As I See It

Dutch scandal taints ScotRail franchise

Terry MurdenBad start for new operator

As the first trains tested the new Borders railway at the weekend, a scandal surrounding ScotRail’s Dutch franchise holder Abellio was hardly an appropriate backdrop for the rebirth of Britain’s newest route for a century.

Abellio chief executive Jeff Hoogesteger was dismissed together with Timo Huges, chief executive of parent group Nederlandse Spoorwegen, over “irregularities” in the processing of a public transport contract in the Netherlands.

Both left their posts after an investigation found that an “incorrect and incomplete” statement had been given in relation to a rival bidder. According to the Dutch papers they secretly hired a senior member of the opposition when bidding for a contract in Limburg, one of the provinces of the Netherlands.  They denied having done this until evidence emerged.

Both NS and the Scottish government issued statements hoping to draw a line under the scandal, but it has tainted the new holder which has promised a fresh start for Scotland’s often-criticised railways. New trains built by Japanese company Hitachi are promised as part of a multi-million pound makeover.

Mr Hoogesteger only moved to Scotland two months ago to take charge of its “most important” British franchise and his departure only adds to some uncertainty over who is running affairs.

Soon after securing the franchise there was an immediate u-turn over the position of incumbent managing director Steve Montgomery who was initially confirmed in his role, only for the company to announce a week later that he was leaving.

A statement from Nederlandse Spoorwegen on Friday made clear its feelings on this latest incident, stating that Mr Hoogesteger “has been released from duty and dismissed from his position without any form of severance compensation.”

Chief financial officer, Engelhardt Robbe, has taken over as chief executive of both Abellio and NS on a temporary basis.

The Scottish Government said the scandal would have no impact on its award of the ten-year, £2.5 billion ScotRail franchise – its biggest ever contract – to Abellio. It reassured the taxpayer that reviews by Audit Scotland the independent auditors supported the process and the outcome of the tender process. Abellio won the franchise last October from FirstGroup.

Abellio also runs train operator Abellio Greater Anglia, and Northern Rail and Merseyrail in joint ventures with Serco, and buses in London and Surrey.

Picture: new Hitachi trains are promised

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