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Community groups urged to bid for train station improvement funding

Jeff Hoogesteger said Abellio 'have no higher priority than to bring our vision for ScotRail to life'
Jeff Hoogesteger said Abellio 'have no higher priority than to bring our vision for ScotRail to life'

Far north communities are being urged to apply for a share of £1million in funding to improve train stations.

Labour MSP Rhoda Grant has announced she is writing to around 20 community councils in Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross who have facilities along the Inverness line within their boundaries.

She made the call on the day Dutch transport giant Abellio took over the ScotRail franchise from First Group.

The new operator and Transport Scotland have pledged a £1million per year community rail programme for station improvements.

Ms Grant said: “Communities and train users the length of the far north line need to start shouting for these funds now by getting organised, pulling together local ideas and bids for improvements to their local stations.”

The MSP said the money offered a real opportunity to improve toilets and waiting areas at stations.

To mark the launch of a 10-year, £6billion contract, Abellio is giving away £1million worth of tickets as a thank you to loyal customers and to attract new ones.

The firm’s plans for the future include a intercity fleet serving Scotland’s cities, fares starting at £5 for reservable journeys between Aberdeen, Inverness and the central belt, new cycle hire facilities at stations, free travel for jobseekers and a month’s free travel when they start work.

Speaking at Stirling train station, Jeff Hoogesteger, chief executive officer of Abellio Group, said: “Today begins a new chapter in the long story of Scotland’s railways.

Abellio UK managing director Dominic Booth said First was handing over a franchise in “very good shape”.

“However, 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,” he added.

“We will do so by providing jobs and support for small businesses in towns and cities across the country and 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.”

Mr Booth said the company, which hopes to boost passenger numbers to 110million within 10 years, would be giving out 4,900 smartphones and tablets to front-line staff to enable them to provide information on train services immediately.

Transport minister Derek Mackay said Abellio had promised to contribute to Scottish public life in many ways beyond the railway.

“The ScotRail franchise is the single biggest contract let by the Scottish Government, so it was important to us that the new operator could deliver not only a reliable and successful rail service for the country, but also that it would be an enabler for growth in our economy,” he added.

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