WITH West Fife commuters continuing to experience misery on the Fife Circle, a motion to axe Abellio’s ScotRail contract was defeated at Holyrood last week.

The Press’ Crush Hour campaign continues to highlight cancellations, delays, station-skipping and overcrowding and last month Abellio came under fire after its performance hit an all-time low.

MSPs voted on a Labour call for Scotland’s railway services to be taken back into public ownership at the earliest opportunity.

However, the motion was voted down by SNP and Tory MSPs despite the Greens and Lib Dems also backing the call.

Claire Baker was the only Fife-based MSP to speak during the debate and used the opportunity to talk about the numerous difficulties her constituents have experienced.

She said: “The Fife Circle is an important service for people. The minister says that we are on the cusp of change but passengers in Fife have been putting up with overcrowding.

“The Dunfermline Press’ Crush Hour campaign has been highlighting that uncomfortable and stressful experience.

“I have tried to be constructive and find solutions for my constituents.

“However, promises that were made have not been delivered. The fact that those promises have not been delivered is hugely disappointing and frustrating for commuters, who continue to spend significant sums of money and portions of their income on public transport.

“The service has become increasingly unreliable. It feels as if Fife commuters are being short-changed, and I know that many feel that they are receiving a second-class service compared to those in other parts of the Central Belt.

“We can take steps to do this better, end the current contract sooner rather than later and bring our trains back into public ownership.”

More than 100 peak time Fife Circle services to Edinburgh in the morning and evening were cancelled in a six-month period over summer.

Services that were not cancelled often fell below ScotRail’s punctuality target.

ScotRail’s performance benchmark for punctuality has now been waived until June 2019, allowing the franchise to continue to deliver late running services without facing any penalty.

Green MSP Mark Ruskell added: “A publicly-run rail service, that’s set up in the interests of passengers rather than shareholder profits, won’t magically get up and running by itself. It needs the support of government and a determination from ministers to see that it’s in place by the original 2020 deadline.

“Instigating the break clause in the ScotRail franchise at the earliest opportunity will set a clear goal for this public bid. Delivering a service that’s run in the public interest is simply about political will and SNP ministers need to start showing they have it.”

Dunfermline MSP Shirley-Anne Somerville replied: “As a frequent rail user who has literally just got off a very crowded train today, I’ll be the first to say that journeys on the Fife Circle need to be better.

“That’s why ministers continue to hold ScotRail to account within the terms of the franchise agreement. And through record Scottish Government investment, we are due to see the introduction of new rolling stock in Fife in 2019.

“Simply changing the franchise as Labour suggest, is not a fix all. Almost 60 per cent of delays and cancellations in Scotland are caused by Network Rail, who are responsible for rail infrastructure. Despite transport being devolved, Network Rail remains reserved to the UK Parliament.

“If Scottish Labour were serious about improving rail services, they would be backing SNP calls for the devolution of Network Rail.

“There’s no point them making out that they have the right solution when they haven’t taken account of why the delays happen and who is responsible for them.”

Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said: “ScotRail’s performance is nowhere near good enough and commuters across Fife are being let down but Labour’s motion would not have done anything to improve the situation before 2020.

“What we need is for standards to improve right now and anyone who remembers the dark days of British Rail will know that nationalisation is not a silver bullet.

“We need a competitive structure for the railways which offers affordable fairs and a quality service. There’s no shortage of companies willing to do this but it requires strong oversight from the SNP government to ensure that happens.”