abellio. Scottish Labour which called for the debate lost a vote on whether to enact a break clause in the franchise.

With the support of unions, the party has campaigned for the nationalisation onf railway services in the country at the earliest opportunity.

Dutch operator Abellio began a 10-year contract to run the franchise in 2015, although the Scottish Government can exercise an opportunity in 2020 to end the franchise by its first expiry date in 2022.

Mr Rumbles said: “The volume of delay repay claims ScotRail had to pay out this year is astonishing. It shows just how dismal rail performance and punctuality has been.

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“This only accounts for those who go through the process of applying for a refund. There must be many thousands more who have been similarly inconvenienced but not claimed.

“Passengers just want trains to be reliable and value for money but recently they’ve been getting neither. The Transport Secretary must address the catalogue of errors that are holding up Scottish passengers.”

Andrew Haines, Network Rail chief executive, said: “We know that train performance has not been what our passengers deserve. We have let them down and we take responsibility for the part we have played in poor train service reliability.

“Network Rail is fully committed to leading the industry back to higher levels of performance both through our own measures and actions and by working closely with our industry partners. In Control Period 6 (CP6) as well as delivering our commitments to improvements we will accelerate devolution to hand greater power and accountability to our routes, enabling us to work closer together with train operators and deliver better services for passengers.

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“We are pleased that the ORR has acknowledged the progress we have made in preparing for CP6, including by establishing workbanks, securing network access for planned engineering works and building up maintenance resources.”

A ScotRail spokesman said: “At the heart of our work is providing the best service for our customers and our delay repay guarantee is an important part of that. We know how much of an inconvenience it is to customers when things don’t go to plan and it is only right that they are compensated when that happens.

“We know that our performance has not been good enough in recent months and we are sorry to our customers for the impact this had on them. We are doing everything we can to deliver the more punctual service that customers rightly expect.

“Everyone at the ScotRail Alliance is working flat out to deliver the best railway Scotland has ever had. Our timetable improvements in December will deliver faster journeys, more seats and better services.

“The introduction of high-speed trains and our new Hitachi class 385 electric trains, as well as major infrastructure improvements will enable the delivery of the enhanced timetable.”

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Commentary

Dr John McCormick,

Chairman of the Scottish Association for Public Transport

The performance of ScotRail does appear to be below average. The money for these delays should come from Network Rail to ScotRail if the delay is actually caused by infrastructure problems. One of the issues that seems to causing a lot of trouble is the signalling system and if you add that to the occasional train breakdowns, it is certainly effecting reliability for train users just now.

In a couple of weeks the new electric train timetable is going to be coming in and by that time, ScotRail should have more trains. They are a bit short just now. So I would hope that the train situation gets slightly better.

But I think we have to focus on Network Rail actually sorting out some of the infrastructure problems that are compounding any other issues.

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They do have a new [chief operating officer] appointed recently and I hope he gets a grip of some of these signalling problems and if necessary buy some new signalling equipment to replace what is causing the trouble just now.

Most of the problems are caused by infrastructure problems overseen by Network Rail, which is why this propaganda about nationalising ScotRail is a diversion. Because that does not address the actual problem, which is that the equipment under Network Rail seems to be failing at the moment, more often than it should be.

Those that are advocating nationalisation should be advocating sorting out the issues with the railway infrastructure.