THE Scottish Government has cut short the contract for running Scotland’s railways after years of complaints about the service provided to passengers.

The 10-year ScotRail franchise with Dutch-owned firm Abellio will now end three years early in March 2022 instead of 2025.

HeraldScotland: Camley's Cartoon: Abellio contract ended early.Camley's Cartoon: Abellio contract ended early.

Transport Secretary Michael Matheson told MSPs his officials considered continuing the franchise to its full term would not deliver value for money.

However he acknowledged some passengers would see it as "an early Christmas present".

Services will continue with Abellio working to its existing franchise conditions until 2022.

Mr Matheson said: “Our rail network is of significant social, economic and environmental value to the people of Scotland, and Ministers must ensure that the services we secure are high performing, financially sustainable and offer value for money.

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“We currently provide around two thirds of the running costs for our railway and it is essential that this is sustainable going forward. Our record investment in rail is already delivering more seats, more trains and more stations.

“Any changes to the level of subsidy paid by the government must deliver new benefits for passengers and taxpayers and whilst there have been improvements in recent years, the proposed changes were not sufficient to justify additional subsidy.

“Of course, the Scottish Government must plan for the future of our rail services, beyond 2022 and work is already underway to examine the options open to us in this regard.

“Longer term, this Government has already made clear its position that the current franchising regime, which is a matter reserved to the UK government, has failed and it is widely accepted that the rail industry, as a whole, must embrace reform.

“The best way to deliver this is through the transfer of all rail powers, which would allow us to work together to find the right solution for our railways in future – properly integrated and fully aligned with the public interest and Scottish Government policy.”

The current franchise agreement requires Scottish Ministers and Abellio to revisit the level of government subsidy provided for the remaining five years of the contract to determine whether additional subsidy should be paid, a process known as “rebasing”.

Mr Matheson said that after careful analysis of the information provided by Abellio ScotRail, Ministers had decided that a significant increase in Government subsidy proposed would not secure delivery of commensurate benefits to passengers, communities and the economy.

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Ministers had therefore served a “No Rebasing Notice” on Abellio ScotRail, informing them the contract was coming to an early halt.

Mr Matheson said the franchise would probably go back out to public competition, a process which could include a public sector bidder such as CalMac.

However, he said his preference would be for Holyrood to have full power over the rail network so that it could abolish franchising and let the public sector run the contract.

He also the Williams Review of rail might overhaul the current franchise system.

Labour MSP Colin Smyth said the Scottish Government had "caved" to pressure from other parties and passengers.

He said: "For years Scottish Labour have campaigned to end Abellio’s shambolic spell in charge of Scotland’s railway. Twice Scottish Labour have forced votes on Abellio’s control of Scotrail and time and time again we have been voted down by the SNP, ably supported by the Tories.

“We are glad that the SNP have finally swallowed their pride and listened to what Scottish Labour has been calling for.

“What we now must know is if the Scottish Government intend to make a serious public sector bid for control of ScotRail or whether our railways will be flogged off once more to a foreign-based private company, focused only on profit.

“Nothing less than a publicly owned rail system will do to ensure that the people of Scotland can have the cheap, efficient and reliable public transport they deserve.

“For years we have campaigned for Abellio’s contract to be torn up in the face of tough opposition from the SNP and the Tories. We are proud they have finally decided to listen to Labour and do right by the people of Scotland.”

Scottish Green MSP John Finnie MSP said: “Scottish Greens welcome the decision to bring an end to the Abellio ScotRail franchise. Delays, cancellations and overcrowding have occurred far too often on Scotland’s railways in recent years.

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“The Scottish Government must now ensure that a robust public sector bid is in place so that our railways can be run in the public interest in future, rather than for private profit as now.

“In light of noises coming from down south that the UK Government intends to attack hard won rail workers rights, it’s also vital that Scottish Ministers engage with trade unions at every step of the process in developing the next franchise, to ensure workers’ rights are at the heart of future ScotRail services and that there is no attempt to roll out driver-only operation.”

LibDem MSP Mike Rumbles said: "I very much welcome this decision to end Abellio’s contract. It’s not up to the job.

"The Liberal Democrats have been calling for this move for some time.

“Passengers are sick to the back teeth of the poor service that has been provided by this company.

"Overcrowding, endless cancellations, stop skipping and delays have gone on too long.  

“The government must now take action to make sure that there is stronger protection for customers in the future franchise agreement. They also need to look carefully at including more break points in the new contract to ensure there is a much better chance to correct poor performance earlier on. The Transport Secretary cannot repeat the same mistakes.”