A MAJOR think tank has called for complete control of Scotland’s railways to be devolved to Holyrood.

Reform Scotland has said that responsibility for all Scottish routes which are currently overseen by UK infrastructure body Network Rail should be transferred to politicians north of the Border.

The call echoes comments by Transport Minister Humza Yousaf, who has said there is an “accountability gap” because Network Rail Scotland is not directly answerable to the Scottish Parliament.

Reform Scotland pointed out that the majority of delays on ScotRail trains are attributed to Network Rail. It said the focus of the debate around the rail network should be on Scotland’s poor connectivity and lack of electrification and should move away from the obsession of cutting train times to London.

“Although the Scottish Government is responsible for providing the strategic direction and funding for the Scottish rail network, ultimately Network Rail is a UK body answerable to the UK Government,” the think tank said. “Reform Scotland believes that responsibility for the Scottish route should transfer to a new body directly responsible to, and answerable to, the Scottish Government.”

Reform Scotland also called for a Scottish rail infrastructure commission to be set up to look at the future of rail services.

Its report said: “In 30 years’ time, do we want to be in a situation where it could take less time to reach London by rail from Edinburgh than it does to reach Inverness?

“What about links between Dumfries and Galloway and Edinburgh? Or Glasgow crossrail, or Edinburgh and Glasgow airport rail links?

“Reform Scotland is not saying that the Scottish Government should definitely create a new high-speed line to the north, or improve links to major towns in the Borders, or introduce other new lines.

“But we are calling on the Scottish Government to look at these options as part of a wide-ranging commission, to examine what is possible, what the costs would be and, most importantly, what benefits such transformational change could bring.”

The pro-independence Common Weal think tank agreed that control over Network Rail should be devolved, saying: “Reform Scotland is not wrong to point to Network Rail’s control of Scotland’s track infrastructure as being a major limiting factor on ScotRail.”

Common Weal published its own research last month saying Scotland’s rail system should be nationalised.

A spokesman for the group said: “Reform Scotland’s report is an argument for the end of the fractured and privatised UK rail model, that illogically splits up the operator, infrastructure and rolling stock parts of the railway service.

“Common Weal, in a joint report with rail union TSSA, has argued all parts of Scotland’s railways should be unified as a public rail service, with the franchising process scrapped.

“This would be the starting point for making Scotland a normal European country when it comes to railways, which means cheaper, better quality and run for the public good.”

A spokeswoman for national transport agency Transport Scotland said Yousaf had already made the point that there is an accountability gap where, despite being in receipt of significant public resources, Network Rail Scotland is not directly accountable to the Scottish Parliament.

She said: “Greater devolution and better governance arrangements for Network Rail in Scotland will increase efficiency and improve accountability. This is a necessity as we move towards a system of grant-based funding from 2019 onwards.

“Consideration is currently being given to the suitability of a range of existing public bodies to bid for a rail franchise and the steps required to create a new public-sector body, if necessary. The Minister for Transport and the Islands will make an announcement on the desirability of creating a new public body in 2018.”

Former Glasgow Labour MP Tom Harris, a member of the Reform Scotland advisory board, said it was “logical” that Holyrood could do a better job of running rail infrastructure in Scotland than Westminster does.

Harris, who was a junior transport minister in Tony Blair’s government, said: “There has been almost constant discussion about nationalising ScotRail for years, and it continues unabated, but it is a meaningless distraction.

“ScotRail is responsible for only around one-third of the delays on the railways, whereas more than half are down to Network Rail. Scotland’s rail problems are more fundamental than the current debate would suggest.”