UNION leaders have called on ministers to "stop the excuses" and commit to taking ScotRail into public ownership.

Rail union RMT says the Scottish Government should utilise its existing powers and put Scotland’s rail passenger services under state control immediately.

It comes ahead of a statement in the Scottish Parliament expected on Wednesday at which the Scottish Government is expected to set out its plans for the ScotRail franchise when the contract with Dutch transport firm Abellio ends in March 2022.

At the end of 2019, ministers announced it had been stripped of the franchise three years early in the wake of continuing outcry over service failings.

It came after a 2018 winter timetable with the introduction of high-speed trains and new class 385 electric trains ushered in months of cancellations and disruption to services with much of it put down to staff shortages partly due to training to deal with the new trains and timetable.

HeraldScotland:

Flashback to the 2018/19 winter problems.

ScotRail was forced to submit a plan by February, 2019, to address falling performance levels which, if unsuccessful, could result in a breach of contract and lead to Abellio losing the franchise early.

Earlier this week, the Cabinet Secretary Michael Matheson stated the Scottish Government’s intention to extend Abellio ScotRail’s Covid Emergency Measures Agreement until March 2022 when the current franchise expires, and said it was "looking at several different options" post March 2022.

RMT said it believes that the "only plausible option" is for the Scottish Government to take its rail passenger services into public ownership, something it is able to do under current legislation.

"This is the only way to create an affordable, accessible, and sustainable rail network for Scotland," it said.

"Prior to the pandemic, the Abellio ScotRail franchise was providing neither value for money nor an acceptable service for Scotland’s taxpayers and passengers.

"The Scottish Government initiated a break clause in the franchise due to spiralling costs.

"It would therefore be completely illogical if the Scottish Government sought to extend the Abellio franchise post March 2022."

"In its statement in the Scottish Parliament tomorrow, the Scottish Government must unequivocally rule out extending the Dutch state owned Abellio’s ScotRail contract past March 2022, and instead commit to utilising its existing powers to take the ScotRail franchise into public ownership once and for all."

The long-awaited publication of the UK Government-commissioned Williams Review of the rail industry franchising will form the basis of a Government White Paper and reform package that Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris has pledged to publish “as soon as possible”.

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In February, Labour MSP Colin Smyth the transport secretary Michael Matheson asked him at the Scottish Government's connectivity committee: “Am I right that under no circumstances will you extend the current Abellio franchise beyond March 2022?

Mr Matheson replied: “No, we will not. We have already made it clear that the franchise will come to an end next year.”

HeraldScotland:

But when asked at the committee last Wednesday whether the franchise would be extended, he said: “We are looking at several different options and I intend to update Parliament before we go into recess on what approach we will take in March 2022.

"That’s in some degree dependent on what’s in the white paper.”

Abellio took over from FirstGroup after the Aberdeen-based company had run most Scottish rail services for some 10 years. The 10-year deal was worth up to £6 billion.

The decision triggered a political row, with unions and Labour condemning the award to an overseas company rather than the Scottish-based firm.

RMT general Secretary Mick Cash said: “Scotland’s railway has a key role to play in a green recovery from Covid-19 and it is absolutely vital that the rail network is reliable, accessible and provides good value for money for Scottish taxpayers and passengers. This can only be delivered through public ownership of Scotland’s rail passenger services.

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“The Scottish Government already has the powers it needs to take its rail passenger services into public ownership, yet it keeps finding excuses not to do so.

“As the Welsh Government has already shown, the delayed publication of the UK Government’s Williams Review does not prevent the Scottish Government using its existing powers to take its rail passenger services into public ownership.

“In its statement to the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, RMT is demanding that the Scottish Government explicitly rules out extending the Abellio ScotRail contract past March 2022, and instead sets out how it will take Scotland’s rail passenger services into public ownership.”