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Chamber and committees

Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee [Draft]

Meeting date: Tuesday, March 19, 2024


Contents


Scotland’s Railways

The Convener

Welcome back. Our next agenda item is an evidence session on Scotland’s railways. The committee has held evidence sessions on rail services annually since ScotRail entered public ownership in 2022. Our aim is to take stock of the state of rail services in Scotland over the past year.

I put on record the committee’s thanks to the three trade unions that provided us with written evidence for the session. They are the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, Unite the union, and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers.

On our first panel, we will hear from two of Scotland’s independent watchdogs for rail services. I am pleased to welcome Liz McLeod, who is head of regulatory analysis at the Office of Rail and Road, and Robert Samson, who is senior stakeholder manager at Transport Focus. Thank you for joining us this morning.

We will ask a series of questions, and I will start things off with a very simple question, to get you into the flow of it. How has ScotRail’s performance changed since the committee last considered the issues in May 2023, and are passengers getting a noticeably better service?

Robert Samson (Transport Focus)

The service has improved from a passenger satisfaction point of view over the past 12 months. The previous rail customer experience survey was published in January. On five out of seven key factors—overall satisfaction, punctuality, frequency of trains on the route, level of crowding, cleanliness, value for money and information during a journey—ScotRail is in the top 20 per cent of train operating companies in Great Britain and its score is not significantly lower than average on any of those factors. From a passenger perspective, although passengers by and large only travel on the ScotRail network, when you compare it with other operators, satisfaction levels were quite high in the past 12 months.

Has the position changed?

Robert Samson

Yes, it has improved in the past 12 months. Overall satisfaction was about 88 per cent 12 months ago, and has increased to an average of 90 to 91 per cent, so there has been a small improvement.

Is there nothing in the survey about reduction in services? Does it just cover customers’ satisfaction levels?

Robert Samson

The satisfaction survey is of travelling passengers; it is not a survey of those who are not travelling because of a reduction in services. However, we have recently published a piece of work on motivations and barriers to rail use. The top barriers are the cost of using the rail service, the perceived reliability of the rail service, the frequency of trains and whether trains are going to the places where people want to go. For example, travelling by train might not be a viable alternative to a car or a bus if someone is going to an out-of-town shopping centre or somewhere else that does not have a train station close by.

Liz McLeod, do you want to add to that?

Liz McLeod (Office of Rail and Road)

I will just pick up on train performance, including on whether passengers are getting to their destinations on time. ScotRail is measured by the public performance measure, which is the proportion of trains arriving at their final destination early or within five minutes after the scheduled time. As we close out this financial year, that measure is sitting at 89.81 per cent, which is below the regulatory target of 92.5 per cent. That target, which was set by Scottish ministers, is the high-level output specification for control period 6. There is definitely room for improvement. There has been some improvement since we met last year, but there is still a good way to go to achieve the 92.5 per cent target.

The Convener

Do you want to comment on that? I am slightly confused by that. ScotRail is running fewer trains and is still not meeting the target. The Government said that that was the reason for nationalisation. How are things getting better as a result of nationalisation?

Liz McLeod

I need to clarify ORR’s role in monitoring performance in Scotland. We hold Network Rail—the infrastructure manager—to account; we do not hold ScotRail Trains Ltd to account for its delivery. Elements of delay are caused by the infrastructure manager and, as you know, elements of delay will be caused by the train operator. I can speak only to the Network Rail element.

Without a shadow of a doubt, weather is one of the big drivers in performance in Scotland. Since around 2019 to 2020, the trajectory for weather-related delay has increased, and it is the biggest cause of delay in Scotland. Although fewer trains are running, the impact of extreme weather hampers recovery of performance and achievement of targets.

The Convener

In fairness, that is not leaves on the line. It is serious weather conditions—storms and such like—which, very unfortunately, have caused loss of life some years ago.

We have a heap of questions. Mark Ruskell is next.

Mark Ruskell

Welcome back to the committee. I would like to ask you about ScotRail’s off-peak all day fares pilot that will run until June. What are your thoughts on that? Could or should that be made permanent? Is that a good use of public investment, or are there other ways to support people’s return to the railways?

Robert Samson

There are two parts to that. We welcome the pilot. Passengers like it, and their top priority is value for money. However, value for money is linked not just to the fare but to having a good service in terms of punctuality, reliability and visible staff presence.

The pilot must be evaluated to identify whether it has delivered overall value for money. It is a new approach, so the analysis on it will be very interesting. I think that the Scottish Government estimated that it will cost £15 million for the initial six-month pilot, which, as I said, has been extended to the end of June.

It will be interesting to get information about passengers. Are existing passengers making additional journeys? Are passengers transferring from another mode of public transport? If they are transferring from buses, what would be the consequences for bus funding? Are they transferring from active travel for weather-related reasons because it is affordable? Are they transferring from cars, which would help to meet the Government objectives in that regard? How many passengers are making journeys and what is the impact on revenue? Is the measure cost-neutral? Is it costing more money for the Government? That must be evaluated in order to find out.

Passengers whom we speak to welcome the off-peak pilot not just because it is cheaper, but because it is simpler. We know that passengers have been caught out in the past. In the east of the country, there is a morning peak fare and an evening peak fare, but in Strathclyde there is only a morning peak fare. We know that passengers travelling back from Edinburgh did not realise that there was an evening peak fare. There is no evening peak fare in Glasgow, so that was confusing for passengers.

Off-peak fares all day make it simpler and more affordable for passengers, so we welcome the pilot, and we want to see, through its analysis and evaluation, whether it can continue as part of the fair fares review.

Liz McLeod

The ORR does not have a role in that regard. We would not have a view on how the price of tickets are set.

However, I will add one thing. On 21 March, we will publish statistics on passenger numbers. The previous publication did not pick up the change, so we can share that with the committee. That could have some interesting detail in it.

Mark Ruskell

That would be interesting. Do you see the need for a simplification of the fare structures across the UK? My understanding is that the UK has some of the most complicated rail fare structures in Europe. Sometimes, we have the most expensive fares; sometimes, we have fares that are very good value. However, as Mr Samson said, it is quite confusing for commuters and travellers to work out how to get those good-value fares.

10:00  

Liz McLeod

I recognise that the system is complex, especially when travelling across Britain with different operators and so on. Simplification is ultimately good for good outcomes for passengers.

Mark Ruskell

I go back to my original question. Is there another option that the Government could take to help, such as subsidising some other form of price support or fare capping for the railways, or was removing peak-time fares the obvious thing to do?

Liz McLeod

That would be a decision for Government.

Robert Samson

Ultimately, that would be a decision for Government, within its funding envelope. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, the latest piece of work that we published about motivations and barriers to train use showed that cost had the biggest impact on motivation. If you lower the cost, you remove a barrier and increase rail use. Again, in that context, it will be interesting to see the analysis of the pilot, as well as the figures that ORR is due to publish, to make a comparison.

However, it is not just about the numbers. I believe that Transport Scotland is doing a deeper analysis of where the passengers are coming from, including whether, as I mentioned earlier, people are making additional journeys and the mode of transport that they have come from to make that journey. That will be interesting to see and it will inform Government decisions going forward.

Monica Lennon

Good morning to our panel. On the back of Mark Ruskell’s question, I was reading a media comment by Mike Robinson, who is the chair of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, on the issue of value and affordability. On behalf of the coalition, he said:

“Reverting to expensive tickets would be a hugely retrograde decision and would be bad news for workers, passengers and the climate.”

When you are taking the temperature of the travelling public, are you picking up on that desire to do the right thing by the climate and the environment in addition to having more affordable train travel?

Robert Samson

Yes. Our research shows what passengers welcome in relation to fares. They want them to be affordable, to be easy to understand—which is a point that we have been arguing for years—and to be simplified, so that there is a window from 6 in the morning until midnight in which there are no peak restrictions and the fare is the same price throughout the day. In relation to those aspects, the pilot is definitely welcome.

Because of how things have panned out, I will bring in Jackie Dunbar now, with Douglas Lumsden to follow.

Jackie Dunbar (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

Good morning, panel. On Liz McLeod’s comment about weather disruption and the increase in extreme weather, how satisfied are you that Network Rail and the train operators have the required skills and resources to cope with that increasing disruption?

Liz McLeod

I recognise that that is a major challenge for Network Rail in Scotland. Since Carmont, there has been a huge focus, particularly by Network Rail, on the steps that are needed to improve the network’s resilience. That includes operational aspects, such as having dedicated meteorologists in the control room to try to predict the weather and to understand what the right course of action is for the railway. We also use a dedicated helicopter to do aerial surveys, including looking at the condition of earthworks.

In addition, Network Rail’s plans for the next control period, which is the next five-year funding cycle, starts from April. The plans include £500 million for climate change work. All of Network Rail’s regions have produced a significant document, which includes scrutiny of Scotland. The 70-page document sets out their approach to climate change adaptation and resilience. In some aspects, that is future proofing the railways. For example, when Network Rail does a drainage renewal, it might fit a bigger catchment because, unfortunately, greater rainfall in the future is predicted.

A lot is going on. It is the same on the operator side, too, but I can speak better to the Network Rail side of things.

You are confident with what is being put in place.

Liz McLeod

Yes. We think that the Network Rail climate change adaptation plans for CP7 are credible.

Douglas Lumsden (North East Scotland) (Con)

I will ask a question about peak fares, first. I listened to a radio phone-in yesterday on which most people said that the trial is a good thing, but one person called to say that it was the worst thing that has happened because now her train is jam-packed at peak times because people are changing their behaviour. Robert, is that something that you are seeing and does the Government need to look at timetables?

Robert Samson

Yes. When the fares trial started in October we had meetings with ScotRail about what it would do if trains were crowded in the morning and more passengers were travelling before 9 o’clock. It said that it must monitor that. The situation is brand new: we do not know where passengers are coming from, or what will happen in Fife or in the north and west of the country. We must look at what happens and move our train services around accordingly.

From talking to the train performance people at ScotRail, I hear that there have been one or two incidents of crowding, but it has not happened to the extent that was predicted. They did not know what would happen. They were trying to move carriages around to suit, but there is a limited number of trains. Most trains are out in the morning, so there is a limit to what can be done, but if the policy is to be adopted for the long term the timetable must reflect where passengers are coming from. We must ask whether we have to improve the frequency of the service on some routes or provide longer platforms for longer trains. There are solutions to the welcome problem of more people wanting to use the network.

We did a piece of research a few years ago and found that passengers in Scotland expect a seat on the train, whereas in the south people are more willing to stand and expect space to stand. We have to have seats for passengers in Scotland.

Douglas Lumsden

You are right that it is a good problem to have.

The committee has heard concerns that passengers cannot access the cheapest tickets through apps or vending machines at stations. We have also heard concerns about potential ticket office closures. What is the future of rail in terms of vending and procuring tickets? If you had a crystal ball, what would you see us doing in the future?

Robert Samson

We should mix and match according to what passengers want. We went through a consultation two years ago about changes to ticket office opening hours. The Scottish Government still has to make a decision on how it will take that forward.

I was involved in a large consultation last year in England that included almost every ticket office and which got feedback from about three quarters of a million consultation responses. Ticket vending machines have to be easy to use, understandable and meet the needs of passengers with disabilities.

A lot of passengers appreciate apps and mobile technology, but due to the complex nature of the fares system, many passengers seek the reassurance of there being someone on the train or at the station to tell them about the best value ticket for their journey. Until the fares structure is simplified, there must be a staff presence to help passengers.

Is it the case that you might get a ticket cheaper using the app than you would using a vending machine, or are tickets cheaper mainly through purchasing them ahead of the journey time?

Robert Samson

Some ticket vending machines sell advance tickets, but most passengers use ticket vending machines to purchase on the day on which they are travelling or to pick up tickets that they have booked in advance. Through apps and at the station, tickets can be bought on the day, or the app can be used to buy, in advance, a ticket that might be cheaper, but ticket vending machines will be more expensive because most passengers use them to purchase tickets on the day rather than for travel in four or five weeks’ time.

I guess that that relates to what we were saying earlier about the fares structure being simplified.

Robert Samson

Yes. People who go to a station to buy a ticket four or five weeks in advance of the journey want to speak to a person in a travel centre rather than go to a ticket vending machine, because they feel reassured that they will get the best information from a person.

Liz McLeod, is that outwith your scope?

Liz McLeod

I agree with the comments that have been made. I use the ScotRail app: I buy a ticket in the morning and am usually running late and it works for me, but it will not work for everyone. I agree with Robert Samson’s sentiment that there must be solutions for everyone: the railway has to be accessible to all. From our perspective, the focus is accessibility and passenger information, so I agree with what he said.

Douglas Lumsden

I guess that people who have an app are more likely to get cheaper tickets because they book in advance. Elderly people, for example, might not have enough confidence in using an app and will always go to the ticket office just before the train is going and so will potentially pay more.

Robert Samson

Yes, that is potentially the case. Using the internet and the app, tickets can be booked six, eight or 10 weeks in advance, whereas people using the station would have to go there eight or 10 weeks in advance to speak to a ticket clerk. It is easier for many people to use the app and it might also be difficult for people to get to a station. The ability to make a journey to inquire about the kind of ticket that they need depends on where the person lives.

Thank you.

Bob Doris (Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn) (SNP)

Good morning.

I will go back a little bit to dig beneath the statistics on performance and satisfaction. First, the good news is that although we are not there yet, both are improving, which is positive. I note, on performance, that ScotRail contends that two thirds of delays are for reasons that are outwith its control. Getting to 91.2 per cent compliance is positive, although of course we do not know what the figure is if we strip out, for example, failings with Network Rail, trespassing on the line and adverse weather. Should we report on performance, having stripped out matters that ScotRail is reasonably not able to deal with directly, in order to see what its performance is as Scotland’s national operator that is now in public control? I am not sure whether that is reported on anywhere.

Liz McLeod

We try to report on delays that are caused by Network Rail. The delay that an operator causes for another is known as TOC on TOC. I have the statistics here: Network Rail is currently causing about 54 per cent of the delays on the Scottish network. We do not strip out the delays that are caused by Network Rail because that is a whole-industry measure. We know that Network Rail will inevitably cause some delays, so the solution is about reducing the types of delay that each operator is causing in order to get performance to a better place—if that makes sense.

Bob Doris

It absolutely makes sense.

The current situation is that ScotRail is doing pretty well. It has to do better, and things are improving, but where statistics show a need to do better, it will sometimes be the case that Network Rail needs to do better, rather than ScotRail. Sometimes the cause of delay will be severe weather, and not ScotRail. It seems that it would make sense to have a performance statistic that was based on matters that ScotRail can directly control.

That is not just so that the numbers would look better for ScotRail. In a few years, Network Rail could be organised and do a lot better, with its performance improving. ScotRail’s performance could diminish, which could be masked by improved performance by Network Rail or by a particularly mild winter. How do we report so that we can hold Scotland’s national train operator to account—or commend it for improved performance, as is the current situation. Do we have any such stripped-out data reported consistently?

10:15  

Liz McLeod

We get lots of data.

There is no shortage of data.

Liz McLeod

You are right that we have to understand what level of delay Network Rail is causing, so we use a metric that allows us to do that. It strips out those delays and focuses on Network Rail. There are targets relating to such delays. If Network Rail is achieving its targets, that will enable achievement of the 92.5 per cent PPM target.

We obviously do not regulate the operator, but one lesson that we are probably learning from the past year since ScotRail has been in public ownership is that we should interact more with Scottish Rail Holdings Ltd, which is the company that sits above ScotRail, in order that we can appropriately challenge each other on whether, from a regulatory point of view, we are taking the right action or there is more to do. We have kicked that off with Scottish Rail Holdings Ltd and that will help us to understand each other’s position and to challenge and improve, where we can.

Bob Doris

That is very helpful.

Mr Samson, before I move on to my next line of questions, I know that passengers just want trains to run on time according to schedule, and to get to where they want to go efficiently and in comfort. People here in Scotland like to get a seat more than people elsewhere in the UK do. We still have to improve the passenger experience, of course. What are your reflections on whose fault or responsibility delays are, or are you just focused on the overall passenger experience?

Robert Samson

I am focused on the overall passenger experience. It is infuriating for passengers on a train that is delayed to hear the announcement that it is not a ScotRail fault, but is a fault that is down to Network Rail. Passengers do not care whose fault it is.

The ORR got Network Rail, Scottish Rail Holdings Ltd, ScotRail and Transport Scotland all together to deliver the high-level output specification for the railway. We hope that there will be a clear trajectory in Network Rail’s delivery plan when it is published, and that the plan for CP7 will show how Scotland’s railway in its totality will get to 92.5 per cent PPM, which is the target. That would improve the passenger experience. Passenger satisfaction should then go up because the biggest drivers of passenger satisfaction are reliability and value for money.

Bob Doris

Absolutely.

My next line of questioning is about accessibility for passengers on Scotland’s rail network. I will mention that Springburn station in my constituency will—fingers crossed—get access for all funding, because if you have a small child, as I have, it is more of an assault course than a train station. I am conscious that there are accessibility issues for families with small children and disabled passengers, and that there are issues about lone females feeling safe to use the network. From the past year, what are your reflections on accessibility on Scotland’s rail network generally? I am not directing you to those particular aspects, but do you want to make observations on them before we move on to the next line of questioning?

Liz McLeod

I will focus on Network Rail. You mentioned access for all funding. The ORR regulates the railways in the whole of Britain, so we can compare with how regions in England and Wales are doing. Network Rail in Scotland is doing really well in terms of delivery of access for access for all projects. We are aware that there are projects ongoing, such as the one in Anniesland, and we have seen substantial progress.

Another element to touch on is raised tactile paving on platforms. I have figures that say that 148 stations will be upgraded with tactile paving. So far, 140 have been done, and 148 will be done by March 2025. Work is well ahead of schedule on that, so it is a good news story.

Bob Doris

Thank you. I will not indulge myself by asking questions about my local rail network. I will leave you there, Ms McLeod.

Mr Samson, do you have any reflections on accessibility for passengers on the rail network?

Robert Samson

We know from Network Rail’s strategic business plan that it is looking to develop a better-accessibility strategy that does not just consider infrastructure but also looks at the passenger experience. That is not just about the experience at the station; it is also about how people get to the station. It takes a start-to-finish passenger journey point of view, rather than just an operational view.

It should be noted that there are fewer passengers travelling on the network now than were travelling pre-pandemic, and the number of people needing passenger assistance is only 2 or 3 per cent lower than the number pre-pandemic. There are more passengers booking passenger assistance.

How to deliver passenger assistance 100 per cent of the time needs to be considered—the handover from the departure station to the arrival station, and how that applies to the person on the train and to the ticket examiner or the train guard. We have talked about use of passenger assistance apps so that the chain from one member of staff to another is not broken and the passenger is not left frustrated and cannot get off or on a train at a station. We know that in the new rolling stock procurement that is coming down the line one of the key specifications for new trains is that there is level boarding at all stations. That would help in relation to passenger assistance and will be welcome, but it is some years off.

Bob Doris

I mentioned Springburn station; this is not specifically about Springburn station, where I went for a site visit. On that visit, Scotland’s Railway was there—rather than Network Rail or ScotRail, so both were represented—as was Sustrans, Glasgow City Council and a local charity of which I am a trustee that is interested in town centre regeneration. The jury is out on whether the work will bring the positive outcomes that we all want, but there seemed to be much closer collegiate partnership working than I have seen previously. Are you aware that that is the case, Ms McLeod, or was I just fortunate on that particular day?

Liz McLeod

I think that that experience is probably a good reflection of what is happening. Alex Hynes is the managing director of the ScotRail Alliance: we see, on the performance base in particular, really good engagement between the operator and the infrastructure manager in challenging each other on what is wrong with performance and what we need to do to improve.

Thank you.

Monica Lennon

I want to pick up on the issue of accessibility before I move on to a question about the safety of women and girls, in particular. Bob Doris asked about accessibility, and Robert Samson talked about rolling stock procurement and future opportunities. I remind the committee that I am a patron of Disability Equality Scotland.

Even at this quite early stage, is there positive engagement with disability organisations and disabled people about their experiences? You have talked not just about reliability but about perceptions about reliability. Obviously, the point about passenger assistance is key. I would like a brief answer to that question before I move on to other matters.

Robert Samson

The rolling stock procurement programme is still to be rolled out. However, we have spoken to Transport Scotland, Scottish Rail Holdings Ltd and ScotRail, and the procurement teams say that the procurement has to be informed not just about the lump of metal that will transport passengers but about the seating, toilet provision, information systems, lobby space and wheelchair space that will be on board. That can be done only by asking the people who are affected.

We have a range of insights from other operators on what passengers wanted to see as interior features of new trains, and we have talked to organisations such as Disability Equality Scotland and the Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland. All of them can inform the plans so that we get new trains that work from day 1 in respect of what the passengers want rather than having to retrofit later because an issue was not thought of to begin with. Let us get it right from the start.

From speaking to Transport Scotland, ScotRail and Scottish Rail Holdings Ltd, I know that there is willingness to engage on that to ensure that the specification is correct. The trains will be on the network for 20 to 30 years, so we have to get it right.

Monica Lennon

That is encouraging to hear, as it is important to build that in very early on to inform the specification for procurement. Thank you for that.

I want to go back to the point about safety. We know from your research with passengers that you hear often that they like and value having staff around. Research that was published by Transport Scotland last year on the safety of women and girls found similar things.

The rail unions continue to express concerns about antisocial behaviour and violence on Scotland’s rail network and, in particular, about how they impact on women and girls. I should remind the committee that I am a member of Unite the union and a member of the RMT parliamentary group. With that background, I want to get a sense of what you think is happening around antisocial behaviour and the discussion about the safety of women and girls. We know that Transport Scotland’s report recommended increasing the number of station staff. Do you agree with that? What practical steps can be taken to improve safety and tackle unacceptable behaviour?

Robert Samson

A lot of issues are involved in that. From all our research over the years on personal security and safety, we know that passengers welcome a visible staff presence at stations and on board trains. They welcome someone walking through the train or someone being at the station.

The travel safe teams that ScotRail has introduced are to be welcomed. It is also about good lighting at stations, adequate room for car parking, safe walking routes, closed-circuit television and help points at every station.

One question that came through from our research with passengers was about whether they are monitored in real time in Scotland. They are, and getting that message across to passengers can give reassurance. Although there might be a CCTV camera, people do not know that someone is looking at things in real time. Will things be checked tomorrow morning for evidence if something has gone wrong rather than people being proactive and helping them? There are such issues.

Stations and trains should also be clean and well maintained. A lot of community groups in Scotland help at stations. That gives a sense of the stations being well looked after. It is about small things such as there being planters and a station getting a coat of paint if that is needed. If a station looks unloved or uncared for, there is a perception that the environment is not safe. A range of issues are associated with safety.

ScotRail or Network Rail will not get plaudits for keeping a station clean, because passengers expect that. That is basic. The same goes for trains. However, that helps to foster a safe travel environment. Visible staff and a British Transport Police presence after major sporting or cultural events do the same. Passengers are also reassured by there being other passengers at stations.

There is a wide range of issues, and there is no magic bullet that will make a journey safe.

Monica Lennon

That is helpful. You have given lots of examples. Communication to the public that CCTV is monitored in real time is important.

Do you have any up-to-date views on women and girls having experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment? Is that getting worse or better, or is it staying the same? Do you recognise that visible staffing must be part of the solution?

10:30  

Robert Samson

Visible staff have to be part of the solution. Research not only in Scotland but across the whole of Great Britain shows that the personal safety of passengers is an issue that has to be addressed. I think that numbers six and eight of the top 10 passenger priorities relate to personal security for all passengers on trains and at stations.

Last year, we did a piece of work on perceptions of safety for women and girls travelling in Birmingham. I will write to the committee about that. A lot of the issues that arose in that also arose in the Transport Scotland report about women and girls travelling safely that was published last year.

Monica Lennon

I think that Mark Ruskell wants to come in on this theme, too. I want to pick up on another point about staffing. I understand that around two thirds of ScotRail stations are unstaffed—that is higher than the UK average of around 45 per cent—and that over half the Scottish network is operated via driver-only operation. Although there is always a second person rostered on services, there is no guarantee that a second person will be on board all services. There are currently proposals by ScotRail to extend driver-only operation to the Barrhead and East Kilbride lines—I am not sure about other areas. There appears to be a bit of a difference between Scotland and the rest of the UK on that. Can you speak about that? Do you have a view on it?

Robert Samson

On the problem of there being a larger proportion of unstaffed stations in Scotland than in much of the rest of the network, it depends on the location. Because of the rurality of a lot of its locations, Northern Rail also has a lot of unstaffed stations. A recent report said that, even if a station is unstaffed, CCTV and help points have to be there, it must have good lighting, and it has to be well maintained. It is clear that those things give passengers a sense of security.

We would expect ScotRail trains to have second members of staff: that is in its rail contract. We expect there to be a second member of staff on all trains. That not only gives people a feeling of security, but it helps with general matters such as giving information and selling tickets from unstaffed stations. A lot of people buy their tickets on board. We want a second member of staff on every train.

There is no guarantee at the moment that that will happen. Do you think that there should be a guarantee that a second person will be on a train?

Robert Samson

A second person should be rostered. We expect that to happen on all occasions because it helps with not just security or a feeling of safety for passengers but with other aspects to do with information, selling tickets and helping with accessibility.

Is that an area for improvement?

Robert Samson

Yes, it is an area for improvement.

Mark Ruskell wants to come in on the back of that.

Mark Ruskell

I think that that broadly covers matters. Have you had any feedback from passengers who use driver-only operated routes? Have there been particular concerns about antisocial behaviour or feelings of insecurity if no additional staff are on trains to support people?

Robert Samson

That has not come through: it is about having a second member of staff in uniform on board going through the train and reassuring passengers. People in the know will know whether someone is a guard who is responsible for opening the doors or just a ticket examiner. However, for most passengers, it is about a second member of staff helping them—a second member of staff who is there, whatever their job title is, to sell tickets, give information and help passengers with accessibility needs. Passengers look at matters from the point of view of there being a second member of staff rather than from the point of view of the duties of that person.

Okay. Thanks.

The Convener

I smiled slightly to myself when you talked about a second member of staff. At some railway stations on the north line, people still have to hail the train if they want it to stop at the station. The staff numbers are quite light.

Douglas Lumsden

I want to continue on the theme of safety. The trade unions have raised concerns about the class 43 high-speed train rolling stock. Do your organisations have any concerns about continued use of high-speed trains?

Liz McLeod

If the ORR had concerns about their safe use and thought that there was an imminent threat of danger, we would have served a prohibition notice to stop the trains running. We have not done that. I hope that that answers your question from a health and safety perspective.

We are also monitoring. A number of recommendations were made as a result of the Carmont incident. The HSTs were looked at. The driver’s cab and tables were looked at. Specific aspects were looked at. We observe those things and are happy with the progress that has been made.

Robert Samson

I have nothing to add to that point.

I think that the report said that the outcome could have been better if the train was more modern, as opposed to its being an HST. Is that correct?

Liz McLeod

I think that the Rail Accident Investigation Branch recognised that, if another train had been used, the outcome would have been the same, unfortunately. In the Carmont incident, the drainage was at fault: that is what caused the accident. The RAIB has said that, with another train, there would have been the same outcome, unfortunately.

Mark Ruskell has a question.

It is about the decarbonisation programme and the objective to decarbonise Scotland’s railways by 2035. Is that on track, given current levels of investment?

Liz McLeod

Enabling works are being done in feeder stations to ensure that the network is capable of supporting future electrification. Transport Scotland is responsible for specifying and funding the enhancement projects that will be needed to deliver electrification, so it would need to answer the question about whether the programme is on track.

I will add, however, that a lot is going on elsewhere. In Network Rail’s plans for control period 7, there are carbon emission reduction targets. Throughout the current control period, we have seen good work between ScotRail and Network Rail on simple things including recycling, reducing pollution at stations and so on. That is on-going. There is also biodiversity work and targets associated with carbon reduction and biodiversity in the next control period. That is an area of focus. From a regulatory perspective, the question of the enhancements that are needed to electrify the network is one for the funder.

I also add that there is now a good focus across Britain on freight growth. Obviously, modal shift is important. The more produce we can get on freight trains, the better, and there are now targets for that. In the control period over the past five years, we had a target only in Scotland. Westminster’s specification for CP7 includes a freight-growth target for all the Network Rail regions. That matters because, for example, if Network Rail is trying to grow freight in the eastern region, that will benefit Scotland as well.

Are those freight opportunities regional in nature or are they more about UK freight operations?

Liz McLeod

It could be a bit of both. We said in our determination that it is important that each of the regions sets out the actions that it can take to deliver growth. We recognise that economic conditions are tricky at the moment, but there are steps that Network Rail can take to incentivise new entrants to the market. There are regional plans, but there are national things that can be done around the timetable, for example.

I will go to Monica Lennon and then to the deputy convener, Ben Macpherson, to wrap it up at the end.

Monica Lennon

I have a final question for Liz McLeod on control period 7. We have heard from rail unions that they are concerned that a reduction in investment in renewals by Network Rail in CP7 in favour of investment in maintenance might have a negative impact on safety. Is that view shared by the Office of Rail and Road? What has been done to minimise any safety implications arising from that decision?

Liz McLeod

My answer to that is similar to my answer on HSTs. We go through a rigorous process that takes a year or longer. Network Rail submits detailed plans to us. With its initial plans, which we reviewed last summer, we did not think that those were capable of maintaining safety. We challenged Network Rail to spend circa £50 million extra on a specific asset. Network Rail accepted that challenge and we deemed its finalised plan to be safe.

As with the HSTs, if there is not enough funding to maintain a safe and reliable plan, which is what Scottish ministers want in their high-level output specification, there is a process for us to send a notification to ministers to say, “There’s not enough money here to deliver what you want. Can you reassess and maybe take something away so that the plan is affordable?” We did not do that; we accepted Network Rail’s plans.

However, you are right that there are challenges ahead. We have talked about climate change. The other challenge is rising inflation, which is eating away at the funding. You rightly said that there will be more maintenance and less investment in renewals in some areas in the next control period. We are all alive to the risks. We have worked closely with Network Rail, which has established a safety risk assessment model that we want it to use throughout control period 7. That will provide the evidence.

Inevitably, Network Rail’s plans will change. We do not expect a perfect plan to be delivered five years in advance. When things need to change, Network Rail will have to demonstrate to us that it has gone through the issues. For example, if it decides to do less track work, we will need to see that the decision has been through that model and we will need evidence of what has been taken into account, the risk mitigations and so on.

So, yes—there will be less work on renewals. We are all alive to that. Measures have been put in place for the next control period and we will monitor them closely. Where we identify issues or concerns, either from a health and safety perspective or an economic regulatory perspective, we will take action on that.

That is helpful. Thank you.

Ben Macpherson

I have two questions that my constituents have raised with me, although they are relevant for the whole country. The first is regarding the Edinburgh to Inverness line. Issues about overcrowding on that line have been raised with me on several occasions. The line is an important artery for people living on the east coast and for tourist visitors. Do you have any comment or direct feedback on that?

My second question is on reliability. The Edinburgh to Glasgow connection, particularly between Waverley and Queen Street, has for certain periods been extended later into the night, such as during the Edinburgh festivals. That is a good thing, and I and many of my constituents think that there is a strong argument for it to happen more regularly so that people can go to concerts or football games and be able to come home later. Has that been raised with you? Is it part of your considerations and feedback?

Robert Samson

On your second point, back in 2012, when the First Group franchise was ending, there was a consultation exercise on the ScotRail franchise, which asked passengers about timetable provision and what they would like to see. In most franchise consultation exercises that we hold with passengers, we find that they would like more early morning services and more services late at night, to allow for the 24-hour economy and for cultural events. There is a definite pattern of feedback from passengers in favour of earlier and later services. That would eat into the time to maintain and renew the network in the control period and would have costs. However, passengers would like later night services. ScotRail did that to an extent on a Friday night when Abellio took over the franchise, and that has been sustained now that ScotRail is in public ownership.

The feedback from passengers on longer-distance services in Scotland is that they would like faster journey times and more carriages. It goes back to the general point that passengers in Scotland want a seat and want to travel in comfort on all routes, but that is particularly the case when there is a longer journey time. When passengers do not get a seat on a two-hour or three-hour journey, that is frustrating and inconvenient, and it leads to complaints and compensation.

10:45  

Liz, do you want to add anything?

Liz McLeod

I am not aware of any health and safety issues from the overcrowding perspective. I will take that away and check with colleagues in the consumer team whether there are any trends in complaints.

It is particularly on that line to Inverness.

That is of great interest to me because, in the past 10 years, the journey time to Inverness has gone up by 20 minutes rather than coming down, and there are fewer services.

Ben Macpherson

On what Robert Samson said about a later service between Waverley and Queen Street, I presume that that would not be prohibitive in terms of undertaking maintenance and so on, given that the London underground runs all night on a Friday and Saturday. If they can do it, we can do it, right?

Liz McLeod

If you changed the hours of operation, that would restrict the times or the opportunities available to Network Rail to do its work, but it would take that into account. Historically, Network Rail did a lot of work over the new year period, but it recently changed that to reflect the fact that people might want to go from Glasgow to Edinburgh to shop for the new year sales. The plans can be changed to adapt if that is the best thing for passengers.

That is interesting. Thank you.

The Convener

That brings us to the end of this session. I thank our witnesses very much for giving evidence to the committee this morning. Liz McLeod has undertaken to get back to us on a couple of points, so we look forward to receiving that.

I briefly suspend the meeting to allow for a changeover of witnesses.

10:47 Meeting suspended.  

10:54 On resuming—  

The Convener

Welcome back. We continue our consideration of Scotland’s railways by hearing from a second panel, which is made up of representatives of rail operators. I am pleased to welcome Kathryn Darbandi, who is the managing director of Caledonian Sleeper Ltd; Alex Hynes, who is the managing director of Scotland’s Railway; Joanne Maguire, who is the chief operating officer of ScotRail Trains Ltd; and Liam Sumpter, who is the route director of Network Rail Scotland. Thank you for joining us today.

I put on record the fact that I was one of the first conveners that Alex Hynes had the misfortune to come across when he took over his position in 2017. He has now accepted a secondment as director general for rail services for Transport UK, I think, which, to my mind, is recognition of the hard work that he has done. Congratulations on that appointment, Alex. It is fitting that I should get the last chance to have a go at you before you go. [Laughter.] I will be very gentle. I will not remind you about the bridge at Dalwhinnie, except to put on record the fact that you promised that it would be replaced and it still has not been.

I will begin with a question for Joanne Maguire about budgets. How much does it cost to run ScotRail a year? How do you go about sorting out the budget? Do you just say, “This is what we need,” and that is what the Government gives you? How does that work? Could you please explain that to me, if you would not mind?

Joanne Maguire (ScotRail Trains Ltd)

Good morning, convener, and thank you for the question.

If only we had the opportunity to say, “This is what we would like,” and it was handed to us. A lot of scrutiny goes into our budget preparations. We work collaboratively across Scotland’s railway, which involves looking across at Network Rail and the planning for its next control period.

In thinking about the budget year ahead, we work from the bottom up in our budget preparations and spend time looking at what we have achieved in the previous year. We aim to set stretching targets. In the first instance, our draft budget goes to the ScotRail Trains board. Normally, a number of iterations will go before and be challenged by that board. The budget will then go to the Scottish Rail Holdings board, before being presented to Transport Scotland. There is a high degree of scrutiny and challenge, both internally at ScotRail and through the agencies that govern us.

The Convener

I think that there was a line in last year’s Transport Scotland budget that allocated around £14 million to cover wage increases. Will that happen every year or will that money be part of the overall budget? How will that work out?

Joanne Maguire

As with all organisations across the UK, our employees have not been immune to the cost of living increases that everyone has been impacted by. Over the past few years, we have worked very hard—as have our trade unions—to improve industrial relations at ScotRail. We also need to be governed by the Scottish public sector pay policy, the publication of which we keenly await. That will help to guide us in our pay negotiations for the coming year.

The Convener

I understand and accept all of that, but I want to understand whether, every time there is a wage increase—I think that the cost of the 5 per cent increase was roughly £14 million—it will appear as a separate line in Transport Scotland’s budget or be part of your budget as a whole.

Joanne Maguire

In our draft budget, we are making provision for pay increases. Depending on what the Scottish public sector pay policy says, we might need to review that line, but there is a line in the ScotRail Trains budget for pay reviews for the coming year.

The Convener

I am thinking about how a business would approach the issue. Most businesses would say, “Right, here’s my budget.” If they did not have enough money, they could not necessarily go to somebody else and ask for more money. Businesses have to make their budgets work, so they would have to make cuts in other areas to fund a pay increase, but it appears that you have simply gone to Transport Scotland to get that money. Have I got that completely wrong?

11:00  

Joanne Maguire

To be fair to our employees and the organisation, there are lots of efficiencies that we look for alongside our pay increases. In the previous year, part of the deal that we negotiated involved our employees accepting technology. The organisation had been trying to achieve that for more than 10 years. Through that, we have reduced—

The Convener

I am absolutely not disagreeing with the negotiating process; I am simply saying that you did not have enough money, so you had to get more money from Transport Scotland to cover the pay increase. Is that what will happen every year or will you be expected to fund pay increases for your staff from the money that you are given?

Joanne Maguire

Alex Hynes wants to come in, but I was going to make the point that—

He is itching to come in.

Joanne Maguire

—through technology, we have increased our revenue collection by having our ticket examiners and conductors scan more tickets. Through that, we have also decreased our refund numbers on our e-tickets, for example, which brings money back to our revenue line through efficiency.

I do not think that that comes to £14 million, but there we go.

Alex Hynes (Scotland’s Railway)

In addition to everything that Joanne Maguire mentioned, we manage the costs and the revenues as a commercial enterprise in the public sector. In the first year of public ownership, the subsidy that we required was £708 million, which was down on the previous year’s figure of £730 million. If we ever get any cost trends that are adverse to budget, our first instinct is to see whether we can fill that gap ourselves through efficiencies in other areas and revenue growth.

One of the fantastic things about ScotRail right now is that it is the fastest-growing train operating company in Britain. The fact that we have huge rates of revenue growth is helping us to reduce the cost to the taxpayer and to cover some of the headwinds that have been related to inflation, which, of course, is not in anyone’s control.

I will ask some other questions towards the end of the session, but I will now bring in Mark Ruskell.

Mark Ruskell

I want to ask you about the new normal as regards post-Covid travel patterns. Is that picture settling down? Is the peak still leisure driven? What has the impact been on your services over the past year? Is it now more of a fixed landscape? How are you operating within that landscape? I put that to ScotRail and to Caledonian Sleeper.

Alex Hynes

I will go first for ScotRail, and then I will bring in Joanne Maguire, before handing over to Kathryn Darbandi.

I do not think that we have reached what might be described as a new normal, whatever normal is these days, because we are seeing such rapid rates of passenger growth. Passenger journeys are growing at rates of 10, 20 or 30 per cent per annum. The fact that we are the fastest-growing train operating company in Britain is great news, because we want our railway to be busier. Of course, every pound that we collect through the fare box is a pound that we do not have to get from the taxpayer through subsidy.

We are now at about 85 per cent of our pre-Covid passenger numbers—in other words, we are still 15 per cent down on where we were before the pandemic. That average figure hides huge changes in the market. Saturday is now the busiest day, which would have been unthinkable five years ago. That is influencing the way that we run the business—for example, it is influencing when we decide to close the railway to do engineering work.

Business has recovered relatively well but, of course, commuting has collapsed relative to what it was just five years ago. Therefore, the mix of our passengers has changed significantly. That means that we have had to change the way that we operate our railway, and our timetable reflects that. My favourite example of that is that we run more frequent trains between Edinburgh and Glasgow on a Saturday than we do from Monday to Friday, because Saturdays are busier than Monday to Friday.

As I said, passenger journeys are growing back strongly, which is great news. When we change the timetable in June, we will add in more services to reflect the market that is now there for rail. We are very proud of the fact that, between us, we are overseeing such growth.

Jo, is there anything that you want to add from a ScotRail perspective?

Joanne Maguire

I can confirm that, from June, our services will be at around 93 per cent of the pre-pandemic timetable. We are making improvements. We will be excited to see the Levenmouth branch opening. We are making improvements across Edinburgh, Fife, Perth, Dundee and Inverclyde, and we are adding additional services in other areas.

Kathryn Darbandi (Caledonian Sleeper Ltd)

From the Caledonian Sleeper perspective, our business is different from ScotRail’s—as, I am sure, everybody appreciates. We recovered from the pandemic faster than most other commuter TOCs in the UK, including ScotRail. That is because our guest base is very different.

It is worth mentioning a few nuances of the business. Eighty per cent of our guests are one-time travellers who are tourists or people who are visiting friends and family in Scotland. Just 20 per cent of our guest base is made up of business travellers. I will come back to that, because the position has changed ever so slightly.

Post-pandemic, Caledonian Sleeper was in the fortunate position of benefiting from the staycation boom in the first year, when many people travelled within the UK. In the second year, although the staycation boom tailed off a little, the international tourists came back. About 20 per cent of our tourism business is international tourism. We recovered very quickly, and quicker than most other TOCs. We were in a fortunate position in that regard.

We are very full. We are now in a better position than the one that we were in before the pandemic. Our forward revenue is up by 36 per cent. That is money in the bank, if you like, because we sell our tickets a year in advance—again, that is another nuance with the sleeper. The commuter TOCs can do that only 12 weeks in advance. Our forward revenue is up by 36 per cent. On 3 March just gone, we had our biggest sales day ever. The demand is there, and we are full to the brim, pretty much, every day and every night.

I have a little bit of trend information for the committee. Our highlander service—which, as it says on the tin, runs to the Highlands—recovered slightly better than our lowlander service. Our lowlander service, which runs to Glasgow and Edinburgh, is a bit more skewed towards business travel. However, both have now fully recovered. For our business travel market, the big difference is that whereas, previously, people would have travelled on the Monday and come back on the Friday, we are now seeing a slightly shorter week. That is advantageous for us, because we can sell our weekend services to our tourism market. Therefore, the change in buying and travelling behaviour has not impacted us dramatically. We are in a very good position, and we were very fortunate post-pandemic.

Mark Ruskell

Thanks for sharing that picture.

Alex Hynes, the trial of off-peak fares being available all day will run until June. We are waiting for an evaluation of the trial, but what are the figures showing at this point? Is the trial bringing in significant numbers of new passengers, or it is just leading to savings for existing passengers? What has been the impact on both patronage and fare-box income?

Alex Hynes

It will not surprise you to hear that, as with most things on the railway, it is quite complicated to work out what the isolated impact of off-peak fares being available all day has been. That is for two reasons. First, we are growing so quickly anyway—by 10, 20 or 30 per cent per annum—so it is difficult to work out the isolated impact of the trial. Secondly, since we launched the trial, we have had 10 named storms, which has been more than ever before.

We have clever people in ScotRail working out exactly what the impact has been on revenue and patronage. We know that the trial has made the railway busier and that it has cost us money in the fare box, but we are trying to work out the exact figures.

Our Transport Scotland colleagues are doing an evaluation from a multimodal perspective. If the railway has got busier by X per cent, where have those passengers come from? For example, are those passengers taking new trips, or are they taking the train when they would otherwise have taken the car or the bus?

That work is being done as we speak, and we will provide the information to Scottish Rail Holdings and Transport Scotland so that Scottish ministers, who have always controlled the fares, can make a decision about what happens next.

Mark Ruskell

What would be your measure of success for the trial of off-peak fares being available all day? To put it bluntly, will there come a point at which, with an increase in fare-box income as a result of more people returning to use the railways, the Scottish Government will not need to provide any subsidy or will need to provide only minimal subsidy? Would that be a measure of success, or is there something else?

Alex Hynes

Obviously, we are in the business of moving customers around the country, and we want to see a growing railway. However, the trial is a Scottish Government-funded initiative to drive progress towards other policy objectives—whether it is providing help with the cost of living crisis, supporting decarbonisation or encouraging a modal shift—so it is not really for us to set the success measures, because the trial is a Scottish Government intervention. With ScotRail under public ownership, the Government has decided to give us some extra money in order to drive progress towards other policy objectives, so whether the policy has been a success is a matter for the Government.

Do you think that the policy should continue and become permanent?

Alex Hynes

I have worked in railways for more than 25 years. Scottish ministers control the fares, because there is a genuine trade-off in relation to who pays for the railway. Is it passengers, or is it taxpayers? That decision is for politicians, not for railway managers.

Okay.

Bob Doris

Is ScotRail taking part in other initiatives to grow the passenger market? I should declare that I am a new member of club 50, and the £17 return fares, where you can add a kid for a quid, mean that I use the railway for journeys that I would otherwise have taken by other means. I am not talking about that scheme specifically, but have other initiatives been successful in growing the market?

Alex Hynes

Absolutely. I will bring in Joanne Maguire shortly.

Revenue generation is a key activity for us. We have been free from industrial action in Scotland, and we are generally delivering a good service to our customers. We are investing a lot in revenue protection and in marketing. It is now difficult to pick up a newspaper, watch television or listen to the radio in Scotland without seeing or hearing a ScotRail advert. We are about to start a new financial year, and our marketing budget has gone up even further to about £5 million per annum. We have loads of great value offers, including club 50 and the kids for a quid scheme. A key part of our activity involves revenue generation and giving passengers excellent value for money for their fares.

Does Joanne Maguire want to add anything?

Joanne Maguire

We are building a stable operating environment, with nine out of 10 customers telling us that they are satisfied with our services, which gives us the platform to invest more in our marketing campaigns. I hope that you saw some of our Christmas campaigns on TV, and we did a leaflet drop for households. Under the kids for a quid scheme, four children can travel return for £1 each with an adult. That is a great campaign that we will push, especially over the summer holidays. We are looking at lots of initiatives in addition to off-peak fares being available all day.

Rather than ask a follow-up question, convener—

You are not getting a follow-up question, because—

Bob Doris

I would not indulge myself, convener, as you know.

However, Ms Maguire, it would be helpful if you could set out in correspondence how Scotland’s Railway reports on how successful or otherwise such initiatives have been. What you have said sounds very positive, but it would be good for the committee to be able to look at some of that information.

The next question is from Douglas Lumsden.

Kathryn Darbandi, what has been the impact of bringing Caledonian Sleeper into public ownership?

Kathryn Darbandi

It is fairly early days for us. We are only six months into public ownership; we transitioned at the end of June. There has been very little impact in the business, because everybody transferred across under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations. Everybody who works for Caledonian Sleeper, including me, feels very passionate about what we do, and everybody wanted to remain in the business, so everybody transferred across.

Every day, we are doing exactly the same as we did before public ownership. We have the same focus and the same team, but there are differences in governance and meetings. It is important to say that Transport Scotland and Scottish ministers were always our customers anyway, even under private ownership, so we already had transparent and open dialogue, meetings and conversations. All of that has continued positively, with a few different ways of working.

11:15  

We are looking forward to being able to contribute to policy, because we feel that we have a lot to bring to the table. We have formally submitted our first business plan, which outlines our focuses for the next year. We look forward to being able to plan for the longer term. We believe that there will be a more stable environment, so it will be easier to plan for, and do the right things for, the longer term. It is really early days, but there has been very little change in the business.

You mentioned a business plan. How should we expect the service to develop in the future?

Kathryn Darbandi

There are many aspects to the business plan. Even though our services are full, it is important to note that 80 per cent of our guests are one-time-only travellers. We have a lot of focus on filling the trains, because we have to find guests again each year so that our revenue continues to grow positively.

We are ensuring that our on-time performance continues. We are doing extremely well in that regard—we have just hit a record high of 87.22 per cent, but we do not take it for granted that we will repeat that performance next year. That is an important measure.

We are also doing well in making continuous improvements in relation to guest satisfaction. Our rolling average is 86 per cent, against a target of 85 per cent, which is very difficult to achieve. We are proud that we are achieving that target, but we do not take it for granted that we will continue to achieve it.

We continue to focus on revenue, filling the trains, operational performance and guest experience.

In relation to wider developments, we are looking at some longer-term initiatives. For example, we want to support the net zero policy by replacing the diesel locomotives that run our Highlander service. We will not deliver replacements next year, but we will start to think about that over the next year. That is just one example.

You mentioned that the trains are full already. Is there any way to increase capacity? Have fares changed since the service moved into public ownership?

Kathryn Darbandi

I will talk about fares first. As I am sure most people are aware, the new trains came into service in 2015, and fares were set at that point. We had not increased fares since 2020, because we wanted to ensure that we recovered from the pandemic, but we have recently increased them for the first time. Given that the trains are full, we need to keep an eye on the situation to ensure that what we do with fares does not affect demand. There is a balance to strike, and we have a talented team in the business that looks at that. Fares are pretty stable and, as Alex Hynes said earlier, they are approved by Scottish ministers. We make a recommendation, but, ultimately, Scottish ministers make the decision.

In relation to capacity, as I said, 80 per cent of our guests are new every year, so it is not a given that we will fill the trains every year, but we have done well for the past three years. To be honest, there is very little capacity. There is some during the off-peak shoulder season, winter and midweek. We look for opportunities to fill every cabin and every seat, but very little capacity is available.

Have subsidies now changed from before the pandemic? Where have they gone?

Kathryn Darbandi

The position has remained fairly stable. Jo Maguire spoke about her budget, and we expect our budget to remain stable next year. We have gone through exactly the same budget process as she outlined. It is around the £40 million mark, and we hope to deliver against the same number next year.

Douglas Lumsden

I am trying to take in all that. Subsidies have not reduced, capacity has not increased and fares have not reduced, so I am still trying to work out what the point was of taking the service into public ownership.

Kathryn Darbandi

That decision was taken by Scottish ministers. That is all that I can say about that.

The Convener

I want to clarify something. Your fares ratchet up fairly quickly as the day of travel gets closer—the cost of a basic berth can suddenly increase from roughly between £120 and £140 to £220 when few spaces are available. Peak fares operate on Caledonian Sleeper’s service.

Kathryn Darbandi

We sell our tickets a year in advance, as I mentioned. We have a number of different products on offer—we have seats, we have three grades of room and we also have accessible rooms—and they are all priced differently. We also offer an excellent family price—

I understand that but, as the day of travel gets closer, your prices for overnight accommodation can double.

Kathryn Darbandi

We dynamically price our fares, so we change them based on demand. A lot of our trains are booked up a long time in advance, but if there are very few rooms left close to departure, the price will be higher.

It is sometimes double.

Kathryn Darbandi

That is possibly the case sometimes, but not as standard. The system works using an algorithm based on learning and history, and we have a talented team that deals with that. We also have a cap so prices cannot go above a certain amount.

Okay. I have learned from my mistake.

I will bring in Mark Ruskell very briefly to ask one question to one witness.

Mark Ruskell

I have just a quick question. Caledonian Sleeper provides an excellent service, but the choices are quite stark. You have seated accommodation, or you have high-end, hotel-grade accommodation with en suite facilities. Most European sleeper services run couchette services, which get more people on the trains and are more affordable for more regular travellers. What can you do within what you have? Can you add more carriages? Can you procure more carriages? It feels like quite a stark choice at the moment. It excludes many people.

Kathryn Darbandi

Within the realms of what we have today, we can do little without huge cost, because we would be talking about a complete reconfiguration of the trains. What we have today was specified in 2015 and approved by ministers and the Government, so I would say that very little can be done.

However, the position is not quite as stark as you suggest, because we offer some products. We have a good family product. We also have the opportunity for regular travellers to buy 10 tickets in advance, which are dramatically reduced in price. We are conscious of that, and we have good products on offer.

If the Scottish Government decided to allow us to procure more trains, we would take the brief from the Scottish Government, of course, but we would consider and take into account lessons learned in the design of those. The service has been hugely successful based on what was procured and what was set out in the mandate that was given to the business. It would be a decision for the Scottish Government if it wanted to bring in a sleeper service that was more aligned to what we see in Europe. We are interested in what happens in Europe, but what we are designed to do today is different.

Monica Lennon

Good morning to the panel. First, congratulations to Alex Hynes on his new appointment as director general of rail services at the Department for Transport, moving from Scotland’s Railway to Britain’s railways, in four weeks’ time. Can you advise the committee who will take over from you on 15 April?

Alex Hynes

This news was announced only yesterday, and arrangements are in place and discussions are happening between Network Rail and Scottish Rail Holdings. Any arrangements on who will succeed me will be communicated before I leave.

Your role is MD of both Network Rail Scotland and ScotRail. Will that arrangement continue?

Alex Hynes

Yes. The alliance between Network Rail and ScotRail will continue. It is widely perceived to have been a success to operate track and train together and there is great interest in everything that we have achieved in the last time period in Scotland. As you know, the UK Government wants to bring track and train back together on the railway south of the border. I pay tribute to everyone who works for ScotRail and Network Rail for all their hard work and everything that they have delivered during my time here. Hopefully, I will be able to export some of that good practice to other places.

Monica Lennon

I think that it is just for two years, so you might be back in front of us.

I want to speak about the impact of weather events. You mentioned earlier that, even during the pilot scheme for the abolition of peak fares, there have been 10 named storms. I will not ask you to name them all, but extreme weather events are having an increasing impact on Scottish rail services. How is that issue being addressed in the short term and how will it be addressed in the coming years? Maybe Liam Sumpter could add to the answer. What impact might the challenges around control period 7 cuts to investment have on any of the actions that we are about to hear about from Alex Hynes?

Alex Hynes

I will start and then hand over to Liam Sumpter.

In this five-year control period, Network Rail has had £4.2 billion to manage the infrastructure. In the next five-year period, the number is about the same, so there is a consistently strong commitment from the Scottish Government to investing in infrastructure.

We are seeing the impact of climate change happening quite rapidly. Mean rainfall in Scotland in the past 10 years has increased by 8 per cent, which is quite a lot, because it was quite wet to begin with in parts of the country. Of course, our railway was primarily built by the Victorians when the weather was different. Therefore, while we have been putting our business plan together for the next five years on the infrastructure side, we have specifically targeted additional investment in those railway infrastructure assets that are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change: structures, embankments, drainage assets and so on. In the next five years, £400 million will be spent on making the railway more resilient.

Since the tragic accident at Carmont on 12 August 2020, we have applied more precautionary speed restrictions to keep our passengers and staff safe when we get adverse and extreme weather. We have done a host of really good work to make sure that we can run a safe and resilient railway. For example, we have invested more in infrastructure and, in particular, in our knowledge of our drainage assets. We have modified the trains. As I said, we now apply precautionary speed restrictions more often but, also, our control centre on the outskirts of Glasgow is the first railway control centre in Britain to have full-time meteorologists, 24/7, 365 days a year. That helps us to learn about the impact of weather on our network.

As we have got better at running what I regard as the basics of railway operation both in ScotRail and in Network Rail, which has underpinned our improved punctuality over the past 12 months, the growing impact of weather is a headwind that is pushing us in the other direction. There is no question but that we need to spend more time, effort and investment on the issue.

It is good to see that, in the Network Rail Scotland business plan, which starts on 1 April, there is increased investment in those types of assets, which should, hopefully, mean that we do not have to apply these precautionary speed restrictions as much. For example, we completed a multimillion-pound project on the Edinburgh to Glasgow line, which means that under extreme rainfall events we do not have to apply a speed restriction at all because we have made the asset so resilient.

11:30  

Sometimes our response is to invest in the infrastructure and make it more resilient. Sometimes we use softer measures such as precautionary speed restrictions. We are rolling out all sorts of clever technology across the network, such as earthworks failure detection systems, which are probes that sit inside embankments and detect movement that can be a precursor to a landslip.

Lots of good work is happening in this space and Jo Maguire, Liam Sumpter and I sit down with all four trade unions every quarter to take them through where we are with each of the recommendations. We have made some good progress in this area, but I agree with you that the impact of weather is significant. It is disruptive for our passengers and our staff. We need to do more to tackle what is a growing problem. Liam, would you like to add anything?

Monica Lennon

Thank you. Yes, I am keen to hear from Liam Sumpter. Alex Hynes mentioned resilience. Some routes will be more challenging than others because of drainage issues and other factors. Liam, could you expand on that briefly?

Liam Sumpter (Network Rail Scotland)

Good morning, committee. Alex Hynes’s answer was quite extensive and covered a lot of what I would have mentioned, but I will pick up on a couple of points.

The technology point is important. Because of the size of Scotland’s railway, using people to go and look at what is happening all the time is not safe and is labour intensive, so we use more technology. Alex mentioned the tilt meters that measure whether the embankments are slipping. If you are travelling about on Scotland’s railway and you see these little yellow poles about 1m high, sticking out of the bank, that is what you are seeing. Tilt meters are installed at over 100 sites now. You will be able to see that for yourselves.

We have also added technology at bridges to measure scour, when water erodes old structures around the bottom of bridges. We have done that at 25 of our key scour locations.

We are also using our helicopter more. We have a dedicated Network Rail helicopter with a camera on the front. In fact, the technology in the camera on the front of the helicopter is such that the camera costs more than the helicopter. It can see very small things that might interfere with the railway. It can spot landslips early. Sometimes those come from quite far away from the railway, so people travelling on the railway would not see them. The camera also detects different levels of heat, so it allows us to see whether something is happening around electrification assets and things like that.

To answer your point, some lines are harder to tackle than others. The west Highland line in particular is challenging to tackle, because the railway is built close to mountains in some cases. The topography is very challenging and, of course, it is the wettest part of the UK. Parts of the west Highland line saw more rain in a day in October than Glasgow has in the whole of an average October. It is very wet. We have to target our mitigations quite carefully to make sure that we do as much as possible to benefit as many passengers as possible, but affordably as well, because some infrastructure measures can be expensive. We need to target them accordingly.

Where we cannot do an immediate infrastructure fix, we apply operational restrictions such as speed restrictions. We try to target those to the most sensitive locations with the most risk so that we do not disrupt passengers unnecessarily.

Monica Lennon

There is a lot to comment on there, but we do not have time. I wonder whether we will see more operational restrictions, such as speed restrictions. What you told us about the helicopter is new information for me, so thank you for that.

I will come back to Alex Hynes. You said that Scotland’s Railway is industrial action free, but I am aware that the RMT—the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers—is balloting its ScotRail members tomorrow on the proposed extension of driver-only operation. It is quite timely that you are here. I wonder why this issue continues to be a problem. Unions fear that driver-only operation is being brought in by the back door. I know that you care about having good industrial relations, so what has been done to address that? Will Scotland’s Railway continue to be industrial action free?

I do not know whether Alex Hynes or Joanne Maguire is best placed to speak to this—perhaps both should answer.

Alex Hynes

I will start and then bring Jo Maguire in.

First, the constructive relationships that we have with our four trade unions in both businesses are critical in underpinning the service that we provide and, of course, they represent our people, who do a fantastic job every day and every night to deliver a fantastic rail service. That will not change. Where we have disagreements, we continue through dialogue to try to resolve them.

Of course, we are committed to having two people on board every train. In the west of the country, we tend to operate trains on a driver-only bases with a ticket examiner on board. In the east of the country, we tend to have a driver and a conductor on board. We find that allowing the drivers to open and close the doors is good for visibility for customers and good for revenue collection and so on. Both of those are safe methods of operation, as we call it.

With the investment that we are getting from the Scottish Government, we are electrifying some lines in the west of the country. We recently completed the electrification of the Barrhead line and we are completing the electrification of the Glasgow to East Kilbride line between now and December 2025. We are talking to our relevant trade unions about the method of operation on those routes. Hopefully, we will be able to resolve those differences without the need for any industrial action.

Joanne Maguire

The ballot opens tomorrow, but our door is still open and we are still in discussions. It is an interesting situation, because this involves both ASLEF—the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen—and the RMT, but ASLEF supports the changes that we want to make whereas the RMT opposes them.

As opposed to pushing a change through the back door, although we had wanted to implement this change in December when the newly electrified line was opened, we agreed, because of concerns that were raised by unions, to delay the implementation of the change to allow for further consultation and negotiation on what we intend.

We have guaranteed the employment of all the conductors, because there are other services running out of Glasgow Central, where they are based, that we can deploy them on. In fact, rather than services being unsafe, we have evidence that we can provide better value for the taxpayer by improving revenue collection and ensuring that the second person on the train is visible in order to better defend against antisocial behaviour and provide passenger assistance if required. The key factor is that we guarantee the employment of the conductors, and we are committed to delivering a second person on every train.

Monica Lennon

It sounds like there is a way to go here before everyone is around the table. Just so that I have this right, the Scottish Government’s position is that it specifies a requirement that all ScotRail services should have a second staff member on board to assist passengers. The RMT appears to be concerned that there will be discretion and that the train driver will have to make that decision. It feels as if there will be pressure on the train driver. Am I correct?

Joanne Maguire

I am conscious of time, so I am happy to have a follow-up discussion or correspondence if required. As we operate now, where the fleet is enabled, the driver will open and close the doors. There is always a second person rostered on those services, but if at short notice that person is not available, the train will run. We suggest that that would remain in place. ASLEF accepts that that is a current practice and that it is safe. We do not plan to run trains in that way but, with a short-notice cancellation, it would still be safe to operate a service without a second person.

As part of these negotiations and as an on-going matter since we have come into public ownership, we have worked hard to close the vacancy gap at ScotRail, which helps us deliver the guarantee of a second person on the train.

Monica Lennon

I think that we would appreciate more information. It is a live issue. I am not entirely sure of the business case. There is a commitment on rostering but no guarantee of the second person on board. I am not sure how often there will not be a second person. I will leave it there for now, convener.

The Convener

I am struggling here, because a lot of members want to ask supplementary questions, but the clock is against me. If members come in with supplementary questions, others will not get to ask questions, which will be difficult, so I will stick with the list that we have worked out. I ask members to keep their questions short and I ask the witnesses to answer as succinctly as possible, which, I am sure, they will say they have done already.

Bob Doris has the next questions.

Bob Doris

For brevity, I will roll two or three questions together. They are about opportunities relating to the purchasing of new rolling stock. How will ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper go about procuring new rolling stock in the future? For instance, will new trains be procured through rolling stock leasing companies—I put on record that I have some dissatisfaction with that model, to be honest—or will it be done directly by operators or some other public body?

Also—I said there was a lot in this question—how will rail users be involved in the design and layout of new rolling stock? There are three aspects: procurement, design and dialogue with passengers.

I see Joanne Maguire and Kathryn Darbandi scribbling away furiously. I do not know who wants to come in first.

Alex Hynes

We were worried that you would have three questions. I will come in first, if I may.

ScotRail’s fleet is relatively old and is getting older. We operate more types of rolling stock than any other operator in Britain. We need to invest in new rolling stock for two reasons. First, we want to remove diesel vehicles from the network. Secondly, we need to replace some trains because they are approaching life expiry.

We are working with the Scottish Government on those plans. Specifically, in ScotRail, that is about the replacement of our intercity trains and about suburban electric trains and suburban battery electric trains. That is aligned with the need to replace our older rolling stock in the west of the country and the fact that we continue to electrify the network and want to exploit the benefits of electrification to decarbonise the railway. Between ScotRail and Network Rail, Scottish Rail Holdings and the Scottish Government, those conversations are live, and we are working through the business case both for intercity and suburban rolling stock. I hope that we will make progress on that this year.

Our default assumption is that we will continue to procure trains as we have done for the past 25 years, which is through rolling stock leasing companies because, frankly, they put up the money so that other people do not have to. That market works well, although that is not to rule out any other financing options.

Before you continue, I have no concept—I am not sure that people listening in will have, either—of the cost of a railway carriage or train.

Alex Hynes

They are very expensive.

Go on—give us a clue. How much is a carriage?

Alex Hynes

It is a couple of million per carriage.

What about a train to pull it? What would the new version of the 125 cost, which I seem to remember having on my railway track when I was a kid?

Alex Hynes

A four-car electric train of the sort that runs between Glasgow and Edinburgh—most of them have eight carriages—would be £8 million. Trains are very expensive. We have 1,000 carriages in the fleet, and we need to replace around 65 per cent of those in the coming decade. That will be a huge investment.

Thank you. I just wanted to get that context. We will go back to Bob Doris’s questions.

Alex Hynes

Because—

Bob Doris

I apologise, Mr Hynes, but I will pause you there. The rolling stock operating companies, or ROSCOs, are effectively financing arrangements with leaseback. If I am right, under previous iterations, there was no control from the purchaser about where the work went to construct and maintain the trains. Scotland’s Railway has a lack of flexibility to direct some of that work and, if possible, through procurement, to create, maintain and preserve jobs in Scotland. Is that a reasonable reflection?

11:45  

Alex Hynes

You are absolutely right that they are, in essence, a financing arrangement. If you are not going to finance new trains through rolling stock leasing companies, the Scottish Government will have to decide where the finance will come from. Porterbrook, which is one of the rolling stock leasing companies, recently bought stock in Brodie Engineering at Kilmarnock, which is an interesting development. We would love for more of our work to be done in depots and facilities that are based in Scotland rather than having to send trains to England and bring them back.

You asked about how passengers will be involved. We have agreed with Transport Scotland officials that, when we go out to procure the new trains, we will specify level boarding, which closes entirely the gap between the train and the platform, where we have a modern platform. That will be an absolute game changer for accessibility on our railway. It will provide a genuine turn-up-and-go ability for people and might enable people with reduced mobility to travel unaccompanied.

Once we get the authority to commence the procurement—procuring a new train takes rather a long time—we will fully consult passengers on layout. We already have exciting ideas about family-friendly spaces, for example, on board trains, which will help to grow the market further.

I have spoken for quite a long time, I am afraid.

Does either of your colleagues wish to add anything?

Kathryn Darbandi

I can be succinct. We do not plan to procure any additional rolling stock because, as we discussed, we have new trains.

Ms Maguire, do you want to add something?

Joanne Maguire

We welcome the huge opportunity to replace some of the 11 different types of train that we currently run and potentially to simplify things for operation and for our customers, with improvements to accessibility. As Alex Hynes said, we will consult more fully with passengers, but be reassured that we have had initial consultation with stakeholder groups.

Bob Doris

Before I move on, I have a question about battery electric trains. I understand that they would be needed, for example, on the Maryhill line, which is not electrified. Modern battery electric trains could run on that line without electrification. Is that the benefit of battery electric?

Alex Hynes

Yes. Battery electric trains can use the overhead electrification system where it exists and, where it does not, they use energy from the batteries on board the train. A line with a small range, such as the Maryhill line, is within the range of a battery, which would enable us to decarbonise that route without any overhead electrification.

In addition, we are looking initially at the partial electrification of the railway in Fife and of the Borders railway. Again, having a battery electric train would enable us to decarbonise in advance of full electrification.

Bob Doris

It sounds more economic to do it that way, given the cost of full electrification.

On financing, ROSCOs appear to be the only show in town, because of the huge costs involved. Do the Government and ScotRail have the ability to knit together alternative financing arrangements, or is that just how it is?

Alex Hynes

We are the buyer, so we are free to decide how we want to finance our trains. Alternatives are available. For example, the Scottish National Investment Bank might be interested—I do not know. However, at the moment, our priority is making the business case with the Scottish Government to enable us to start the procurement, and then we can work through the exact financing later.

Bob Doris

I will move on to the accessibility of Scotland’s rail network. With the earlier panel, I raised the example of me using Springburn train station with my small child—it is more of an assault course than a train station to navigate. Other train stations with similar issues are available, convener, but that particular station has made it on to the access for all scheme shortlist for the second time. The Department for Transport will make a decision in due course, but it was on that shortlist previously. Does the access for all scheme work well, not just for Springburn station but across the country?

Do you have any other comments about the need to do more to make train stations more accessible to all? That includes not just families and wheelchair users but the visually impaired and others.

Alex Hynes

One oddity of the railway structure is that rail accessibility is reserved to Westminster. We have a strong track record of using the DFT access for all fund to invest in improving access for all at stations. We have just completed work at Port Glasgow, and we have a number of live schemes across the country. We want to do more.

On Springburn, it was great to see recently a joint ScotRail and Network Rail team go there to see what relatively low-cost but high-impact improvements we could make. There is a large local college, and it is also the nearest station to our control centre. I am sure that we can make improvements there. Recently, I was with the First Minister and the MSP for Pollok to see the improvements that we have made at Cardonald station.

As you rightly point out, such improvements do not only benefit people with accessibility needs; everyone benefits from those investments, which are often relatively small scale but can make a significant difference to people using the rail network.

Bob Doris

I have no more questions, convener but, for clarity and transparency, I point out that I was at the visit to Springburn station that Mr Hynes referenced. Also, I put on record—this came up in the earlier evidence session—that representatives of Sustrans, the college and Glasgow City Council were also there. The small charity Spirit of Springburn, of which I am a trustee and which engages in town centre regeneration, was also represented. There was a sense of proper collegiate partnership working.

Alex Hynes

One of the things that we have done in the past 12 months between ScotRail and Network Rail is to produce a sustainable travel to stations policy. Someone from Sustrans was seconded into the Network Rail team and he now works for Scotland’s Railway. Active travel links to stations are a growing part of our agenda. We see that at Levenmouth, where the active travel links to the stations are being built in from the start.

Thank you. The next question is from Douglas Lumsden.

Douglas Lumsden

Thanks, convener. I will go back to the issue of antisocial behaviour, which Monica Lennon mentioned earlier. What more are your organisations doing to combat antisocial behaviour on our railways? What can we do to assist?

Alcohol is banned now on ScotRail services at all times of day. What has happened with the consultation and where will that lead?

Alex Hynes

First, we are doing a lot of work on antisocial behaviour. As we know, during Covid we saw an increase in antisocial behaviour, and it was a big theme that came out from our staff survey. We are investing heavily in this area.

We have created a travel safe team in the west of the country. We are on a massive recruitment drive to fill front-line vacancies and we recently renewed our fleet of body cameras. We have now bought many more body cameras than we used to have because we see their use by our staff grow.

We have also strengthened our relationship with the British Transport Police, which is responsible for policing the network in Britain. We work with them in partnership to respond to the issues that we see—both the actual issues and the perception of security on trains and in stations.

We work hard on antisocial behaviour. In our staff engagement sessions, we are starting to notice the difference. Jo McGuire can provide some more detail on that.

The alcohol ban divides opinion. Everyone has a view on it. Some people would love to be able to drink on trains and some people are vehemently against drinking on trains. Scottish ministers have to decide on the alcohol ban policy but, as I say, there is no clear winner in terms of public opinion. It comes back to the policy objectives that the Scottish Government is trying to deliver and, therefore, it is a matter for Scottish ministers.

Douglas Lumsden

On that point, when I ask Scottish ministers, they say that it is up to ScotRail, which has conducted a consultation—people who used the train wi-fi were invited to give their views. When does that get reported back to Scottish ministers so that they can make a decision?

Alex Hynes

Jo Maguire can add something on this topic.

Joanne Maguire

As Alex Hynes said, that was part of the feedback that we have reported back on, and there is no clear winner. There is a roughly 50:50 split on views about alcohol on trains. We are conscious that it is a policy decision, because alcohol has a broader impact on society that goes beyond the issue of safety on our trains.

So, that information has gone back to Scottish ministers. When did they receive it?

Joanne Maguire

I will have to check that and write to the committee. However, that information has been sent to Transport Scotland.

Douglas Lumsden

I am frustrated that I am getting pinged between different places when I ask questions about the issue. I have asked you, and you have been quite honest with us; and I have asked ministers, who have said that the matter is a ScotRail decision. It is good to have that clarified.

Joanne Maguire

As for antisocial behaviour, I do not want to repeat what Alex Hynes has said, as I am conscious of time, but I confirm that we had support from the Scottish Government to invest in the body-worn cameras. As a consequence, the number has gone up threefold: we have moved from having 300 body-worn cameras available for our staff to having just more than 1,000. We also double-staff trains in known hotspots, so on certain lines where we see specific challenges, you will find two ticket examiners, especially late at night and over weekends.

Do you aim to have one body camera for every ticket inspector? Who will wear them?

Joanne Maguire

The numbers that we have now allow for ticket examiners and conductors—on-train staff—to wear them, and we have also provided for staff in stations to wear them if they want to.

Douglas Lumsden

Thank you. I will go on to my next question, convener, because I know that we are pressed for time.

We have heard concerns that passengers cannot always access the cheapest tickets through apps or ticket vending machines. Can you outline your plans for the future of rail ticket vending in Scotland?

Alex Hynes

As I am sure that we all know from experience, the fares and ticketing system in UK rail is furiously complicated, and the industry has wanted to reform it for a number of years but is unable to do so without changes to regulations. The conversations between industry and the UK Government around fares reform continue and are a part of the plans to create a simpler and better railway, which involve the creation of a new public body, which is to be called Great British Railways.

Our retail strategy is to invest in what we call supported self-service. We recently launched the ability to buy mobile tickets on the app, for example, and we have seen a massive growth in customer numbers using that method. Satisfaction with the ScotRail app has gone up up to 4.5 out of 5. Customers and, indeed, colleagues like it.

Of course, we recognise that people also need a bit more help, which is one reason why the staffing of our railway, on board and at stations, is a key part of our customer offer. As Jo Maguire mentioned, the recruitment drive that we are delivering in ScotRail makes a positive impact in this area.

I believe that a trial was run in Glasgow Central station with new vending machines. Can you explain what that was about? Was that successful?

Alex Hynes

We are trialling a new vending machine there from one of the manufacturers. We are looking to see the impact of that trial on the customer experience.

What is the difference with this new vending machine? How does it compare to the last ones?

Alex Hynes

I am not an expert in this area because I do not buy too many train tickets, but perhaps Jo Maguire knows a bit more of the detail.

Joanne Maguire

We have replaced one of our existing vending machines at Glasgow central with this new machine as part of a trial. If you get the chance to look at it, you will see that it is around half the size of the existing machine. It has two screens to give improved accessibility. We will take feedback before we make any decisions. Unfortunately, it will not make the ticket purchasing any simpler, due to the challenges around our ticketing regulations. However, what has made ticketing much simpler in Scotland for our passengers is the off-peak all-day trial.

Thanks. I will go on to my next question, which is about the ongoing use of the HST rolling stock. Are those trains safe, and when will they be replaced?

Alex Hynes

They are safe, and they meet all the requirements for the UK rail network. They are on lease to us until 2030. As I mentioned earlier, since the tragic accident in 2020, we have made a number of changes to the operation of the railway, including the trains themselves, and we made good progress on that, working with all four trade unions.

12:00  

We also work hard in our engineering teams on the reliability and availability of those trains and on the delivery of seats to customers. I am delighted to say that we have seen good improvements in that regard since the start of this calendar year. It was great to have Fiona Hyslop, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, at Haymarket last week to see that progress.

We are working through the business case for the replacement of those trains with the Scottish Government, and that is happening as we speak. Hopefully, we will be able to progress that this year, because 2030 is not too far away in railway time.

Douglas Lumsden

The trade unions have raised concerns about the HST. I was looking at the RAIB report on Carmont, which considered it more likely than not that the outcome would have been better if the train had complied with modern crashworthiness standards. Is that a reason to have them replaced sooner?

Alex Hynes