Nicola Sturgeon: Government must prove nationalising ScotRail is a good thing

Photo: PA Media

The Scottish Government has to prove to the public that nationalising ScotRail is a good idea, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

Speaking as the rail service was brought back into public hands on Friday, the First Minister said change will not come “overnight” but that more direct ownership by ministers will make addressing issues easier.

The First Minister also said, to support Scotland’s environmental targets, rail travel needs to become more attractive – both in its convenience and cost.

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“It’s up to us to prove that the public ownership of railways is a good thing,” she said.

“That’s obviously what we’ll focus on doing.”

The First Minister, speaking at Glasgow Queen Street station, told journalists: “We have a duty now that the railways are in public ownership to demonstrate to people that it brings advantages – not just in the principle of public ownership, but in the practical experience of that as well.”

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On fares, Ms Sturgeon stressed that they were 20% lower in Scotland than in England, but added: “Affordability of travel on our railways is important and I think it’s an important part of what we want to do through public ownership.”

Photo: PA Media

She continued: “For many people it is still a serious issue of affordability.

“This is one of the key issues that we need to take forward.

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“Obviously, we need to marry that up with the issues around service provision, reliability and accessibility of services, and also the consideration around the change to travel patterns that have come from the pandemic.”

Ms Sturgeon said a review of fares will be undertaken in the coming months with the results to be outlined before the end of the year.

To celebrate ScotRail being welcomed into public ownership, up to four children will be able to travel with an adult for free on Scottish trains this weekend.

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Dutch firm Abellio had run the trains since 2015 before being stripped of the contract.

Transport minister, Jenny Gilruth, said the move was “historic”.

In a statement, she said: “This is an opportunity to deliver a railway which is for the benefit of the people of Scotland and everyone who travels by rail: customers, staff and stakeholders, not shareholders.

“The national conversation that gets under way this spring will provide an opportunity for staff, passengers and communities to have their say in how we shape Scotland’s railway, and ScotRail in particular.”

Photo: PA Media

Unions also celebrated the public ownership move, with RMT Scotland director Mick Hogg telling Good Morning Scotland: “No longer will there be private shareholders receiving dividends or any profits from Scotland’s railway, so in that sense we believe there is a great opportunity for Scotland’s railway to receive the proper investment that it deserves.”

Mr Hogg said the transport minister was “ticking all the right boxes as far as the RMT is concerned and she does not want industrial strife”.

But the Scottish Tories have stressed the need for change to be felt across the rail network for the project to be a success.

Tory transport spokesman, Graham Simpson, said: “We need to start to change things otherwise what’s the point in all this? We need quick action because, at the end of the day, we want to encourage people to start using trains, we want to get people back on the trains and out of their cars.

“Jenny Gilruth needs to say what it is she wants to do and so far she has not said that.”

And the MSP told the BBC that he had “no philosophical objection to ScotRail coming under public ownership”.

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Shannon Butcher