SCOTLAND needs to take control of the railway network, an independent think-tank has claimed, after it emerged more than half of all train delays are caused by problems such as faulty tracks or signalling.

More ScotRail services would be on time if the operator of Scotland’s railway infrastructure – which is currently run by public body Network Rail – was answerable to Holyrood ministers and not to the UK Government, said Reform Scotland.

Thousands of commuters return to work today after the Christmas break, with many also facing the prospect of fare rises in the new year and possible delays due to wintry weather conditions.

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Reform Scotland says 54 per cent of late-running ScotRail services in the 12 months to November 11 were caused by infrastructure problems.

Responsibility for such things as track maintenance, signalling and overhead power lines belongs to Network Rail.

The think-tank said only 37 per cent of problems were down to ScotRail, which is operated by Dutch-group Abellio, and said the current debate about whether the franchise should go into public ownership was a “meaningless distraction”.

In a new report, the Edinburgh-based think tank said it would "make sense" for the Scottish section of Network Rail to be devolved and answerable to Scottish ministers.

They said: "Reform Scotland believes that responsibility for Scottish routes should transfer to a new body directly responsible to, and answerable to, the Scottish Government.

"That body would, of course, have to work with Network Rail on cross-border rail, but the change would mean a far clearer, and more transparent, line of accountability.

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"The Scottish Government already has responsibility for the Scottish network, therefore it makes sense that the body tasked with managing that route is ultimately answerable to a Scottish Government minister, as opposed to the UK Secretary of State."

It added: "There needs to be a realisation that simply bringing Scotrail into public ownership would not make the trains run on time."

Last month analysis by the Common Weal think-tank for the TSSA transport workers union said that nationalised Scottish railways would lead to average fare cuts of 6.5 per cent across the service and could potentially lead to the same feelings of “collective pride” that the public has for the NHS.

Reform Scotland Advisory Board member and former transport minister Tom Harris said: “There has been almost constant discussion about nationalising ScotRail for years, and it continues unabated. But it is a meaningless distraction.

HeraldScotland: First Scotrail has won the West Coast Line Contract .Logo and Trains. (39882385)

“What would be interesting to explore is whether the Scottish Government could do a better job of running Scotland’s railway infrastructure than the Westminster Government. It is logical that this could be the case, which is why Reform Scotland is calling for Network Rail to be devolved.

“Scotland’s rail problems are more fundamental than the current debate would suggest. In thirty years’ time, do we really want to be in a situation where it could take less time to reach London by rail from Edinburgh than it does to reach Inverness?

"While rail links to London are important, so too are links within Scotland, links which are sadly lacking at present.

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The think-tank also recommends the establishment of a Scottish Rail Infrastructure Commission.

Transport Minister Humza Yousaf is known to be preparing a public- sector bid to take over Scotland’s railways, with a possible switch in 2022.

Public bodies such as Calmac Ferries, the Transport for Edinburgh group, which includes Lothian Buses, and Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, which runs the Glasgow subway system, were all said to be in the running to take the franchise over.

Among the Scottish government's other options is the creation of a government-owned company or a public-private sector partnership to take over the ScotRail franchise.

But with the support of a petition signed by more than 21,000 people, Manuel Cortes, the general secretary of the transport staff union TSSA has called on the minister to take "the bold political decision" for full nationalisation of ScotRail without recourse to any bidding "preferably by using a break clause in 2019".

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “There is an accountability gap where, despite being in receipt of significant public resources, Network Rail Scotland is not directly accountable to the Scottish Parliament.

“Greater devolution and better governance arrangements for Network Rail in Scotland will increase efficiency and improve accountability..”

TSSA General Secretary, Manuel Cortes said that describing nationalising ScotRail as a meaningless distraction was "not just rubbish it"s dangerous rail policy".

HeraldScotland: Union leaders Bob Crow general secretary of the RMT union (right), stands with Manuel Cortes general secretary of the TSSA, outside City Hall, London, as he speaks by mobile phone to the Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

He said: Britain has the most overcrowded rail networks in Europe, but counter-intuitively, our safety standards are the highest - precisely because Network Rail is charged with protecting the public interest. 

"Public safety is the default position of Network Rail which is why they are prepared to delay trains -often against the interests of private train operators - if they think safety is in any way compromised. Meddle with this independence of public interest and you jeopardise rail safety.

"As a former rail minister in a Labour Government, Tom Harris needs to face up to his responsibility for maintaining the commitment to the privateers who have been milking money out of rail passengers for years.

He should also know better than to advise breaking up Network Rail. It was created by no less than a New Labour government,  relaxed as we know they were about privatisation."