SCOTRAIL bosses blamed their commitment to crack down on trains skipping stations for a failure to hit key punctuality targets, it has emerged.

Dutch-owned operator Abellio pledged to only skip stops as a “last resort” last year following widespread passenger outrage over the controversial practice.

But new documents show it then used this as a reason to ask for punctuality targets to be lowered – insisting that requiring trains to stop at scheduled stations was leading to more delays.

Scottish Labour’s transport spokesman Colin Smyth said the “pathetic excuse is on par with telling the Transport Secretary your dog ate your homework”.

He said: “Abellio must be the only rail operator in the world that blames delayed trains on not being allowed to skip stops en route to final destinations.

“Perhaps if they spent more time on trying to improve performance levels and less time on making up excuses then passengers might actually start to see trains run on time.”

It comes after figures showed ScotRail’s public performance measure (PPM) – which takes in cancellations and trains more than five minutes late – sunk to 87.4 per cent across the last financial year, below the 92.5% target and in breach of its contract.

It is the worst annual performance recorded by the franchise under Abellio’s watch, after the firm took over in 2015.

Ministers were accused of “shifting the goalposts” last year after it emerged they had lowered key performance targets for ScotRail.

This allowed more trains to be recorded as delayed without triggering a breach of the franchise agreement, and came after a request from Abellio ScotRail.

Emails released under Freedom of Information show the operator blamed the “underperformance of Network Rail” – which owns and manages the rail infrastructure – for its failure to meet targets.

However, it also pointed the finger at “our new skip stop policy where we no longer skip stops unless there is no other option”.

In an email to Transport Scotland, it said: “It is acknowledged across all stakeholders this skip stop policy is the right thing to do for our passengers and we have seen a large decline in passenger complaints.

“However at the same time we have to acknowledge that no longer using skip stops as a service recovery tool is having an impact on PPM.”

Bosses said the policy meant that when an incident occurred, it took longer to return to normal – as trains were unable to skip stations to save time.

Trains previously missed stations to minimise knock-on delays following disruption.

As a result of the request, Transport Scotland agreed to temporarily lower the level at which ScotRail would be in breach of its targets by 1%, from 88.5% to 87.5%, a move which will last until mid-July this year.

However, it rejected ScotRail’s arguments around the impact of “skip stopping”.

A spokesman said: “This exchange is typical of the robust approach we take in overseeing the ScotRail franchise.

“In this instance we were not sufficiently satisfied of the impact of skip stopping on performance, therefore this aspect did not form part of the waiver.”

Abellio previously admitted skip stopping had been “overused”, with a report by former TransPennine Express chief Nick Donovan recommending the practice be halted except as a last resort.

Early last year it emerged the number of trains skipping scheduled stops had increased to as many as 20 a day.

The latest developments come after Nicola Sturgeon insisted Abellio is in the “last chance saloon” and could be stripped of its contract if it fails to improve.

A Network Rail spokesman said it would not comment on the specific emails, but insisted it worked with partners to drive up performance.