Scotland

Will Scotland's railways improve by going Dutch?

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Media captionAbellio won the franchise to run Scotland's railways at the expense of First Group

It has been just six weeks since the Aberdeen-based First Group was told it was losing the right to run Scotland's railways to the Dutch state-owned operator Abellio.

The franchise winner promised a raft of changes, from better public transport integration to Dutch-style bicycle hire.

But it will also be going Dutch with the profits; some will be reinvested, but the rest will be ploughed into improvements to the Netherlands' railways.

There are many obvious differences between the two nations, with the Dutch population being about three times greater but concentrated over a much smaller area.

And then there are the hills - or lack of them. But Abellio argues there is enough in common for it to directly lift some elements of its operation on the continent and transplant it to Scotland.

Image caption The punctuality of Dutch trains has improved

One ambition is for full transport integration, allowing passengers to seamlessly jump from one form of transport to another.

At Utrecht station, where the company has its headquarters, Abellio CEO Jeff Hoogesteger explains: "People don't want to travel from station to station but from door to door and we will introduce new products, new innovation such as the journey companion app, providing door-to-door information throughout all the different modes."

Smart card travel

Mr Hoogesteger admits his plans are ambitious and will not "be done all in one day".

But in the Netherlands the firm is well on the way to achieving its goal.

Commuters use a single smart card, similar to the Oyster Card in London, whereby money is pre-loaded and the cost of each leg of the trip is deducted as passengers swipe through the barriers at stations.

The card can also be used to hire a bike, pay for a taxi and even buy a coffee.

Perhaps the first thing passengers want to see though is an improvement in punctuality.

Image caption Jeff Hoogesteger, from Abellio, says the plans will take time

Arrien Kruyt is president of the Dutch Rail Users Union, a fee paying organisation with 5,500 members.

He said: "Railway customers are not easy to please, they tend to complain about things, but thank goodness the statistics show that people are more satisfied than they used to be a couple of years ago.

"Punctuality has improved. People like to travel by train but they like to be on time and they hate it when a train arrives much too late and here a lot of things have improved.

"Another thing which has improved is the interconnection between trains, buses and other forms of public transport but I think the most important thing is attitude. It is most important if the directors of the company express in public and to their personnel that it is the passenger first."

Image caption The Dutch operator said the interconnection between bus and train was important to users

Trains are not the only thing the rail company operates in stations; food and retail outlets are also provided by the state-owned firm.

Profits are reinvested in the railways and the plan is launch similar outlets at some stations in Scotland.

But not all the profits from ScotRail will be reinvested. Some will be used to fund improvements to the Dutch network, owned by NS Railways.

Timo Huges, CEO of NS Railways, said: "We have made some promises that part of the money we generate in Scotland will be reinvested to increase the level of service we have promised. At the same time, there will be some money flown back to the Netherlands."

Abellio does already operate in other parts of the UK and Germany.

But this will be the first time it has taken over a nation's network and expectation, from the government and the passengers, is high.

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