Scotland business

New ScotRail operator 'to deliver smart cards and information revamp'

ScotRail rains
Image caption Dutch firm Abellio has taken over the 10-year ScotRail franchise

The new operator of the ScotRail franchise has promised "immediate" improvements in passenger information by issuing thousands of smartphones and tablets to front-line staff.

The technology will allow faster communication with customers, while a national smart-card system is to be brought in to simplify ticketing.

Dutch firm Abellio has taken over the franchise from FirstGroup.

It aims to increase passenger numbers to 110 million within 10 years.

Dominic Booth, managing director of Abellio UK, said: "We'll be changing things right away. We'll be rolling out 4,900 smartphones and tablets to all front-line staff so that they are able to get information on the train services immediately, as soon as we make a decision in the control room, and pass that on to passengers.

"Staff have told us it's needed and that will be happening in the first two to three months."

Strategic role

Mr Booth added: "To simplify ticketing we'll be rolling out a smart card across Scotland, starting this year. We know from our operations in Europe that it's a real way to make travel simpler.

"We expect to carry millions more passengers. We're currently carrying just under 90 million per annum, and expect that to have risen to 110 million or so by the end of the franchise.

"We are determined that ScotRail will now go beyond A-to-B and play a truly strategic role in the long-term success of the country.

"We will do so by providing jobs and support for small businesses in towns and cities across the country; by supporting and boosting Scotland's leisure and tourism industries; by working with local schools and supporting community programmes. And by connecting businesses and people through improved journey times and increased capacity on Scotland's rail network."

Jeff Hoogesteger, chief executive officer of Abellio Group, said it was "a privilege" for the company to be serving Scotland.

Break clause

He added: "Today begins a new chapter in the long story of Scotland's railways. As the new stewards of a vital part of Scotland's society and economy, we understand the responsibility given to us and will work every day to earn the faith that has been shown in us.

"The ball is now very firmly in Abellio's court and we have no higher priority than to bring our vision for ScotRail to life."

Abellio's 10-year franchise has a break clause allowing it or the Scottish government to end the contract in 2022.

The firm is spending £370m on 70 new, longer electric trains to run on the main line between Edinburgh and Glasgow from the end of 2017.

It will also spend £60m a year later to refurbish 30 to 40-year-old diesel high speed trains to provide more seats on other major city routes.

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