Abellio wins Scottish rail franchise

FirstGroup has lost the Scottish rail franchise to Abellio, the international arm of the Dutch State Railways.

Transport Scotland has awarded a 10 year franchise from 1 April 2015, though it will be subject to a five year review and could be terminated after seven years if stringent performance targets are not met.

Abellio saw off opposition from Arriva, MTR, National Express, as well as from incumbent operator FirstGroup, to secure one of the most prescriptive rail franchises yet awarded. Abellio already has the Greater Anglia franchise under its belt, and runs the Northern and Merseyrail franchises with Serco (both through 50:50 joint ventures).

Train manufacturer Hitachi has been selected to supply 70 electric multiple units (totalling 234 carriages) for the Edinburgh to Glasgow, Stirling, Alloa and Dunblane lines (to be electrified in stages between  2016 and 2018). The new trains are based on Hitachi’s AT200 Commuter series and will be built at the firm’s Newton Aycliffe plant in County Durham. The cost has not been disclosed but is estimated at around £250m by informed sources.

The order will consolidate Hitachi’s position in the UK supply market: the company currently has orders for 866 IEP vehicles (Inter City Express Programme) for the Great Western and East Coast main lines, and it has already supplied the ‘Javelin’ units for Southeastern’s high-speed services in Kent.

Financial details about the new franchise are scant: Transport Scotland says it is “worth up to £6bn” – which is roughly 10 years annual turnover – but refuses to provide more information on grounds of “commercial confidentiality”.

ScotRail carries over 86 million passengers per year, and runs more than 2,000 train services per day. Abellio will take over 350 stations and nearly 800 passenger vehicles. However, the new franchise excludes the overnight sleeping car services (which has been transferred Serco under a separate franchise).

Abellio will refurbish 27 HST (High Speed Train) sets – dating from the 1970s – and re-form them into four and five car units. They are to be cascaded from First Great Western following GWML electrification in 2016/17, and are to replace class 170 units to accelerate inter city services between Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, Perth, Dundee and Stirling.

Other key features of the new franchise include:

  • peak fares to be capped at RPI, and off-peak at RPI minus 1%
  • reduced fares for jobseekers and the newly employed
  • £5 advance fares between Scottish cities
  • refurbished rolling stock and enhanced services for scenic routes
  • 3,500 additional cycle spaces at stations
  • hourly services between Perth and Inverness
  • 23% more carriages

Scottish Transport Minister, Keith Brown, summed up the new order:

“There will be benefits all over the country, with faster trains between all our cities, new trains in the Central Belt, a Great Scenic Railway scheme bringing more tourists to the north, the south west and the Borders and major shopping developments at the stations at Aberdeen and Inverness. Trains will have more space for prams and wheelchairs, there will be rigorous new service quality control measures, and we’ll see improved integration with bus, ferry and air timetables. Every single Scottish station will have CCTV, and there will be hundreds of new car parking spaces.”


Many ScotRail services are currently operated by Class 158s of BR vintage.
Many ScotRail services are currently operated by Class 158s of BR vintage.

658/Oct 14








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