The boss of ScotRail has signalled that services could get worse this year because they are at the “mercy” of train suppliers.
Alex Hynes said although the beleaguered rail operator is making progress there are “further challenges” down the line, including a lack of drivers and possible delays to receiving new rolling stock.
Giving evidence to a Holyrood committee, the managing director of the ScotRail Alliance confirmed a target – which states that 92.5% of services must run on time – might not be reached until 2021.
And he could not give MSPs any guarantees that performance would reach that level within two years, saying that factors including weather and infrastructure are out of their control.
Mr Hynes said: “We must do much, much more to regain the trust of our customers but things are moving in the right direction.
“ScotRail will face further challenges throughout the course of 2019 – training new drivers takes 18 months in total.
“We remain at the mercy of our train suppliers who have let us down badly in the past.
“And although Network Rail is investing more than ever to prepare for the extremes of Scottish weather, its unpredictable nature will continue to significantly impact Scotland’s railway.”
Mr Hynes said they are looking at recouping millions of pounds from train suppliers, who he said have “failed so badly”.
Last week, ScotRail announced it would invest £18 million to improve services, as part of a remedial agreement reached with Transport Scotland.
ScotRail has said that the funding will go towards measures including the recruitment of an additional 55 drivers and 30 conductors, increasing the number of technicians to deal with train incidents and boosting the number of people working in ScotRail’s control room.
Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said that failure to meet just one of the 19 commitments in the remedial plan could lead to the Scottish Government terminating Abellio’s contract.
He told the rural economy and connectivity committee: “As the First Minister has already said they are in the last chance saloon.
“So if they don’t get it right, that should make it very clear to them what the potential consequences can be.”
Mr Matheson accepted that the late arrival of new and refurbished trains had had an impact on services – but said ScotRail had failed to manage major timetable changes brought in at the end of 2018.