REMEMBER the promises? It would be a new chapter in the history of Scotland’s railways. The trains would be faster and cleaner. There would be more carriages and better facilities. But three years into Abellio’s decade of running ScotRail, how are the promises standing up?

Judging by the fines Abellio has paid out recently, the answer is: not at all well. The most recent ScotRail report card shows that the Dutch operator has failed to reach the required standards in 26 areas out of 34, meaning it has recently clocked up £3 million in financial penalties. It is a troubling figure, but even worse is that Abellio seems to be heading in the wrong direction too – the recent fines are much worse than they were in the first stage of the franchise.

The performance is particularly disappointing in two of the areas that passengers care about most: space on the trains and punctuality. Within months of Abellio taking over ScotRail, the feedback from passengers was that far too few carriages were being laid on between Glasgow and Edinburgh during the weekday rush-hour service, leading to some overcrowding. And yet only last week, Abellio cut the number of carriages on some Glasgow to Edinburgh trains by half. The performance on punctuality is not much better: Abellio has failed to reach the required standards in service for the fifth month in a row, with 90.1 per cent of trains meeting the punctuality targets.

In the short term, Abellio will have to improve its performance – not least because its bosses will be concerned about their profits – and it can do so by focusing on the key areas on the passenger frontline, including punctuality, capacity and cleanliness, and by ensuring that the critical Glasgow to Edinburgh rush-hour service is as good and efficient as it can be.

In the longer term, we must also ask what the company’s performance tells us about the franchising rules that have brought this situation about. In particular, it has not gone unobserved that the rules allow a Dutch state-owned company to run Scotland’s railways but exclude a British state-owned company from doing so, which has led many to ask why millions of pounds is going to a foreign state-owned firm when the money could be going to a UK company instead. Obviously, there are big questions about which, if any, British public sector company might actually bid for ScotRail if the rules changed, but it is only logical and fair that they should be allowed to do so.

For other observers, Abellio’s performance to date will strengthen their belief in wholesale renationalisation but that is a much more dubious prospect. Anyone who remembers the railways when they were last completely nationalised will know that the service rarely, if ever, received the investment it needed. The inefficiency of the already nationalised infrastructure part of the railway service should also give us pause – some 54 per cent of the delays on ScotRail trains are caused by the publicly-owned Network Rail. Further nationalisation is unlikely to be a panacea.

In responding to the latest news of its performance, ScotRail has pointed out that the financial penalties is money that will be reinvested into the railways, which is fair enough. But the fines also represent the gap between the promises made in 2015 and the performance as it really is three years in.

Abellio said in 2015 that we were about to depart on a new chapter in the history of the railways and it is time that passengers started feeling like we are getting there. Scotland needs a national service that is focused on reliability and punctuality, fares that are as low as possible, and getting a decent deal for taxpayers. Those financial penaltities prove that we are still a long way from that destination.