The train now arriving at Dumbarton Central may or may not be on time. Picture by Bill Heaney

By Bill Heaney

Are you right there, Michael? Are you right? Do you think we’ll be home before the night?

Those are a couple of lines from that old Percy French song that examines the performance of the railways, which at that time wasn’t so good.

The fact that it is much worse in the 21st century than it was when the song was written about 100 years ago causes great vexation in the Holyrood parliament.

But now the remedial plan that is in place with ScotRail aims to address performance issues – and maybe even improve them at last.

Over the last reporting period, around nine out of 10 trains ran on time, which was the best punctuality on Scotland’s railways since September last year.

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity Michael Matheson told the Scottish Parliament: “In the Glasgow area, the ScotRail Alliance’s implementation of the Donovan recommendations has improved performance across the Strathclyde electric network, with the last period delivering improvement of more than one per cent in the public performance measure compared to the previous period.

“Network Rail’s £5 million of investment has delivered consistently high PPM of more than 94 per cent at Glasgow Central station in the last three periods, with it being as high as 97 per cent in some weeks.”

But James Kelly, the Labour MSP, seems unimpressed: “The latest figures for Glasgow Central low-level station show that 51.9 per cent of trains—more than half—did not arrive on time.

“The figure is atrocious, and are made worse by the revelation in yesterday’s Which? survey that ScotRail’s compensation scheme is one of the most complicated in the United Kingdom, with some passengers needing to retrieve 24 pieces of information in order to make a claim.”

Labour MSPs Jackie Baillie and James Kelly asking questions about ScotRail.

Jackie Baillie, the MSP for Dumbarton and Lomond, has already raised this with the ScotRail bosses, saying that they should get their finger out and pay up when they let passengers down.

Mr Kelly asked: “What is the cabinet secretary doing to reverse those drastic performance figures, and will he immediately review the compensation scheme at ScotRail to make it easier for passengers to claim compensation?

Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said: “We expect ScotRail to consider how it can simplify the existing process to help those who are claiming compensation to do so as reasonably as possible.

“On the principal point that he raised, as I pointed out, performance across the Strathclyde electric network—which includes the low-level line on Argyle Street to which he referred—has seen overall improvement.

“However, there is more to be done, which was a key issue that was set out in the Donovan review to drive up improvement.

“The £5 million of investment in the Glasgow area is about ensuring that that is done.

“James Kelly might also want to consider the report that was issued by the Office of Rail and Road towards the end of last year that reviewed the work that has been undertaken around the Donovan recommendations and highlighted that good progress has been made.

“However, it also highlighted that there is more to be done, and that both ScotRail and Network Rail must implement those changes to ensure that we sustain the service and make the improvements that we want to see.”

Tory list MSP Jamie Greene asked about the availability of drivers for trains.

He asked: “The cabinet secretary might be aware that ScotRail is trying to encourage retired drivers out of retirement and into service. Is that a sign that there is a shortage of drivers in ScotRail?

“Given that it takes 18 months to train a new driver, is he as concerned as I am that there might be shortfalls, which will affect services?”

But Michael Matheson said: “It should come as no surprise to Jamie Greene that ScotRail indicated in the remedial plan that it intends to employ an additional 55 drivers to ensure that it has greater resilience in its overall train crew numbers.

“We support that intention and encourage it to make good progress on it. However, how it goes about recruiting those drivers is an operational matter for ScotRail.

“I am sure that Jamie Greene welcomes the provisions that were set out in the remedial plan to address the issue of crew numbers, which include recruiting an additional 55 drivers.”


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