RAIL fares on the Fife Circle line will increase by an average of 2.4% in January, with Transport Secretary Michael Matheson stating that the rise is justified by improved performance.

That’ll be seen as a slap in the face to many frustrated passengers who have been plagued by continued problems on the track, including the recent fiasco where Dalgety Bay and Aberdour were missed out by a key morning service to the capital.

But in a letter to Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Alex Rowley, Mr Matheson said: “Performance has been improving across Fife compared to last year.

“Commuters have seen a substantial reduction in cancellations as a result of train crew shortages since April 2019, with planned seating capacity being maintained.”

However, Mr Rowley disagreed with the transport minister’s conclusion that rail services had improved.

He said: “The amount of emails I get from people who have had a bad experience when accessing the Fife Circle train line has not decreased.

“The fact is ScotRail/Abellio are not running enough stock on the Fife services and will not commit to when this will be improved.

“They say not before June 2020 but still we are expected to pay more for this poor service.”

Mr Matheson warned that a fares freeze would have a significant impact on the public purse, stating that “two-thirds of the cost of running the railway is already met through Scottish Government subsidy” and “any change to rail fares could therefore have a significant impact on the taxpayer”.

The transport minister added: “Previous calls for a fares freeze in Fife led ScotRail to carry out an analysis which showed that a reduction in fares on the Fife Circle alone would create fares anomalies along the Edinburgh-Aberdeen corridor (as a minimum) which would contravene the franchise agreement.

“The ongoing UK-wide Williams review offers an opportunity to reform the broken rail franchise system.

“Rather than implement any measures prematurely, we await the UK Government’s white paper in the autumn before making fundamental change.

“The review is likely to make comment on fares policy and I believe that it would be prudent to await its findings and then consider fares within the broader context of any change to franchising.”

The Press’ Crush Hour campaign has highlighted the continued poor service Fifers have had to put up with, as issues such as overcrowding, delays and cancellations became a daily part of life for many commuters.

Just last week ScotRail caused controversy by stopping a key service through Aberdour and Dalgety Bay.

Even when it was reinstated just a week later, the service accidentally skipped a stop, leaving passengers at the station behind.

Mr Rowley added: “Given the taxpayer is already paying for two-thirds of the cost of running the railway it is difficult to understand why this SNP government will not do more to address the problem and sack Abellio, who are clearing failing rail passengers.

“In truth, thousands of people are being priced off the railways and this fares increase in January will just make that situation worse.

“The SNP government in Edinburgh are in charge of our railways and should put Abellio on notice, they have failed and should not continue with the contract.

“The rail unions are campaigning to have the railways taken into public ownership with the funds available being put into improving services and this is the course of action we need.”