THE Scottish Government has put plans in place to run the railways as an “operator of last resort” if ScotRail’s performance fails to improve, the Transport Secretary has confirmed.

Michael Matheson said the current Abellio ScotRail franchise could be terminated if it fails to deliver on the remedial plan issued to it earlier this year.

He said ministers had “ongoing plans in place” in case the Scottish Government needed to step in.

Mr Matheson told MSPs on Holyrood’s rural economy and connectivity committee: “We have ongoing plans for putting in place the provision for operator of last resort, we’ve got various contracts with consultants and agencies who would support us in delivering that if that was necessary.

“We have arrangements and contracts in place that if we had to employ operator of last resort we would be in a position to be able to do so.”

In February, ministers issued ScotRail with its second improvement notice in less than two months after passenger satisfaction plunged to its lowest level in 15 years.

The Press’ Crush Hour campaign, launched in November 2017, has highlighted regularly the shocking state of rail services on the Fife Circle line.

We have called on ScotRail to stop skipping stations, provide more carriages, provide extra services at rush hour, invest in infrastructure and stop charging West Fifers more than other passengers across the country.

Mr Matheson told the committee the rail operator was making “good progress in a range of different provisions that were set out in the remedial plan”.

But he cautioned: “Some of the benefits that will come from the remedial plan will take longer to be delivered, purely because of the complexity of these issues.

“The recruitment of an extra 55 drivers is not something they can do overnight, it takes time for them to go through the recruitment process, the training process and to get route knowledge.”

He stressed that the “consequences of failing to deliver on the remedial plan and to get out of breach are very serious for the franchise plan-holder”.

He said this could result in ministers terminating the franchise “which would allow us to employ operator of last resort”.

Mr Matheson was giving evidence to MSPs a week after ScotRail boss Alex Hynes told the committee a review of planning for major events was taking place after passengers faced significant disruption to services at Edinburgh Waverley last month.

Hundreds of rail passengers were stranded at Edinburgh stations as they tried to get back to Fife on the day.

He said the disruption was “completely unacceptable” as the rail service was “overwhelmed” by demand.

The minister added: “We need to look at what lessons can be learned from the events that particular evening.”

TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “Michael Matheson and Nicola Sturgeon really must stop their dithering.

“Now the government have the right process in place, there is no longer a legal excuse for delaying taking back the keys and ScotRail services must be brought back into public ownership without delay.

“Nothing else will do because the whole of Scotland can see that this franchise has been a complete and utter failure on any measure.”

In other news, ScotRail staff are to strike in a pay dispute.