Operator of Last Resort to take over ScotRail franchise

A publicly owned Operator of Last Resort (OLR) will take over the ScotRail franchise in 12 months’ time when the Abellio franchise ends on March 31, the Scottish Government has confirmed.

The new OLR will be wholly owned by Transport Scotland and will continue to use ScotRail and Scotland’s Railway branding.

This means that from April 1 2022, ScotRail will join three other UK franchises which are already owned and operated by governments - both national and devolved.

It follows the OLRs appointed by the Department for Transport to succeed LNER from June 24 2018 and Northern from March 1 2020, and most recently by the devolved Welsh Assembly to succeed Transport for Wales Rail from February 7 this year.

RAIL understands that a number of options have been considered for the future of ScotRail, ever since a decision was taken in December 2019 to bring the current contract with Abellio to an early end on March 31 2022.

The contract was originally due to last until 2025, before a ‘break-clause’ was activated in response to perceived poor performance, plus a strong political desire to bring the passenger railway into the public sector.

Ministers at Holyrood have always indicated that they would ultimately like to create a publicly owned and fully integrated railway for Scotland.

However, currently lacking the powers to take further steps along this road, Scottish Government has needed to await the outcome of the UK Government-commissioned Williams Rail Review and for any subsequent transfer of powers from Westminster.

Unable to pursue this long-term strategy in the absence of the Williams Review findings, and with time running out to ensure continuity arrangements beyond next March, ministers have deemed the appointment of an OLR to be the best interim solution.

  • For the FULL story, read RAIL 927, published on March 24, and available digitally from March 20.

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