SO it’s the end of the line for Abellio – or at least it will be in spring 2022, when its franchise agreement to run ScotRail services is brought to an end three years early. Passengers who have endured the repeated misery of delays, cancellations and overcrowding – while being asked to pay more and more in fares every year – will doubtless conclude this is not before time.

However, it’s important to note that the Scottish Government isn’t citing any of the failings above as reasons for bringing the deal to an end. Transport Secretary Michael Matheson would risk getting into hot water legally if he did so, as the Dutch operator could point to recent service improvements and the addition of more trains as evidence it was turning things around.

Fortunately the option of early termination was written into the contract, and with Abellio reportedly seeking a “very substantial uplift” in subsidies the decision was made to pull the plug.

For many passengers, any improvements will have been too little, too late. And for politicians, the pressure to bring the railways back into full public ownership has been steadily mounting ever since a foreign company took over.

Abellio is wholly owned by the Dutch national rail operator, and in 2017 transport staff union the TSSA went as far as creating a spoof SNP party political broadcast to highlight the fact that profits from ScotRail were going towards improving rail services in The Netherlands. In fact Abellio has lost tens of millions of pounds running the franchise, so while the political theory was sound (and the “people before profit” point stands), the reality was a little different and the actual profit non-existent.

The National:

READ MORE: Scottish Government to strip Abellio of ScotRail contract

Had Abellio done a first-class job then perhaps few would be quibbling over how, why and to whose commercial benefit it was doing so. But the consensus is that it failed to deliver. The question now is, are we better with the devil we know, or do we risk things going from bad to worse under a devil we don’t? Indeed, if we are forced to stick to the current franchise model, might Abellio bid again? Matheson says there would technically be nothing to stop it.

That scenario could be avoided if the Scottish Government gets its wish of an end to rail franchising and full Scottish control of the railway system. This includes control of the Network Rail Scotland, which is currently answerable to Westminster, not Holyrood.

It’s easy to have a go at ScotRail, which is regularly branded “ScotFail” for missing performance targets and dishing out backchat instead of customer service via Twitter, but rather less attention is paid to the delays and cancellations that are outwith its control.

In 2018 the headlines proclaimed that ScotRail had paid out for 65,000 successful “delay claims” in nine months – but further investigation revealed that two in three of these were the fault of Network Rail, which is responsible for railway infrastructure including tracks and signals. How often do we hear criticism of “Network Fail” when infrastructure problems are the cause of passenger woes? Are passengers even made aware of what caused the disruption to their journeys?

The National:

READ MORE: Abellio could bid on ScotRail in 2022 despite contract ending

Ahead of a recent cross-border (non-ScotRail) trip I made the mistake of congratulating myself on arriving 10 minutes early for my train. By the time I’d bought myself a sandwich, “on time” had changed to “delayed” on the board. Not to worry, I thought, having left myself a two-hour cushion. It’ll be along in a minute.

Ah, my naivety. Little did I realised that “delayed” meant “probably cancelled”, and it was only when I saw fellow passengers flocking around train company staff that I realised I should join them. It transpired there was a problem with the track and trains were at a standstill, with no indication of when they’d be on the move again. I was advised to head to another station in the hope of catching a connecting train elsewhere. “What time is that train?” I asked, panicked. I was met with a shrug.

To cut a long story short, I got there in the end. Indeed, I got a full refund for my ticket. But it boggles my mind to think of the stress involved in navigating this sort of chaos and confusion on a regular basis. No wonder rail passengers are fed up. It’s possible the problem that caused my delay simply couldn’t have been avoided, but where is the joined-up thinking to assist passengers when things go wrong?

This is the 21st century, and tickets can be booked with a few taps of a smartphone, so why can the same technology not be used to provide real-time updates – and if necessary, alternative route suggestions – directly to the passengers who have booked tickets on affected services?

At very least, it seems like a no-brainer to have full control of Scotland’s railway system devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

When it comes to the question of franchising, we may have to wait and see what emerges from the root-and-branch (or should that be track-and-carriage) review of the UK’s railway that former British Airways boss Keith Williams has been carrying out. He is expected to recommend a move away from the franchise bidding system.

While that review was carried out the Scottish Government put on ice a study into how a public-sector bid for the ScotRail franchise might work, but with this week’s announcement of the end of Abellio’s deal, it will perhaps need to be defrosted sooner rather than later.