Nicola Sturgeon has warned ScotRail it is in “the last chance saloon” after a string of angry complaints from MSPs about its rotten performance.

The First Minister said the Dutch-owned Abellio, which has held the 10-year franchise to run most of Scotland’s trains since 2015, could be stripped of the deal if it fails to improve.

The Scottish Government issued ScotRail with a second “remedial plan notice” last month after it missed its passenger satisfaction targets because of delays and cancellations.

The train operator is now finalising a remedial plan to address the problems.

This will then become a binding “remedial agreement”, meaning that if ScotRail fails to deliver on it, it would constitute an “event of default” on the franchise.

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Ministers would then be entitled - though not obliged - to end the franchise early.

An existing break clause allows the franchise to be withdrawn in 2022.

Mr Sturgeon’s comments followed SNP MSP Christine Grahame, whose seat covers the Borders railway, describing a “meltdown” on the service on Sunday.

At FMQs, she asked Ms Sturgeon whether, in light of “travel chaos” on the line, she considered the ScotRail franchise continued to be “sustainable”.

Ms Sturgeon said she was disappointed passengers faced an “unacceptable” number of cancellations due to staff training, and said ScotRail was working on a remedial plan.


Ms Grahame said the cancellations had continued since Sunday.

She said: “The plan might be delivered. But that doesn’t deliver trains. Plans don’t drive trains. Isn’t it time that the Scottish Government told ScotRail-Abellio it’s in the last chance saloon? I certainly think so, and so do my constituents.”

The question was greeted with applause from Labour MSPs who want Abellio to be stripped of the ScotRail franchise.

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Ms Sturgeon said: “ScotRail should treat a remedial plan very much as a last chance saloon. That’s the very nature of it. ScotRail has been left in doubt that its recent levels of performance, particularly in the Borders and Fife have been completely unacceptable.

“We’ve used contractual mechanisms contained with the franchise agreement to require the remedial plan, and ScotRail will publish its performance remedial plan on its website shortly.

“The commitments in the plan have been contracted as a remedial agreement. In the event ScotRail does not achieve improved performance or fails to deliver on its contractual commitments, it does of course run the risk of having the franchise terminated early.”

Tory MSP Rachael Hamilton read a letter from a constituent who said they were “genuinely surprised” when the Borders service was on time, and problems caused “significant stress and anxiety because of lateness at work” and fines for collecting their child from nursery.

She said hundreds of commuters were “experiencing transport hell” and urged Ms Sturgeon to intervene and personally oversee the remedial plan.

Ms Sturgeon made it clear she would not intervene.

She said: “The transport secretary will oversee that, because it is part of his responsibilities. However, as First Minister, I, too, will obviously retain a very close interest in the matter.”

Green MSP Mark Ruskell also asked: “Does not the First Minister believe that it is time that she personally stepped in to take charge of the ScotRail crisis?”

She said: “Those who are charged with and remunerated for the responsibility of running our railways are the ones who have to get that right. They have a responsibility to do so and to begin immediately to deliver the improvements that passengers want. That is what the remedial plan will focus very much on.”

“ScotRail must address the reasons for the dip in its performance - at least, those that are within its responsibility—and we expect it to do so very quickly.”

Earlier, Transport Secretary Michael Matheson was also pushed by MSPs on Scotrail.

Labour MSP Claire Baker revealed ScotRail managing director Alex Hynes had recently told a public meeting in Fife that the peak-time service would remain impaired until December.

She said commuters were being badly let down by an “appalling service”.

Former SNP minister Annabelle Ewing, who represents Cowdenbeath, said he constituents were “absolutely fed up with ScotRail’s Fife circle service”, calling it a “mess”.

Mr Matheson said: “We are now at the advanced stage of entering into that remedial agreement with ScotRail to ensure that it is effectively implemented and addresses the concerns of her constituents. We will announce more details of that in the coming days.”

A ScotRail spokesperson said: “Everyone at ScotRail is working flat out to deliver the quality of service that our customers expect and deserve.

“Our most recent period of performance is also very encouraging and shows that the investment we are making in Scotland’s Railway is delivering significant improvements.

“We know there are still areas where we need to improve and we will work closely with Transport Scotland to deliver those improvements.”