Scottish rail statement ‘not enough’ says union

21 June 2012

ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan says today’s statement about the future of rail in Scotland from Transport Minister Keith Brown is ‘more interesting for what it doesn’t say than what it does’.

The minister’s statement is in preparation for the letting of the next franchise in 2014. Proposals include longer franchises of up to 15 years, but reject cuts to sleeper services and forcing cross-border trains to stop in Edinburgh. They also

· confirm an investment of £5 billion over 5 years in improvements

· commit to completing the Borders railways and to the electrification of the Edinburgh - Glasgow line

· outline a new fares strategy to support under-used lines in Scotland

· announce plans to introduce Wi-Fi on all trains

However, Mick is concerned that the threat of privatising the maintenance of track and signalling remains. Currently the not-for-profit Network Rail carries out this work but Mick is concerned that the minister has left open the possibility of introducing ‘deep alliancing’ of rail companies with Network Rail - meaning that private franchises are edging their way into the business of track and signal maintenance

He also points to a contradiction whereby the minister says he recognises that a single operator is the most efficient, and likely to provide integrated services – but leaves the door open to hive off sleeper services. ‘It is essential for their future that they are part of a cross-subsidy system,’ Mick says.

He is also concerned that while support is declared for freight on rail in Scotland, there are no concrete proposals. Mick is pleased that there is to be a review of indemnity clauses, which say that if there is industrial action the employer will be compensated by the Scottish Government. He hopes that this will deliver better outcomes for the taxpayer and the workforce.

And while there appears to be assurances that bids from ‘not-for-profit’ model franchises would be welcomed, the Scottish government is not, even in the event of independence, committing itself to ending franchising and returning rail to the public sector.

‘I would like to see the Scottish government challenge Westminster over Section 25 of the Railways Act 1993 which prevents any public sector ownership of franchises,’ Mick says. ‘By dropping these unnecessary shackles the Scottish government can make real steps towards providing an efficient, reliable, affordable and social rail service for its people.’

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