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Last Updated: Monday, 18 October, 2004, 10:16 GMT 11:16 UK
FirstGroup franchise steams ahead
ScotRail has officially been taken over by the FirstGroup
ScotRail has officially been taken over by the FirstGroup
Transport giant FirstGroup has launched its new ScotRail franchise along with plans for a 40m investment programme.

The Aberdeen-based company kicked off its First ScotRail operation at Queen Street station in Glasgow after taking over the franchise on Sunday.

It is promising vast improvements for passengers including a 20m package to upgrade stations and a 5.4m plan to improve safety and security.

The First ScotRail franchise is set to run for the next seven years.

There were problems on Monday, First ScotRail's first full working day in charge.

Eight services on the East Coast Main Line failed to run and morning commuters had to go by bus. By midday, some services in Fife and the Central Belt were up to half an hour behind schedule.

First ScotRail blamed over-running engineering works at North Berwick and signalling problems in the Fife area.

CCTV plans

The firm has promised to compile a detailed plan of improvements to every station in Scotland within its first three months of operation.

But 2.4m has already been earmarked to improve facilities at Aberdeen, Edinburgh Haymarket, Glasgow Queen Street and Stirling stations.

The safety and security improvements will include the installation of CCTV at carefully chosen stations and on most trains.

Significant investment is also planned within the train fleet and 7m will be spent on improving service reliability. The company says it is committed to increasing punctuality by two per cent each year.

Mary Dickson
Our immediate priority is to stabilise performance for customers with ongoing improvements in the quality of service throughout the entire life of the franchise
Mary Dickson
First ScotRail

FirstGroup Plc chief executive Moir Lockhead said: "This is the first time since 1923 that a Scottish company has run Scotland's railways and we are extremely proud to be taking over this stewardship.

"With a strong track record for improving train services we are confident we can bring real integration benefits for the travelling public and deliver a seamless, efficient operation."

First ScotRail's new managing director Mary Dickson added: "Our immediate priority is to stabilise performance for customers, which will create a solid foundation for the future, with ongoing improvements in the quality of service throughout the entire life of the franchise".

Among the other changes it has outlined include the recruitment of 90 extra staff to crack down on fraudulent travel and a new SMS text messaging and email service to notify users of any service changes.

New services

The company also plans to introduce a range of new routes including:

  • The 'Invernet' rail commuter service from Kingussie and Aviemore to Inverness with a two-hourly service to Tain
  • Express routes from Edinburgh and Glasgow to Inverness and Aberdeen
  • Improved commuter routes into Edinburgh from Fife, Bathgate and Dunblane
  • Improved local services in the Aberdeen area, with additional stops at Portlethen and the extension of Aberdeen - Inverness services to Stonehaven
  • The introduction of Larkhall - Milngavie services
  • The introduction of Stirling - Alloa and Stirling - Motherwell services

The Strategic Rail Authority and Strathclyde Passenger Transport (SPT) were co-signatories on the company's rail franchise agreement.

The executive said a more reliable, punctual and comfortable train services from First ScotRail would help boost Scotland's economic growth.

Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace said: "The First ScotRail franchise represents a better deal for rail passengers and the Scottish economy.

"But their challenge is now to make real improvements to services so commuters get to their work on time and in comfort, and everyone benefits from higher standards of performance.

"As a Scottish transport company which is thriving internationally, First Group should be well-placed to deliver the new trains, better stations and integrated services that Scottish passengers, businesses and the executive expect."

'Excellent package'

SPT chair Councillor Alistair Watson added: "First ScotRail has come up with an excellent package which sees a solid commitment to improving services, stations, trains and safety.

"We look forward to continuing to our management and monitoring role for the life of the seven year franchise."

The new franchise will run for seven years, with a possible extension for an extra three, at an approximate cost of 1.9bn.

First ScotRail officially started its new service at 0200 BST on Sunday 17 October and took over the franchise from National Express .

FirstGroup Plc also operates several other UK rail franchises including the First Great Western and First North Western services.

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