A coalition of organisations and MSPs have written to Nicola Sturgeon calling for the Scottish Government to take rail services into public ownership.
The letter is signed by 14 groups representing rail workers, passengers, disabled people, pensioners, environmentalists, civil society and 20 cross-party MSPs.
It calls for the services to become publicly-owned in January after the Scotrail and Caledonian Sleeper Covid Emergency Measures Agreements expire in 24 days’ time.
The letter said: “Appointing a public operator in the New Year would provide greater stability and resilience for Scotland’s railways.
“It would also end profiteering and provide greater value for money for taxpayers and passengers by ensuring all funds are reinvested into creating an improved and more affordable railway that can play a greater role in connecting communities and reducing carbon emissions.”
The signatories highlight that the Covid-19 pandemic has created “substantial and unprecedented challenges” for Scotland’s railway and the Scottish Government has provided significant funding for the operators during this period.
It adds that private operators Abellio Scotrail and Serco Caledonian Sleeper “still stand to profit from Scotland’s railway through being paid a fee for operating services”.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government has stated for some time now that the franchising model is no longer fit for purpose.
“UK ministers have repeatedly denied our calls for them to devolve the powers needed to secure the best future for Scotland’s Railway, one which removes the absurdities and anomalies of the current system while enabling us to run the nation’s railway in the interests of its users and staff through a fully integrated approach to infrastructure and services.
“However, we must act in accordance with the current UK rail legislation to have a Franchising Policy Statement in place and that is why we have taken the approach of reviewing the current statement and will launch a focused consultation tomorrow with key stakeholders.”
She added: “Our Emergency Measures Agreements (EMAs) for the ScotRail and Caledonian Sleeper franchises temporarily vary the existing franchise agreements in order to minimise the disruption to passengers and rail employees caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, while ensuring the continued operation of rail passenger services.
“Abellio ScotRail and Serco Caledonian Sleeper cannot pay monies to their Group until all obligations under the agreements are fully met.
“Our statutory duty to provide or secure the provision of services as the Operator of Last Resort only arises when a franchise agreement in respect of those services is terminated or otherwise comes to an end and no further franchise agreement has been entered into. We have well developed contingency plans in place which could be mobilised if that duty were ever to be engaged.
“Our key focus remains to work with our operators who are best placed to manage the current challenges, whilst maintaining stability for passengers and staff during this difficult period.”