ScotRail boss Alex Hynes has admitted it could be two years before punctuality targets are met and, even then, there are no guarantees that trains will run on time.
Mr Hynes made the admission when ScotRail’s performance came under fire from MSPs at the Scottish Parliament.
MSPs on the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee quizzed Mr Hynes, the train operator’s managing director, about long-standing problems with delays and cancellations.
Labour MSP Colin Smyth tackled Mr Hynes about ScotRail’s failure to meet its target of having 92.5% of trains running on time.
Mr Hynes said it was ScotRail’s “aspiration” to hit the target “as fast as we can”.
But he added: “It could be 24 months until we do that.”
Mr Hynes went on to say that achieving the 92.5% target was “not something that was wholly within the direct control of ScotRail and not even the railway system”.
He said factors such as trespassers, suicide attempts, weather and delays caused by infrastructure and train problems played a part.
Referring to the 92.5% target, he added: “I can’t guarantee it because ScotRail doesn’t fully control the delivery of that performance.”
Mr Hynes apologised to customers for cancellations and staff shortages in recent months, but claimed the issue was being addressed.
He also revealed ScotRail was seeking compensation for the late delivery of new trains. Only around half of the 70 Hitachi class 385 electric trains were in service.
He said that only three of the 17 refurbished Intercity trains, for use on lines linking Scotland’s seven cities including the East Coast line, had been handed over to ScotRail from contractor Wabtec.
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Asked how much compensation ScotRail was seeking from these firms for the delays, Mr Hynes said it was “in the order of millions”.
He appeared at Holyrood after it was reported the regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), is to proceed with plans to penalise Network Rail executives for passenger disruption.
Under the plans, high-ranking Network Rail staff would face fines taken from their bonus pots when there are failings.
The Scottish Government has issued two remedial notices to ScotRail since December, requiring the operator to submit a plan on how it will address performance issues.
Mr Hynes said more had to be done to regain passenger trust, but claimed things were moving in the right direction.
But North East Lib Dem MSP Mike Rumbles claimed ScotRail was “in denial” about the serious decline in performance over the past 18 months.