Page last updated at 19:42 GMT, Thursday, 17 April 2008 20:42 UK

Rail extension 'rushed through'

Crowded train
The rail franchise will be extended through until 2014

The Scottish Government has defended its controversial decision to extend the ScotRail franchise by three years.

Opposition parties hit out at the decision not to consult on the move, but ministers said it would bring quicker improvements to services.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said the extension, until 2014, came after an exceptional performance by operator First ScotRail.

Labour and the Lib Dems said the move was an insult to train workers.

Labour transport spokesman Des McNulty also questioned whether it had been brought forward to fill a black hole in the transport budget.

'Not acceptable'

"It also is an affront to the stakeholders of this industry - the people who work in it, the people who use it - that we've got a hole in the corner exercise here," he said.

Alison McInnes, the Liberal Democrat transport spokeswoman, added: "Like others, I'm bewildered by the government's headlong rush into this franchise extension - and angered by the disdain shown to parliament and key stakeholders."

Mr Stevenson said the decision fell within the terms of the current rail contract and, as there was no re-franchising process to undergo, ministers were permitted to give it the go-ahead.

Under the contract, First ScotRail will oversee improved rail services during the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

And more than 70m will be returned to the Scottish Government to be spent on new services and other improvements, including extra express services between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Mr Stevenson told MSPs First ScotRail had also created hundreds of extra jobs and exceeded performance targets, adding: "The people I've been meeting since this announcement have been very much behind it - they're looking forward to improvements to Scotland's railways."

The Tories' Alex Johnstone said granting the extension was "on balance" the correct decision, but demanded greater detail on the improvements it would bring.

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