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Chamber and committees

Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee

Meeting date: Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Agenda: Subordinate Legislation, Common Agricultural Policy Payments, ScotRail Alliance (Update)


ScotRail Alliance (Update)

The Convener

Item 4 is to take evidence from the ScotRail Alliance. Following the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee’s inquiry into access to Scotland’s major railway stations in session 4, Phil Verster, the managing director of the ScotRail Alliance, made a commitment to provide regular updates on rail network and service issues to the predecessor committee. This committee has agreed that it would be helpful to continue those sessions.

I welcome Phil Verster and Karl Budge, the regional director of the infrastructure projects Scotland and north-east, Network Rail. I invite Mr Vester to make an opening statement.

Phil Verster (ScotRail Alliance)

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be here today. I am keen to share with the committee the exciting future plans we have for Scotland’s railway over the next three years. During the next three years, there will be four big changes to Scotland’s railway, which will have a big impact on our customers, customer satisfaction, and the capacity and size of the railway.


The first change includes infrastructure programmes and projects such as the Edinburgh to Glasgow improvement programme, and work on the route from Aberdeen to Inverness, which will contribute significantly to how the railway operates. I will give you a sense of the capacity increase that will be possible after those changes. On the Aberdeen to Inverness route, capacity and daily seats will increase by about 75 per cent; in the central belt, seat capacity will increase by about 51 per cent; in the Borders, there will be 33 per cent more capacity; on the lines from Aberdeen to the central belt, there will be 66 per cent more capacity; and Inverness to the central belt will have 43 per cent more capacity. Those are huge capacity increases.

Secondly, we are changing the fleet size in Scotland from about 800 to 1,000 vehicles. That increase of nearly 200 vehicles will make a massive difference to our ability to improve our performance on the railway. Congested trains run slower and are more difficult to keep to time. The capacity from extra rolling stock will allow us to solve many of our customers’ complaints about capacity.

The third big change is to the products we offer our Scottish customers. Implementing an intercity railway between the seven cities of Scotland is a fantastic change. We will replace the old commuter-type rolling stock that currently works the services between places such as Aberdeen, Inverness and the central belt.

The fourth and final change, which is fantastic for us, is that we are investing significantly in our employees, in behaviours, and in customer experience and customer focus programmes. Over the next three years, we will see a change in how we serve our customers, as well as how our customers buy tickets. Our smart card programme is very exciting. By March 2019, we expect about 60 per cent of our ticket sales to be through smart cards, rather than the old paper-based tickets. All those changes will amount to a significantly different railway and a positive change for Scotland’s railway.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be here today. I will continue to support the committee, and I am keen to attend further sessions in the future and to continue to update you on our work on Scotland’s railway.

Thank you for that opening statement. Before we move on to the questions, do any members present have declarations of interest to make? It seems that four of us do. John Mason, would you like to go first?

I do not know whether I need to declare this, but I chair Parliament’s cross-party group on rail.

I am honorary president of the Scottish Association for Public Transport and honorary vice-president of Railfuture.

I am joint vice-president of the Friends of the Far North Line.

Gosh, they are all coming out.

I am a member of the RMT—National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers—parliamentary group.

Gosh, it is never-ending.

Sorry, I thought you had seen me indicate before. I am joint vice-president, along with Gail Ross, of the Friends of the Far North Line.

Anyone else? If there is no one else, I will declare an interest: the Aberdeen to Inverness line goes through my farm.

Big farm.

It is a very small farm of 500 acres, but I just happen to have a railway in the middle of it. Let us move on. The first question is on project management, and Stewart Stevenson will lead on that.

We were going to say something about the alliance first.

Yes, sorry.

John Mason

I have an extra question to start off with. We will cover a lot of ground, but will Phil Verster say by way of introduction something about how the ScotRail Alliance works with Network Rail? In the past, we thought that you represented ScotRail and somebody else represented Network Rail, but you now represent both. Can you explain how that works? Obviously, others that are not part of that alliance, such as CrossCountry, use the railway. How does it affect them?

Phil Verster

In the past two or three years, Network Rail has devolved responsibility for operations, maintenance and renewals—therefore, not enhancement projects—to what are called routes. A Scotland route deals with operations, maintenance and renewals here. To picture it, those teams work for me to maintain on a daily basis all the infrastructure equipment out there—tunnels, bridges and signalling, for example—to renew it on an on-going basis so that, when it gets to the end of its life, it is fixed, and to ensure that the railway is operated in the interests of all the train operators that operate in Scotland. I have accountability for that in the Scotland route. Abellio ScotRail sits right next to that as the franchise that was let by the Scottish Government.

Throughout the United Kingdom, the two parts of the railway have been separated as different entities. In Scotland alone, we formed the ScotRail Alliance. The logic behind that was that, in the end, the customer on the ground does not really want to know how the railway has decided to organise itself. Rather, the customer has very clear requirements: to go on journeys, to travel punctually and to get a good service. In Scotland, we put the two organisations together to work together, close the gaps that existed between the two companies in the past, and get a better product out for customers. I am sure that we will spend a lot of time talking about that.

As a distinction, Karl Budge, who is a close colleague, is the regional director of a part of Network Rail that is not part of our alliance. It is called Network Rail infrastructure projects. He heads up the operations in Scotland as well as those in the north-east of England from York. He contributes very closely to Scotland.

My team holds the clienting responsibility, so it ensures that everything that Karl Budge delivers is delivered to Transport Scotland’s requirements. Therefore, if there is any difficulty with scope or programme delivery, which Karl Budge is accountable for, we will work together with him and Transport Scotland to come up with the right answer for Scotland.

On John Mason’s question about other train operators, I hold a regular review with other operators—indeed, I did that this week—because there is a different dimension. Six different train operators regularly operate in Scotland, including the Caledonian sleeper, Virgin Trains East Coast and its west coast service, CrossCountry and First TransPennine Express. Even though ScotRail and Network Rail are an alliance for operations, maintenance and renewals, it is really important that we have a breadth of approach to deal with the issues of other train operators specifically.

I will give a brief example. When Lamington on the west coast had the scour problem last year due to the excessively high water levels on the Clyde, I took my ScotRail trains off the Glasgow and south-western railway line and we ran Virgin west coast trains. We cancelled our service to run them. I could have taken a proprietary approach and said, “No—our trains will run,” but we decided what was best for Scotland, and that is why Virgin Trains got a clear path. We cancelled our services to accommodate it. That is the type of approach that we follow.

We regularly review with other train operators how we are servicing their requirements. The model is unique in the United Kingdom, and it is very innovative. We aim to focus on our customers as well as we can.

That is very helpful. Thank you.


John Finnie

Thank you for your various reports, Mr Verster. I imagine that Abellio hopes to get some sort of advantage out of the deep alliance. If, all things being equal, there was the opportunity for a commuter train from Perth to travel to Ladybank or for a delayed sleeper to travel north from Ladybank to Perth on that single stretch, which would have priority?

Phil Verster

That is a good question. In our control centre, we have a clear definition of regulation priorities. We make a regulation decision when two trains get to a junction and we agree with the train operators the choice of which is the most important to run.

Your Ladybank example is spot on because, when the Caledonian sleeper trains were diverted during the Winchburgh tunnel blockade, we had to make choices when the Caledonian sleeper got to its slot too late. If we let it run, we would often affect four or five services through Fife. We therefore made arrangements with the Caledonian sleeper to ensure that it got there early, so that it could use its slot.

We have clear sets of rules. We make no judgment and we do not say, “That is our train—we can go first.” There are clear choices about how we make regulation decisions, which are agreed with the train operators. We try not to leave that to chance.

You did not mention the freight transport companies. Where do they fit in? The limitations of the line structure mean that one delay can result in several knock-on delays, as you said.

Phil Verster

Freight operators are included in the cross-team collaboration and discussion with other train operators. We have a freight forum that meets my team regularly, separately from the train operating companies. The issues with freight are very different from those for train companies, but freight is as important, if not more important, in some market sectors. We have a dedicated person who develops freight opportunities and works closely with the freight companies.

Freight trains often do not run to the same time constraints as passenger services. Freight companies are also listed in the regulation statement that I mentioned in the example of the Caledonian sleeper running relative to Abellio ScotRail trains. By industry agreement, freight trains are often at the bottom of the list of regulation choices, because the time criticality on passenger services for punctuality is five minutes at end destination while, for freight companies, it is flexible.

Thank you—that was helpful.

Stewart Stevenson

I will focus on Network Rail’s management of projects. In the light of what is happening on EGIP in particular, the Scottish Government has commissioned a study of project management. Network Rail has experienced a number of issues Great Britain wide that interest us. The great western railway electrification project is well known to be in serious difficulties. How are you seeking to address project management issues in relation to what is happening in Scotland—primarily under EGIP, although there are other projects?


Karl Budge (Network Rail)

Thank you, convener, for the opportunity to be at the meeting and speak to the committee.

As Mr Stevenson said, we have a number of national issues. They were realised four or five years ago and they are mainly in a couple of categories. As an industry, we were quite late in developing the current enhancements work bank and therefore in defining clearly the scope that would achieve the required outputs that we were given, which related to time savings and capacity increases, for instance.

It was acknowledged that the costs that were given back in 2013-14 were not fully developed to meet the required scope and outputs. As an industry answer to that issue, the enhancements cost-adjustment mechanism was put together. It allows us to take the initial business plan and then, at an appropriate point, when the scope has been developed into a single option and some of the ground investigation into the more detailed issues has been done, we agree with the Office of Rail and Road on an efficient cost to deliver the project. That is happening with each project as we work through the current five-year control period, which is from 2014 through to 2019. That is the first point.

The second thing that we realised is that, instead of having given just a single figure at the beginning of the control period and having defined something that none of us was really certain about, we should probably have given a range of figures for what projects could cost.

Several reports have been done in Great Britain over the past couple of years—Sir Peter Hendy’s report, the Bowe report and the Shaw report. The Bowe report is specifically about the issues of cost and scope that I just talked about.

There were further issues as we came into the current control period. The one bespoke feature of the control period is that the amount of electrification is increasing tenfold in comparison with what happened previously, which is a massive leap in electrification. It also ties in with all the design and specification increases that have come out in modern electrification—we have significantly modernised how we electrify the railway. That is a significant piece of work.

What I described was accepted by the Network Rail board in early 2015 and we set up the enhancements improvement plan, which focuses on seven key elements that we need to do better on. We are working through those seven key elements. The ORR is reviewing how three elements of that plan are being ingrained in Scotland and I think that it is due to report to Transport Scotland at the end of October.

The three specific elements are about portfolio governance, which is partly about the relationship between my team and Phil Verster’s team, through to Transport Scotland and the ORR. It is also partly about specific project governance and how we carry out reporting, and it is about project portfolio monitoring and how we pull all the enhancement projects together so that there is visibility of the entire portfolio in Scotland at once. That review is going on.

I can talk in detail about each of those points and a load of other things, but I will let the committee advise me on whether it would like me to go into much deeper detail.

Stewart Stevenson

Forgive me if I suggest that that sounds a bit like jam tomorrow when we have projects that are in course now. There seems to be considerable doubt about what parts of the Shaw report will be implemented, and that is definitely jam tomorrow—if it is anything.

The one thing that you did not mention was access to the skills that are required for particular projects. For example, there are Europe-wide shortages in signalling engineers, and there are shortages in engineers who can do overhead electrification. How does that influence and feed into the projects that you are undertaking?

Phil Verster

I will respond to the first aspect, which concerns the Bowe review and the improvements in project management that Mr Stevenson referred to. It is unambiguously clear that, in the UK industry and throughout Network Rail, the pricing and estimates for schemes and infrastructure projects for 2014 to 2019 were done too early.

That work was often done through desktop exercises and best estimates, without enough detail. When we get on the ground and when detailed designs are produced, we see that the cost of the work will be significantly more, because issues arise. Ground tests are done and, all of a sudden, although we thought that we were going to lay a track in one way, we need to do it in one of 10 different ways and put in much more of it. We will talk about that issue as we come to it.

On your questions about project management and skills, we have seen in Karl Budge’s team—he will talk about his experience as EGIP comes up—a significant limit on resources for electrification specialities. Our work on project management has been extensive, and we have put in place a better project management office and more transparent procedures.

When we realised in January or February that electrification in EGIP was behind schedule, we made significant changes to the project’s senior management. We made intrusive changes to the way in which that team worked, relative not only to the ScotRail Alliance but to Transport Scotland. Karl Budge will talk you through the detail.

As for electrification projects, your comment on scarce resources is on the mark. The design bottleneck of skills resources in the United Kingdom when we come to follow through on designs is significant, and many parts of our electrification project now involve ensuring that we get access to the right competencies at the right time.

Stewart Stevenson

When I was the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change, I agreed with Andrew Adonis on the need to take a 10-year view on how we undertook electrification so that we could give the industry a solid programme that it could ramp up for. That probably has not happened, but you do not need to comment on that, as we do not have time.

I have a final point on projects, particularly given your Dutch experience. I recognise that you have no bridges or cuttings in the Netherlands but, nonetheless, there is a startling difference in the cost of doing projects in GB—and in Scotland in particular—in comparison with most of Europe and perhaps the Netherlands in particular. Why is that the case? Can we learn something more from our continental cousins about how we manage and deliver projects?

Phil Verster

That is an astute observation. We go out and look at how other countries in Europe operate: how they make decisions, deal with critical aspects and secure access with the train operators. In many cases, the separation between track operator and train operator is not the same as it is in the UK, and the cost equation to get access to the railway is different. However, your point is still valid. Karl Budge will pick up on what has been done to get our standards to comply with European standards, which has contributed to cost increases across our electrification programme.

Karl Budge

I will add a bit to the answer, specifically on the different access regime in Holland. It is not unusual in Holland, when a significant enhancement is being delivered, to close the railway for several weeks. That can be accepted—I have reports that I can send the committee to back up that comment if need be. The railway can be closed or there can be a different access regime at night.

For the elements of EGIP that we are working on, we get circa 1.5 hours of good working time per night after the final train has gone. By the time we have started the possession, briefed everybody and got them on site, we have 1.5 hours of working before we take them off. Unfortunately, that will never be a really efficient way in which to do a significant amount of work on the railway, but that is the regime under which we work.

The Convener

Closing railways is a dangerous proposition that I would not necessarily recommend.

I will press you a wee bit on project management, so that I understand the issue. Project management is good when there is scrutiny downwards as well as upwards and from higher up. What level of scrutiny does the Government have of projects? How regular are your meetings with it on projects? I was surprised to see a quote from the Minister for Transport and the Islands that suggested that he was not aware of a delay that was coming down the track—excuse the pun.

Phil Verster

With Transport Scotland, we have formed a portfolio board. Even before we did so, we and Transport Scotland met at regular EGIP board meetings to review progress. In the portfolio board, we review the full-cost estimates for the various programmes. We work closely with Transport Scotland, which plays a strong and positive role in helping us to understand the Scottish Government’s priorities.

As for our governance procedures, we have layers of governance. Karl Budge and his team inform me and my team of where they are in relation to their programme deliveries. He has an electrification team that works in alliance with him and his team, and they have alliance board meetings at which they track how that programme is running.

At the front of the business, there are weekly visualisation rooms or control rooms where governance is exercised in relation to the progress that has been made that week or the previous night. That level of control is part of the corrective actions that we have implemented since January and February this year.

The Convener

In his letter to me of 5 July, the Minister for Transport and the Islands said that EGIP was on schedule, but now it is seven months late. When was the last meeting before 5 July with the portfolio board, which informs Transport Scotland on the project?

Phil Verster

I do not have the exact meeting dates here, but I can provide the committee with those dates in correspondence. However, I can offer helpful clarification. In January, the then leadership of the team that managed the EGIP electrification programme started to indicate to me that there were delays—quote, unquote—that had to be quantified and clarified, but the initial estimate was that the delays were in the region of eight weeks.

We immediately started a programme to establish exactly what the delays would be. I insisted that there be a review, a critical path analysis of where the programme was, a resource assessment and a risk assessment of the programme. The process to clarify exactly where the programme was, what work had been done and what work was outstanding started to elevate quite a lot of the issues that we have seen and have gone on to rectify.

On 11 or 15 February—I will confirm that date, too—we informed Transport Scotland that there were delays in the ball park of eight weeks that were being investigated. At the time, we did not know the scope of the work or its cost. The eight-week delay was still such that it would have enabled key output 1 to be achieved in December this year. Although the delays were visible in January and February, it was expected that we could still deliver the programme. The ScotRail Alliance responded by changing when we do training of drivers to ensure that we could still hit an energisation date.

As an industry, we thought that we had come up with a really workable solution. However, as we kept on digging and finding problems with the programme—Karl Budge joined during that stage as leadership changes were made on that side of the business—we found more issues. In the end, the programme that we advised the minister on in March or April, which was close to the date that the convener talked about, looked different from the one that we thought in February would be achievable. We started to share what we thought the cost estimates were because, by then, we had costed the change in compliance to the European standard that we insisted that the project must achieve.


The Convener

I appreciate that you will give the committee those dates afterwards. What concerns me is that we moved from February, when there was a seven-week or eight-week delay, to May, which is when the minister told us that the delay had got to seven months, and there was nothing in the public domain about that. It might be helpful just to leave that there and ask for the dates and a timeline so that the committee can understand the situation.

John Mason will move on to the specific issue of EGIP.

John Mason

We have already spoken quite a bit about EGIP, but I have a few more points to make.

I was surprised and disappointed about EGIP because other projects have gone fantastically well. The new Airdrie to Bathgate electrified line went according to time and budget. The same was true of the Borders line, although it is not electrified. I accept that the Queen Street tunnel closure was a separate project, but it seemed to go very smoothly. It is therefore a bit of a surprise that EGIP did not. The ORR has made various comments about it, and it raised the question of international engineering specifications and electricity-at-work regulations. Were they major factors?

Phil Verster

I would really like to explain that. I will start by putting our delivery in Scotland into perspective. Despite the difficulties that we are now facing, our delivery and Karl Budge’s team’s delivery have been exemplary. We have 16 regulated targets, or milestones, during the control period from 2014 to 2019. We have already delivered 10 on time and another four are in progress and will be delivered on time. There are two left—one of which is the key output 2 that we are talking about now, and the other is, potentially, key output 3, which is completion of the Queen Street refurbishment, which might be affected by the current Transport and Works (Scotland) Act 2007 programme that we are working through.

Delivery has therefore been good, but the compliance part of the international specification for electrification has added critical costs and time to our programme. Karl Budge will explain how the original programme had a national Network Rail standard that we thought could be delivered, but our risk assessments led us to a decision to adopt the European standard.

Karl Budge

Electrification compliance is quite complex, so I will try to keep this as simple as I can for the purposes of this meeting. Multiple bits of legislation tie into compliance; some of it is UK legislation and some is European. Some of the standards are UK rail standards, and Network Rail has its own further set of standards and advice notes. There is an element of being in a minefield. A lot of the standards allow for interpretation and risk assessment of an acceptable level of achievement against them. Interpretation comes into it—our interpretation and that of the ORR have not always been the same, partly because we have had a way of managing electrification on the network that does not necessarily always tie in with some of the new requirements coming along in the transitional phase.

I will mention some specific compliance issues that we have had. In early 2015, there was an energy technical specification for interoperability—or TSI. That is a European standard that was updated—it changed the distance from wires that was considered to be safe for bridges and railway platforms. That caused redesign of wire heights on some of the structures that we had on the EGIP line.

Just for clarification, I presume that the new rules were stricter and stipulated greater distances.

Phil Verster

That is correct.

Karl Budge

As far as the wires are concerned, their minimum distance from the edge of a platform used to be 2.75m. That was increased to 3.5m, and the distance from a bridge to the wires went from something like 270mm to 350mm. That did not mean that we needed complete rewiring of EGIP and replacement of everything that had been put up, as the media suggested several weeks ago; rather, it meant redesign in certain areas and very localised changes around structures where we had to change the wire height slightly or assess the risk in order to prove that we did not need to make changes. That process, which is on-going, started in 2015. With a project the length of EGIP and with the number of structures on it, the process has been complex and each risk assessment has to be signed off and agreed in turn. That is one example.

The TSI has also impacted on things such as boundary-wall measures, and we now have to put in place thousands of metres more fencing than we had originally considered. Also, I can pass round some photographs of parapets. The typical parapet on a bridge goes up to the level that you can see in the picture that I am holding up; we have had to put two extra layers of brickwork and a very significant coper on top of that on probably 140 or 150 parapets along the railway line.

Phil Verster

For members’ reference, none of the older electrification schemes—for example, the east coast and west coast main lines—would have had those restrictions on them. They were built under the old specification—

Is it necessary to go back and change things on those projects?

Phil Verster

Not at all. Network Rail attempted to keep costs down by saying that the new specification is really high and asking whether it could risk assess things in order to get a derogation and therefore not to have to comply. Last year, when all the shenanigans started and the cost issues became really clear, it became obvious to ScotRail Alliance and to me that if we did not comply with the standards the ORR would not sign off the line to go live; if we had continued to debate the matter, we would have got late into the programme and built the railway only for the ORR to say that we could not run anything on it.

Around March—just before Karl Budge joined us—I said to the project team, “Stop the debate and move to the new standard. The railway will have hundreds of years of life into the future, so fix this now.”

How much notice are you given when that kind of new rule is brought in? How long do you have to adapt to and prepare for it?

Phil Verster

I dare say that the amount of notice is reasonable. For full transparency, I say that the debate on risk assessments and the standards that were to be used went on for too long. We had to call time on it, and did so in 2015.

Karl Budge

I should make it absolutely clear that that specific compliance issue relates to an energy standard update in 2015. Other European standards came into being in 2011; Network Rail continued to debate those with the ORR for several years and, as a result, we did not react to them immediately. We could perhaps have done that faster.

So the 2011 rules were there, but you were still discussing how they needed to be applied.

Karl Budge

Yes—and we were discussing whether the hierarchy of standards in the UK was above the European standards. The whole standards debate is extremely complex.

That is helpful. We probably do not want to go on for ever on this particular theme, so perhaps I could ask two more questions—

Phil Verster

What I am going to say is really important to understand and is for the committee’s benefit. It is an unpalatable and difficult message, but because the ORR made reference to in its submission, I will say that quite a lot of the cost movement in rolling electrification programmes—around 50 per cent—is due to compliance issues. The money is not being wasted; rather, the railway is getting a different specification and the work has to be done. Compliance has a programme impact, and we are doing everything that we can, working closely and collaboratively with Transport Scotland and the supply chain, to deliver it. It is not money wasted. The project is delivering on a different scope from what was envisaged when the programmes were costed and estimated in 2012.

So we have been unlucky with EGIP that the new rules came in when they did, and we were lucky that the rules did not change at the time of the Airdrie to Bathgate rail link.

Phil Verster

Gradually over time, the ORR has insisted that compliance levels be increased to the current standards. That is one of the big differences in cost drivers between the Airdrie to Bathgate rail link and where we are today.

We have looked at the past. How is the timetable going forward on EGIP, and what about cost?

Phil Verster

We have submitted to Transport Scotland our estimates for what the cost increases will be and what the programme will be. Transport Scotland, supported by Ernst & Young, is busy with its own review, and it intends to declare the outcome of that review and the cost increases across the programmes when the review is complete.

Clearly, the cost that Network Rail submits to Transport Scotland is only a part of the overall cost picture. Transport Scotland will declare the full impact on EGIP at the end of October, after which it will be useful for us or Transport Scotland to share with the committee the costs and the timeline for the costs.

When will electric trains run on the line?

Phil Verster

Key output 1 was electrification by December, but the first of the new electric trains that are going to be delivered—the class 385—will arrive in September next year. The current programme that Karl Budge and his team are working on is due for completion in July. We are doing quite a lot of work to improve that and to turn the situation into a success. Maybe we will update you on that at a future meeting.

Even though key output 1 has moved back to July, that will still be in time to accommodate new trains, therefore the customer impact will be negligible. However, we wanted electrification as soon as possible.

As part of this, or as a separate project, Queen Street tunnel was closed. As far as I am aware, that went very smoothly.

Phil Verster

It did.

John Mason

People were pretty happy with that project. The line was closed, but we survived, and that was great. Somewhat to my surprise, however, when you reintroduced the timetable, other lines—in particular the Airdrie to Bathgate line—had different timetables, which resulted in reduced services, especially for people in the east end of Glasgow. How did that happen and why was there no local consultation?

Phil Verster

There was extensive consultation. The consultation on what the post-Queen Street project timetable would look like was conducted when we consulted on the timetable for the Queen Street blockade itself. Since that project ended we have had a clock-face timetable: if a train runs every quarter of an hour, it runs exactly on the quarter. By running like that, customers are given a high degree of certainty that if there are three trains an hour, there will not be two bunched together in the first quarter and the other one some other time. Customers know when the trains run. With regard to John Mason’s comment on capacity, by having a clock-face timetable we have been able to have stronger capacity than we had in the past.

We also have a real opportunity to exploit untapped latent demand from North Lanarkshire to West Lothian; there are travel opportunities that we have not maximised with previous timetables. We have, since the Queen Street blockade, suggested applying that four-trains-an-hour approach, or a train every quarter, and the clock-face timetable.


Shettleston station used to have four trains an hour to Edinburgh but now has only two. Do you accept that that is a cut in service?

Phil Verster

I will have to come back to you on Shettleston, because I do not think that it does have two trains an hour to Edinburgh. I think that it had two fast trains and two slower trains, which were stoppers, and we changed the two fast trains to slower trains. Therefore, there are more multiple-stop trains. By doing that, we have given our customers along the whole route a better service, in terms of the stopping pattern, without increasing journey time too significantly. The original timetable included the idea of fast trains running from Glasgow through to Edinburgh, but we have introduced a different stopping pattern, which has added something like two minutes to those journeys. I will get back to you on Shettleston specifically.

Thank you—and thank you, convener. I think that I have had my shot.

Yes. We are running short of time, and Rhoda Grant would like to come in on EGIP, too.

Rhoda Grant

It is a very short question, because many of the questions have been answered. Given that the specification was in place a long time ago, who was responsible for implementing it as part of the design? Was it Transport Scotland, ScotRail Alliance or the contractor? Who is at fault for not implementing the specifications?

Phil Verster

Could you please clarify which specifications you are talking about? Is that for EGIP?


Karl Budge

The outputs sit with Transport Scotland and are passed to us. We deliver those outputs, so we build up the final specification, along with route colleagues in Phil Verster’s team. Then, delivering to that specification is absolutely my accountability. However, I take you back to the point that the compliance situation’s development over the past three or four years has brought a number of changes in the specification; each time one of the compliance elements changes, we change the specification of what we are building. That is why we have to remain relatively agile, from a design perspective.

Phil Verster

The decision on how to implement the specification resides with Network Rail. Transport Scotland, as the client, quite correctly specifies an output. For example, Transport Scotland says that there is a requirement to run an hourly or half-hourly service on the route from Aberdeen to Inverness, but it does not specify that a bridge somewhere has to be fixed and double track is needed somewhere else.

So it is very much Network Rail’s responsibility to get the project design correct.

Phil Verster

That is right.

Karl Budge


Are you going back to Transport Scotland for more money because you got it wrong.

Phil Verster

That is correct.

We will move on from EGIP. Mike Rumbles has a question on the Aberdeen to Inverness line.

Mike Rumbles

I was just thinking that train services every quarter of an hour would be marvellous.

On the Aberdeen to Inverness project, the Office of Rail and Road indicated in written evidence to the committee that it is reviewing the project and that elements of it may be delayed by some years, which I find alarming. I am really concerned about that. What does it mean? Can you give me an update on what is happening on the Aberdeen to Inverness line?

Phil Verster

Yes, I can give you an update. My honest view is that there is no better example of where the previous estimation and pricing regime has not worked than the Aberdeen to Inverness project. That was covered by the Bowe review and was found to be an endemic problem throughout the United Kingdom.

I will give you two practical examples. I have described to you previously the aspirations for capacity increase on Aberdeen to Inverness. With the Aberdeen to Inverness programme we will deliver a 75 per cent increase in seat capacity on weekdays. You said that a service every quarter of an hour would be attractive, but you will get a service every half hour, which is fantastic for that part of our network—we are very excited about that.

The initial exercise to determine what Aberdeen to Inverness should look like as a future railway was very much a strategic and planning process. It was a desktop exercise without enough detail development. Even with our revised programme, we are not declaring that it will be years late; that is not on the cards. What we are declaring is that the programme may be completed in two phases. As you probably know, we have already spent nearly £30 million on the initial work at Elgin and Forres.

I come to the two examples. To deal with the half-hourly service on Elgin to Inverness, capacity changes were needed. If we were to have delivered what was originally envisaged, we would probably have had to come back in five or 10 years’ time, close the line again and do more work on it. When it came to the detailed design over the past year, we needed to understand in detail what had to be done on the ground. The team identified that now is the right time to put in things like turnback facilities for trains to turn round, more sidings and different signalling. That was not envisaged originally but it is being implemented now to give the capacity that is useful for the future development of the line. We go in once, spend the money once and get it done once. What we are incurring now is the cost that would have been incurred somewhere in the future in order to add capacity. The phasing of how Aberdeen to Inverness would have grown and developed over the next 10 or 15 years has been affected by that decision and how we now plan to do the Elgin to Inverness end.

The second example is the line between Inverurie and Aberdeen, which was previously double tracked. The desktop exercise assumed that, because it was previously double tracked, we would double track it again. It was decided only to renew 4 miles of track. However, when ground studies were done and people started to get into the nitty-gritty of the detail on the ground—that is a big change from what we have done in the previous control period up to 2019; we will do it differently in future—it was found that we had to do extensive earthworks to support the new double tracking and that those earthworks would be necessary to avoid having to procure land on the side of the railway. It is a cost balance.

The team then said that if we have to move the track in order to get everything to where it needs to be and deliver the railway as we want it, we will have to renew a further 11 miles of track. I will explain how that works. That track would have been renewed at some point in the future—say seven or 10 years from now—so we have pulled forward costs that we would have incurred in future to get the programme to give us the best possible railway when we commission it.

Those are examples of scope changes that mean that, if we do not work out the detail up front to the level at which we can pinpoint the cost better, it comes back and looks like big numbers after the event. However, as with other cases, the railway is getting more because more is being done to get the railway in place. That is not about wastage or costs; it is about more capacity being added.

When can the residents of my area of Aberdeenshire who are on that line expect a half-hourly service?

Phil Verster

December 2019.

You are fairly confident about that.

Phil Verster

I am. Forgive me for saying it like this, but I know how committees like this feel when they see witnesses. I am passionate about our railway and so is Karl Budge. We want to deliver the right thing and we are focused on getting our estimates right and the job delivered properly. The plans that we have submitted to Transport Scotland aim for December 2019.

Karl Budge

I will just add two points. First, the team that is working on the Aberdeen to Inverness route is the same team that delivered the Borders railway and the Airdrie to Bathgate line. It is an excellent team with great people in it, and such a team does not just become bad overnight. Secondly, one of the regulatory milestones that we passed a couple of months ago in July, in this control period, was the single option development on the Aberdeen to Inverness route. We hit that milestone, so from my perspective today we are on programme, as was anticipated three years ago. The change since then is that the scope has grown, which is what pushes it into the beginning of the next control period.

The Convener

Can you clarify something for me, Mr Verster? You said that we would have a train on the line every half an hour in December 2019. Is that a train between Aberdeen and Inverness, or is it on a shorter route? I want to be absolutely clear so that I can understand what we are holding you to account for when we meet again in 2019.

Phil Verster

There are a number of phases for what we will deliver and when timetable changes will be implemented. We implement timetable changes in May and December every year. I will supply the committee with our forecast of what will happen in each of the timetable changes on that line from now to December 2019.

Right. I look forward to seeing those timetables. Mike, are you happy that we leave that there? We have a huge amount to cover.


Stewart Stevenson has a quick question on electrification.

I think that we have covered it, convener.

We could save it for later.

Do not worry about it.

Richard Lyle

Mr Budge, I now know why you are raising the bridges on the M74—thank you very much for that information. Incidentally, Mr Verster, my mother-in-law was Dutch and I travelled on quite a lot of trains in Holland. Thank you for allowing John Mason and me to walk through the new Queen Street tunnel before it was opened—that was an interesting day.

The Office of Rail and Road has identified issues with the rolling programme of electrification, especially on the Shotts and Dunblane lines, and in particular with the underestimation of works required to deliver the project. How did that happen and what are you doing to rectify those problems and prevent them from reoccurring in future projects? Does the closure of the bridge over the railway at Cleland station have any effect on timetables?

The Convener

That was an extremely long and detailed question, but we have a huge amount on the agenda. I therefore implore the witnesses to keep their answers as short as possible, and I ask committee members to keep their questions as short as possible. I am not looking at anyone in particular—that was a very reasonable question—but we have a lot to cover between now and 12.30.

Karl Budge

Many of the electrification issues on the Shotts project and other projects that we are delivering at the moment come back again, unfortunately, to the compliance issue. I think that we have probably covered that enough. I have been making changes since I started.

I take Mr Stevenson’s point about enhancements and improvements being “jam tomorrow”. We have to do things immediately to try to get hold of some of the things that we are doing. I have restructured the Scotland team so that we have a specific programme management organisation that sits above all the electrification schemes. That also gives us a single engineering team that sits beneath all that, instead of siloed engineering teams sitting on each scheme. That means that, as we get the compliance learning on key output 1, for example, it is passed on to Shotts, Stirling, Dunblane and Alloa. That is a significant change.

In addition, the commercial team in Scotland has moved to a more matrix-managed structure, which is increasing the level of transparency across my team. Instead of something coming up through a hierarchy, as it used to do, there is now much more internal transparency as well as challenge. There is also the change in reporting regimes that I have instigated in both Scotland and London north eastern. We are making a number of internal changes to strengthen the way in which we deliver electrification projects.

On the timetable changes at Cleland—

Phil Verster

Can I respond to you in writing on that after the meeting, please?

Yes. Thank you.


We move on to the Borders railway. It is probably not surprising that we want to look at that, because the service has been in the news. John Finnie will start.

John Finnie

The very nature of committees is that we dwell on the negatives, so it is important to mention that the good work that you and your staff do is appreciated.

I will roll my questions on Borders rail into one big question. There have been issues around crew shortages, signal failures, the overheating of the class 158 units and passenger number projections. How does that all fit with the improvement plan requested by the transport minister? Will you comment on all those issues, please?

Phil Verster

Yes. The Borders railway is just a fantastic railway. Our people who work on the railway make a fantastic contribution, and the customers are just brilliant. It is a big success.

The first year has brought us challenges. I will start with the crew shortages. Clearly, the industrial relations strike had an impact on crew availability. That is unfortunate. Therefore, it was important for us to close off the strike. We did that on Monday evening when an agreement was reached with the RMT and ASLEF—the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen. That took a lot of work, but it has given us a win-win outcome on the strike.

We have also had challenges with new equipment. I will try not to bore the committee and to be brief, as the convener requested. Axle counters, which determine for the signalling system where a train is on the rail line, have performed really badly. As part of our improvement programme, we have adjusted our maintenance regime from once a year to every six to eight weeks. We are sending out people to recalibrate and reset the axle counter heads to give us the maximum assurance that they will perform. On Monday morning we had another maloperation, which affected services.

On top of that, we are doing non-destructive testing—with the supplier, Siemens—as well as destructive testing. We are doing everything possible to get our equipment to a state in which it performs better. On the railway it is very often the case that new equipment is not as reliable as we would want it to be. On top of that, we have seen power supply interruptions and we are now considering the extent to which we can ameliorate or fix the problem by using universal power supplies.

By describing that one issue, I have given you a sense of the extent of the focus that we are bringing to bear on such problems.

On infrastructure problems, I cannot convey to the committee just how dedicated our teams are. We have fantastic, good people on the ground, and we are doing everything that we can to focus on where the issues are and to fix them.

You will have noticed a lot of commentary in the press about how much of the route is single track and how much of it is double track. I do not particularly want to be drawn into that issue other than to say—

That is unfortunate. I had hoped to draw you into it.

Phil Verster

There is always a balance. If there were more double tracking on the route, that would definitely provide more flexibility and more opportunity to recover from delays.

We could do things with the timetable. We are working exceptionally closely with Transport Scotland. I repeat that our relationship with Transport Scotland is very open and positive. We will feed back the lessons that we learn to Transport Scotland, and we will look at other choices that need to be exercised to make the railway and the timetable more robust. Again, that is about an output and not necessarily about an input.

I would like to show the committee an infrared photograph of a radiator; I will send it round. Members will have read about the problem with radiators in the class 158 fleet. The photo shows what a radiator looks like. On one side, it has very hot water—that is the bright area—and, as it goes through the radiator, it should become darker. That would show that it was working. Members will see that this radiator design, which has been on the class 158s for a long period of time, is not really working—two thirds of the radiator is not effective. On hot days, the radiator gets so hot that it cuts out the engine, which means that the engine runs at lower power. The result is that the trains struggle up Falahill and start to lose time. We capture that time loss.

First, we looked at how we clean the radiators, in case they were being affected by contamination, but we now have a new radiator design and we are busy refitting the whole fleet. Therefore, the problem will be removed for next year. The focus on such issues will put us in a better place on performance in the long run.

You mentioned the overall performance improvement plan, which is extremely important. As railway people, we understand when our customers are affected by punctuality not being where it needs to be. Currently, our punctuality is about 0.6 of a percentage point away from where we want it to be—it is at 89.7 per cent instead of 90.3 per cent. However, our customers have had a very rough summer. We have had industrial relations issues, strikes and a number of serious failures in our overhead line equipment, which have caused significant disruption.

We are spending more than £8 million on specific reliability improvement programmes, but we are not just throwing money at performance. We are also focusing on how the railway operates on a day-to-day basis and how people can work together to make sure that trains depart on time and do not lose half a minute here and there. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to maintain that focus and work towards improving the punctuality of our service.

Needless to say, we are going through periods of change. We asked customers to bear with us when we did the work on Winchburgh tunnel and when we closed the Glasgow Queen Street tunnel. The same is true when it comes to giving Karl Budge and his team more than one and a half hours of access at night to enable them to get the electrification done. All those things affect our customers. I understand that. There is nothing worse for me than to have customers who are dissatisfied with our railway. We take the issue very seriously. In the coming weeks and months, we will focus on improving the performance on our railway.

John Finnie

Thank you for that comprehensive reply.

I appreciate the effort that goes into the design and future proofing of projects, and I appreciate that neither of our witnesses was involved in the decision-making process on the layout of the Borders railway as it is presently configured. That layout clearly has an impact on some of the challenges that you face. Do you agree that it will also compound the difficulties associated with the expectation that many people have that the line will be extended?

Phil Verster

I am not sure. I think that the extension of the Borders line to Hawick and even further has gripped the imagination of the communities concerned, and rightly so.

John Finnie

It is fair to say that that understandable expectation has been affected by what could have been fairly modest additions to the current design. There were opportunities to put in more double tracking and loops, which were not taken up.

Phil Verster

My honest view is that, as we get a sense of how the Borders railway works—it takes time for things to settle down; we are now in a phase in which we can see how it is shaping up—there are real opportunities for us as a train operator and Transport Scotland to agree on what can be done to improve the effectiveness of how the railway works. I think that an opportunity exists to think about different timetables or further infrastructure investment.

As for the benefit that it brings, we need look only at the feedback that we have got on footfall to Abbotsford house and businesses in Galashiels. The Borders railway is a huge economic contributor, and I do not think that some of the difficulties that we are experiencing now and which we are fixing will affect the business case for further extensions of the railway.

The Convener

Everyone wants the Borders railway to be a success and to provide what people need. We will continue to watch what happens.

I am, as I keep saying, mindful of time, but one of the issues that we would like to talk about is the recent dispute. Since the papers were prepared for this meeting, there has been some movement, and I wonder whether you would like to update the committee on that before we ask you a couple of questions about it.

Phil Verster

What we have agreed with the RMT, which represents conductors, and ASLEF, which represents drivers, is a dispatch method for new trains under which the driver stops the train and opens the doors and the conductor closes the doors and does the safety checks on the platforms. That proposal has come after what I am sure the committee will appreciate has been a very difficult period of proposing solutions; this is the sixth or seventh variant of the original proposal, but it presents benefits for both parties.

I appreciate that the situation has changed since the meeting papers were issued, and I thank Mr Verster for the update. Just for clarification, is there no plan to extend driver-only operation?

Phil Verster

No. We could not get agreement on drivers operating doors. We never suggested that there would be only the driver on the train; in railway terminology, driver-only operation pertains only to the doors. It has been so misleading for the public because the term was immediately read as driver-only operation of the whole train. It was always our intention to have a second person, and we now have a solution that has that.

John, you will need to be very quick.

Nonetheless, Mr Verster, a significant number of trains have operated with just the driver, which had implications for disabled passengers, for instance.

Phil Verster

On parts of our network, we have an agreement to operate trains with the reasonable expectation of putting a second person on them, but we also have an agreed process whereby, if there is no second person, the train can operate and can depart.

It is less than desirable, though, is it not?

Phil Verster

Yes. I fully agree that it is less than desirable, and working closely with our unions and having identified instances in which it would be better to have head count increases, I have increased the head count of ticket examiners to ensure that we have fewer such instances. During the past couple of weeks, we have significantly reduced the number of trains that run in that format.

It is good that you have a solution that satisfies everyone.

Phil Verster

Thank you, sir.

I have a short question. I understand that, under your contract, you can seek compensation from the Government for lost revenue as a result of industrial action. Will you do that?

Phil Verster

Under our contract, if we show that we have done everything reasonable to avoid or manage a dispute, we have recourse to the Government. However, right at the beginning of the dispute, the Government indicated to us that the risk of industrial action resided with us as a business, so it has made it clear that we have no recourse with regard to the revenue loss that we have suffered as a result of industrial action.

Is your question brief, Stewart?

Stewart Stevenson

Now that the doors of the class 385s are being shut under the control of the conductor, is the button still being pressed by the driver—although under the control of the conductor—or will you have to spend extra money refitting the 385s that are already in course and those that you can order?


Phil Verster

The fitting of door control panels will still go into the assembly process. There have only been a few sets bought to which door control panels will have to be retrofitted. From this point on, the door control panels will make up part of the fitment programme on that fleet.

Jamie Greene

It is very clear that you are passionate about Scottish railways—that comes across in all your answers.

You mentioned that customer satisfaction is of the highest importance to you. However, the national rail passenger survey performed by Transport Focus flagged up some areas of concern. In particular, there has been a drop in passenger satisfaction levels with the way in which you handle delays and cancellations—or how they perceive that—and the overall environment in train stations. Some delays are caused by factors outside your control—cancellations in Scotland are often caused by weather, for example—but, as we have read in the press, many cancellations are caused by staff shortages. What is your view on passenger satisfaction and what are you doing to increase passenger satisfaction levels in Scotland?

Phil Verster

As a business, our focus is on customers and customer satisfaction, and I do not say that lightly. Our whole business plan is predicated on growing our customer base. We see ourselves not just as a business that operates metal boxes up and down two metal rails, but as a business that succeeds in what we do for customers. I hold my hands up—there has been an incredible number of difficult challenges during the past year. Even though the closure of the Forth road bridge was successful for some of our customers, it affected other customers differently and affected our punctuality.

On delays, we have done a couple of things: we have equipped all our employees with mobile phones and we have given them a contingency app. The app is really cool because, when there is a delay, they just press a button and it tells them exactly what the delay is, which trains will be affected and what replacement bus services will be available. Staff can then get information to customers more quickly.

We are modifying that same app so that we can issue it to our customers and they can use the journey planner. Fifteen minutes to half an hour before they catch the East Kilbride train to Glasgow Central, for example, they will be able to tap in the details and it will tell them the route to take if there is a disruption on the line. On our app and our website, we also have implemented a list of the 31 top routes that declares which routes are currently affected and which are healthy; it is very similar to what the London underground does.

We are working to get a significantly higher level of information out to our customers. In the past year, we have rolled measures out in phases, but we need to do a lot more to inform our customers about them and get people to use and be familiar with them.

Because of the complexity of the network in the Strathclyde area, I am concerned about how we get messages and alternative options to customers when a train is disrupted. My team—led by Jacqui Taggart, an extremely competent director—has put together the idea of the Strathclyde disruption desk. We will deal with disruptions in the Strathclyde area in a different way that ensures that the person on the ground is advised immediately about what is happening in other parts of the network. That is a big drive for us.

On top of that, how our people think and behave needs to be really effective. We have what we call an inspire programme, which is focused on changing the behaviours of our people by adding to them.

Our business is based on the super, fantastic people working in our company. I go on the trains and announce myself to customers by saying, “I’m Phil Verster, the managing director. I’m walking through the train. Throw eggs at me or whatever, but give me comments. Tell me what you don’t like.” You may be sure that they tell me.

One thing they tell me most is not, “This is bad” or “That is bad.” They say, “Do you know how super your people are? Your people make your company work.” Fantastic people run our business, so we continue to help them to understand what they can do for our customers during times of disruption.

The last idea, which we have not yet successfully sold to our customers, is that we have set up a number of really good ticket acceptance arrangements with bus operators. If a service is disrupted, you can take your ticket, get on a bus and travel as if you were travelling on a train. It is not the same as a train and it is definitely not as good a product, but it gets you from point A to point B.

We have deals with McGill’s for Inverclyde, First UK Bus for the whole of Glasgow, Lothian Buses for Breich to Edinburgh, and Stagecoach in the Highlands for Inverness to Aberdeen, and Inverness to Thurso, and so on. We have recently closed similar agreements with Stagecoach East Scotland for Fife and the Borders, and Stagecoach West Scotland for Dumfries and Ayr. We have done many things to help us to work the railway better and we will go out of our way to get the result of that work to our customers.

The Convener

First, thank you for that in-depth answer. I am conscious of the time. I am delighted to hear about the app, but it will rely on being able to get wi-fi on the train, which is another issue. That leads us neatly on to discuss whether that is possible and to talk about rural railways. Gail Ross has the first question.

Gail Ross

Thank you, and thanks for coming along. Some questions are a follow-up to when we met up in Thurso; thank you for coming on the far north line and experiencing the opportunities and challenges that we face every day. I will try to keep my questions as short as possible. Last Friday, I was on the train from Tain to Wick. The wi-fi was not working so I was unable to get my work done. Could you look into that for me? Sorry to make it personal.

One of my constituents has asked me about how your pricing is set, because he finds it quite high. I actually disagree with that because I found the journey from Tain to Wick to be cheaper than it would have been on the bus, even though the bus probably takes two hours longer. The scenery is beautiful, as you know.

Network Rail, what are the plans for additional loops? As you know from our declaration, the Friends of the Far North Line has been pushing for loops for quite some time because they would certainly help to improve the service. At the moment, we face a four-and-a-half-hour journey from Inverness to Thurso, which is challenging for a lot of people. There have also been a couple of timetable changes. I make a plea to reinstate the early morning request stop at Culrain.

I am being pushed by the convener to shut up. It is unfortunate that this is one of our final questions because we need to spend as much time talking about these topics as we have spent talking about other projects. That will do for now; I am sure that I can put anything else in writing to you.

Phil Verster

I will gladly take any other questions. The far north line is different from any other part of our railway because, compared with a typical commuter railway, it is an inherent part of the local communities. It is such an important line, very similar to how the Borders railway has manifested itself. Therefore, as part of the route study on the far north line, improvements will be made close to Inverness. We continue to consider how to get speeds in loops to be faster—something that Frank Roach brought to my attention—so that we can get more flexibility in the timetable.

There has been no ambiguity about the importance of the far north line. Our performance improvement plan has a far north line team that looks at performance on the far north line and focuses on how to improve it.

People believe that the prices of tickets for the railway are set by the train operating company, but they are not. Ticket prices are set by the client, which is Transport Scotland, and which is good at listening to and working with different groups to understand their concerns about ticket prices and the like.

You referred to the timetable changes at Culrain. We must continue to ensure that we have a workable far north line timetable, especially as trains approach Inverness, because many people make important connections at Inverness. That remains our focus. I will take the question away.

Rhoda Grant

Some stations on the far north line—indeed, on the Kyle line and others—are being missed out to get the train to Inverness so that people can make their connections. There must be better information for people at those stations who keep seeing trains go past them.

A piece in The Sun yesterday that appeared to be informed by the Scottish Government—it quoted Scottish Government insiders—said that you have neglected everything north of Edinburgh. That is quite stark, but you said that a 30-minute train service is fantastic for that part of the network that is anywhere north of Edinburgh, and that plays into the allegation. The article also said that the Scottish Government has given you an ultimatum. What is the ultimatum that the Scottish Government has given you about improvements to services, especially those north of Edinburgh?

Phil Verster

The Scottish Government rightly approached us when our punctuality performance measure, which is the measure of the punctuality of our services, dropped below the trigger level of 90.3 per cent. It expects us to have an improvement plan to get performance above that level. That is not an ultimatum; it is practical contract management with us.

Train service performance has suffered. We had an awful winter, with three of the worst storms—Gertrude, Frank and Henry—that have hit Scotland in a long time. At Lamington, where the water level is typically 1m deep, the Clyde was 3.5m deep and touched the underdeck of the bridge. We have not seen such weather in Scotland before. People in Scotland say that we must be ready for bad weather—we understand that—but that was extraordinarily bad weather. Our response to the Forth road bridge closure was—as the ORR has submitted to the committee—exemplary in helping in the national context, but it affected our train service performance through significantly overcrowded trains.

We accept all that and we are not making apologies, but I am saying that we are passionate about fixing performance issues on the railway and I see the Government’s approach not as an ultimatum but as a proper step towards our delivering an improvement plan. We have submitted that improvement plan to the Scottish Government and we will deliver on it.

My reference to a half-hourly service at Aberdeen was not made in the context of its being north of Edinburgh; it was made in the context that centres such as Aberdeen and Inverness have for many years had a service that has been too sparse for the huge demand that we have seen. That was the context of my answer. Aberdeen is a fantastic part of our network, and it is very important that we serve it. We cancel 1.1 per cent of our trains, and some of the data that made its way to The Sun—we hold our hands up: the data was published on our website—was incorrect and did not reflect that percentage. The Sun has reported on that again this morning.

We are in the same space as the Scottish Government: train service punctuality will have to improve, and we are committed to ensuring that.

Is it possible to get a note to the committee of the lines that have an improvement plan in place?

Phil Verster

The whole railway has an improvement plan in place. For example, the—

But, on reliability, you said that you had to put in improvement plans when reliability fell below a certain level. Is it possible to get a note of those lines and those plans?

Phil Verster

We will give you a detailed answer on that.

The Convener

We are now at the stage when the meeting has to come to a conclusion, but there are various questions still to be asked—notably, questions on access to Waverley station, the Scotland route study and access to the track by steam trains. We probably have other questions that we would like to think about and submit to you, and I would be grateful if you would consider responding to those so that the committee is informed. Our questions will come to you during the next week.

I would like to thank you—as, I am sure, the whole committee would—for the excellent evidence that you have given. Your passion and knowledge have come across, and we look forward to getting you back to update us on how things are going and to hold you to some of the promises that you have made on delivery.

Phil Verster

Thank you very much.

The Convener

I have an announcement to make before I close the meeting. At previous committee meetings, crofting issues have been raised. I have seen the first draft of a work plan and paper that is being produced on those issues and it will be available on 5 October. It will be quite detailed and will suggest how we could take things forward. I want the committee to be fully aware that that is coming down the track—that seems to be a reasonable analogy to use today—and that I am working on it. As soon as it is available, we will let members have that paper.

Thank you very much, everyone, for your time.

Meeting closed at 12:31.