Scottish commuters are paying £1m per month to keep Dutch rail fares down – we say there’s a better way.

After the Dutch operator of Scotland’s railway services revealed how it uses profits from ScotRail to subsidise services in its own country, Co-operative MSPs are calling for a re-think that puts passengers before profit

Ben West

Communications & Digital Officer


On Sunday, Dutch national rail operator NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen), parent company of UK firm Abelio released its 2015 annual report. It contains good news for Dutch taxpayers and passengers, less so for hard-pressed commuters in Scotland and on other services operated by Abelio in the UK.

According to the Report, the money NS brings in from running passenger transport across Europe has increased by around £700m over the past year, up to £3.7bn in total. That’s all money which will no doubt generate profits to be reinvested for Dutch taxpayers and passengers at home.

And who do they have to thank for this bumper year?

Scottish commuters, of course. Accounts filed at Companies House show that since the SNP handed Abelio responsibility for operating Scotland’s railways back in April amid public outcry, the firm has raked in £1m profit a month from the deal.

To be fair, the Report isn’t exactly coy. NS’s soaring revenue, it notes is “primarily due to the start of the ScotRail franchise”, while “relatively limited” outlay means that a solid 18% return on investment can be expected for the foreseeable future. All in all, it says, “Abellio helps make NS profitable.”

As NS chief financial officer Engelhardt Robbe, put it: “The passengers who use the train every day in the ­Netherlands must benefit from our achievements abroad.”

But what’s good for Dutch commuters may not be so much for their Scottish counterparts. Watchdog Transport Focus says that in the 12 months since Abelio was handed control of ScotRail, complaints by passengers have risen by 38%, with almost 1 in 10 trains under its control running late – with many commuters being forced to stand, despite promises of increased capacity and faster services.

But it’s not too late to sort things out.

The £7billion 10-year contract has a clause allowing it to be cancelled at the halfway point in 2020.

It’s crucial that the Scottish Government uses that opportunity to deliver a deal that works for passengers, not profit, by radically re-thinking how railway services in Scotland are delivered.

In 2013, we released a Report titled ‘A People’s Railway for Scotland’, setting out a new plan for ScotRail run not-for-profit via a partnership between passengers, staff and the communities the railway network serves – a model that has been backed by Scottish Labour

And amid growing evidence that Scottish commuters are being treated like cash cows, Co-operative MSP and Labour Transport Spokesperson Neil Bibby thinks it’s time to put the plan into action:

“This report by ScotRail’s parent company Abellio the Dutch National Railway operator clearly highlights what we’ve known for a long time – our railways are being run for profit not passengers – and lays bare the extent to which this is happening.

And rather than being re-invested to improve services here, millions of pounds of profits from passenger fares are going abroad to fund the railways in the Netherlands.”

Neil Bibby concluded,

“The current set-up can’t possibly provide value for money for passengers in Scotland. That’s why Scottish Labour supports the Scottish Co-operative Party’s plan for a publicly owned People’s ScotRail which will mean a better deal for commuters. We need a public transport system that puts passengers first and the case for a People’s ScotRail gets more compelling by the week.”

To learn more about the campaign for a people’s railway in Scotland, and to get involved in the camnpaign, click here

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