AFTER last Saturday’s chaos at Waverley, and a summer during which nearly one in four of the services on the Glasgow- Edinburgh route failed to run on time or at all, rail travellers are entitled to expect not just ScotRail’s contrition, but decisive action to tackle shortcomings from both ministers and Abellio, ScotRail’s parent company.

Instead, they face warnings of further impending disruption from Manuel Cortes, leader of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, who blames ScotRail’s “incompetence”, failure to recruit enough drivers, and reluctance to engage in talks with his union for upcoming cancellations. Naturally, the TSSA minimizes its own contribution - its industrial action - to passengers’ misery. Nor is it self-evident that their solution – that the Transport Secretary Michael Matheson should bring these services back into public ownership – would automatically solve the problem.

Despite the franchise system for operators, the UK network (including Scotland’s) remains in public ownership, and investment and upgrades to that infrastructure have not brought instant improvement – are sometimes, indeed, held up as a factor in failures.

Abellio is, however, clearly failing the Scottish public, and it must be right that it be held to account. It receives more than £250m in annual subsidies, and after four years and around £1 billion of Scottish taxpayers’ money, its customers are entitled to better than an apparent inability to ensure there are enough drivers, or to anticipate a period of exceptional demand at a time when the Edinburgh Festival comes to a close and there’s a rugby international at Murrayfield.

Every rail traveller accepts that some disruption is beyond the control of operators: flooding, extreme weather, trespass on the line, passenger action and signal failures are bound to be occasional factors. But any competent rail company should have adequate structures in place to mitigate them. “Exceptional circumstances” ceases to be a plausible excuse when delays, cancellations, overcrowding, staff shortages and paralysis of crucial parts of the network become a weekly occurrence, and a quarter of the services on the route between the country’s two principal cities fail to come up to scratch.

The inadequacy of Abellio’s stewardship of the franchise is now apparent to every rail traveller. But responsibility must also lie with Mr Matheson; given his previous claims that the firm was in “last chance” territory, he ought now to take decisive action.

The Scottish Government’s aspirations for greener electric trains, investment in capacity and infrastructure and reducing car use in the Central Belt are admirable, but they are hollow aims unless the rail service on offer is reliable, cost-effective and attractive to travellers. That fact that last year’s passenger journeys were down by a million on the previous year’s figures tells its own story; if an already unreliable, understaffed and shambolically managed service looks set to get worse, changes must be made, and urgently, to get things back on track.

Drive to succeed

WE’VE come a long way since 1969, when VisitScotland was formed. Now almost half of Scotland’s overnight golfing visitors are from overseas, and they spend more than four times as much as the average tourist per day. We’ve certainly distanced ourselves from 1593, when two men were imprisoned for “playing of the Gowff on the links of Leith every Sabbath the time of the sermonses”. Growth of 30 per cent in golf revenue over a decade, and an estimate of an annual £325 million by 2020, happily suggests there are still many prepared to follow their heroic example, and pack both sorts of bag for a visit to the game’s undisputed home.