THE newspaper headlines made grim reading for ScotRail. The Scottish Sun thundered about a “Third World” service. Passengers, the paper said, were treated “like cattle”. And it had the pictures to prove it.

Hundreds of festival-goers and rugby supporters on Saturday evening were stranded at Waverley and Haymarket stations in Edinburgh. A train had broken down, there had been a track trespassing incident and some drivers had called off at short notice.

For the Daily Record, this resulted in a “crush chaos”, for The Scotsman and this paper, it was a “shambles”.

Saturday’s events - and the resulting outrage on social media publicity in newspapers, TV and radio was a PR disaster for Scotland’s railways.

But the scenes of “Third World” chaos also showed how much inconvenience can be caused by a relatively small issue.

ScotRail’s public performance measure or PPM, its official benchmark, on Saturday was poor, at around 80%. That means roughly one in five trains failed to run, or failed to run within five minutes of their published timetable. That is performance well below target.

ScotRail last night confirmed that 83 trains were cancelled across the network all day Saturday. That is less than 4 per cent of the 2400 services scheduled. Not many, but enough to mean Waverley was jam-packed.

Nobody is exactly sure how many people were stuck at Waverley - that information is not collated. ScotRail described demand as “excessive”. Some passengers were said to be bad-tempered. But that did not spark trouble.

A spokeswoman for British Transport Police said: “Our officers were present at Edinburgh Waverly station following reports of overcrowding on August 24. They remained at the station to assist rail staff and support passengers. No offences were reported throughout.”

Small issues can cause big problems on the railways. Last calendar year ScotRail carried nearly a million fewer passengers than the year before. Last financial year its numbers flatlined - while those for its peers in England and Wales rose three per cent. Why? Extreme weather linked with climate change and major infrastructure work designed to get the cars partly to blame for global heating off the roads.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have invested an unprecedented £8bn in this rail across Scotland since 2007.

“Despite the financial pressures imposed by the UK Government, we have confidence in the future of rail.

“Through our new projects pipeline we will address the cost and delivery challenges witnessed in recent years.

“It will also give confidence to the rail supply chain, in that it assures a steady stream of work for the next five years.

“Our investment in services and infrastructure is increasing capacity and services to the highest levels in a decade – 115,000 more seats, 2400 services every weekday and over 70% of journeys are made on greener electric trains. Scottish rail passenger numbers are up 31% in the last decade.”

There are insiders who acknowledge there is a downside to so much investment happening at once. The £8bn was spent to meet demand. Is engineering work now putting people off?

The Government spokesman added: “We are working alongside ScotRail to build on these results to ensure they drive up customer service and satisfaction to where it belongs.”

Opposition parties want to renationalise. The Government suggested there was appetitive for change in the SNP too. The spokesman said: “Ministers’ biggest frustration however, has been operating with one hand tied behind their back.

“Franchising, in its current form, doesn’t work and they are clear we must use the opportunity provided by Keith William’s review of the industry as a means of delivering real and meaningful structural change in Scotland. Nothing short of full devolution of rail powers is needed.”

Scotland has grand ambitions to tackle climate change - and has set a zero-net-carbon target of 2045. The country’s electricity may be clean. Its transport is not.

How does a perceived “Third World” rail service help it meet those ambitions? And what will ministers do if the scenes experienced on Saturday evening are repeated when there is no Beast for The East or engineering work to blame?