THE UK Government has been blasted for being “wedded to the disaster of rail privatisation” after controversially extending the Avanti West Coast contract by six months.

Gavin Newlands, the SNP’s transport spokesperson at Westminster, said Avanti’s record over the last year had been an “utter disgrace” and insisted Scotland was setting an example of how to build for the future with a publicly-owned railway.

Newlands said last year Scotland and the North of England were being treated like “third-class citizens” when it comes to railway provision.

Avanti - which runs services from Glasgow and Edinburgh to London - slashed its timetable last summer after drivers stopped doing overtime and passengers suffered widespread disruption.

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There have been calls for the company to be stripped of the franchise due to numerous complaints about reliability and punctuality, but the Department for Transport (DfT) has said its contract will now run until October 15 under "broadly the same terms and conditions".

Newlands said he feared the misery suffered by passengers last year would continue with the extension of the contract, combined with the ongoing RMT dispute with rail operating companies in England.

He told The National: “What’s clear from the thin gruel from the despatch box is we continue to have a UK Government that is ideologically wedded to the disaster that is rail privatisation.

“Avanti’s track record over the last year alone has been an utter disgrace, with passengers stuck waiting for trains that haven’t turned up or turfed out of services seemingly at random.

“And with no end in sight to the RMT dispute with rail operating companies down south – including Avanti – the misery will simply continue.

“In Scotland, we have a publicly owned, publicly controlled railway that sat down and negotiated with the RMT and came to a mutually agreed deal. 

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“We will also see the public ownership of the Caledonian Sleeper finalised in June this year.

“When you add that to the sustained investment that’s went into Scotland’s railways since devolution – by governments of all political stripes bar the Tories – it’s clear that we are leading the way in running a modern, dynamic rail service that is building for the future; the contrast with UK rail policy stuck in the sidings of dogmatic free-market extremism couldn’t be clearer.”

Passenger groups and rail workers' unions demonstrated outside of the Department for Transport on Monday to denounce the government’s decision.

The National: Lynch said the Tories were 'rewarding failure'Lynch said the Tories were 'rewarding failure'

The RMT union's general secretary Mick Lynch meanwhile accused the government of rewarding failure. 

Graham Sutherland, chief executive of Avanti's parent company FirstGroup, said: "We are working closely with government and our partners across the industry to deliver a successful railway for our customers and communities.

"Performance at Avanti is steadily improving and, since the introduction of the new timetable in mid-December, the number of services has increased by more than 40% compared to last summer, with more seats and better frequencies."