TRAIN operator Abellio could make a fresh bid for the ScotRail franchise in 2022 despite the Scottish Government deciding to end its contract three years early.

Abellio has faced continued criticism for its running of the rail services, with complaints about delays and cancellations, as well as overcrowding on some services and rising ticket prices.

On Wednesday, Transport Secretary Michael Matheson told MSPs in Holyrood that following “extensive and rigorous analysis”, the decision was taken not to let Abellio’s contract run for its full ten years.

He announced that the current franchise arrangements – which had been due to run until 2025 – would instead come to an end in March 2022.

However, less than 24 hours later, Matheson confirmed that if no changes are made to current franchising arrangements by the UK Government, the Dutch firm could make a fresh bid to run the services again.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Matheson said: “If the UK Government do not change the rules around franchising for rail, we could be in a position where we have no option other than another rail franchise, a very complex, costly process that in my view does not serve the rail industry or the travelling public.”

The National: Justice Secretary Michael Matheson

Michael Matheson, Scottish Trasnport Secretary

Asked if Abellio could make a bid for the franchise, he responded: “Technically they would be able to bid like any other company would be able to bid.”

The Transport Secretary said he would like the franchising model for rail services to be brought to an end.

“I would prefer us not to be in a position where we have to have rail franchising, full stop,” he said.

“That would allow us to have public sector control over our railway network here in Scotland and bring together the infrastructure elements and the passenger rolling stock elements much more closely then we have at the present moment.”

Matheson said a public sector operator could be ready to step in and take over the running of Scotland’s railways within two years. However, he added this was “wholly dependent” on Westminster granting Holyrood new powers.

He said under the current franchise system ministers are required to have an “operator of last resort” in place.

The Transport Secretary said: “That is an operation that can take over the running of our railways should a franchisee walk away the next day.

“So we already have those arrangements in place, with significant expertise in being able to run a rail service.

“That could be used to help to develop the model for taking forward a public sector controlled railway in Scotland. But it would take time in order to make sure that is done effectively, yes it could be done within two years, but it is wholly dependent on whether the UK Government devolve the powers to the Scottish Parliament that enable us to do that.”

Dominic Booth, managing director of Abellio UK, said the the rail operator was “hugely disappointed” by the Scottish Government’s decision, branding it the “the wrong choice for Scotland’s railway and its customers”.

He said: “Abellio has invested more than £475 million in new and upgraded trains, added 23% more seats for customers and created more than 500 extra jobs in Scotland since the start of the franchise in 2015 – the biggest investment in trains and stations in over 150 years.”