ScotRail to be nationalised

Maud Webster explores what may happen when ScotRail becomes re-nationalised

Maud Webster
23rd March 2021
Feature Image Credit:, edited by Maud Webster
Dutch company Abellio, which runs several transport lines in the UK, will stop running the ScotRail franchise at the end of March 2021. Abellio’s initial contact for ScotRail was supposed to elapse in 2025, however, the decision to terminate it in 2022 has been made following frequent cancellations and low-performance levels. 

Instead of offering the contract to another operator, the Scottish Government has decided to run ScotRail using their own government company. The Welsh Government made a similar move, to nationalise all their railways, which took effect this February

Last year in March, Transport Secretary Grant Sharps announced a reversal of the privatisation model, with the impending pandemic creating huge financial concern. Since then, the Government has been collecting train fares, then paying operators a fixed fee - essentially nationalisation. 

So whilst Scotland’s move to nationalise ScotRail makes this temporary nationalisation more permanent, it effectively only means a transition of branding to now fall under the Scottish Government's domain. A Scottish government company will take over operation of ScotRail, with all their staff to transition to this new entity also. The arrangement has taken place under a regulation that lets the Scottish government take over the franchise without any bidding process. 

Scottish Transport Secretary Michael Matheson commented

"I have decided that it would not be appropriate to award a franchise agreement to any party at this time, either through a competition or a direct award.”

"That is why I have confirmed that, from the expiry of the current franchise, ScotRail services will be provided in public hands through a company wholly owned and controlled by the Scottish government. This approach will provide a stable platform for ScotRail services and certainty for passengers and staff."

Matheson noted that Abellio’s running of ScotRail was a “difficult period”, which confirmed the franchise system was "broken and not working in the taxpayers' interest". By running ScotRail under this model, the company element is cut out, along with their management costs, which results in better value for money for passengers. 

A representative from train driver union Aslef, Kevin Lindsay, welcomed the move, though adding that “never again should people's railway ever be in the hands of the privateers.”

Since the railways were first privatised in the 1990s, there has been a lot of support for a return to the nationalised approach. If the Welsh and Scottish examples succeed, perhaps the rest of the United Kingdom will take note and we may soon see a return to nationalised rail.

Feature Image Credit:, edited by Maud Webster

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AUTHOR: Maud Webster
she/they | third year architecture & urban planning student @ newcastle | co-head of culture for the 21/22 academic year

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