The pandemic has saved ScotRail more than £1 million in compensation payments.
Trains have been deserted as workers who would normally commute to the office stayed at home to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
And dramatic figures reveal payouts for delayed services fell £1,042,496 last year.
While a 90% drop in passenger numbers since the start of the first lockdown has meant fewer people are subject to delays, ScotRail maintains the punctuality of its trains is the best it has been since it took over the franchise in 2015.
ScotRail’s latest monthly performance figures across Perth, Dundee, Angus and Fife indicate that between 88% and 92% of trains arrived within five minutes of their scheduled times at most stations between February and March.
However, Markinch in Fife was worst served by ScotRail services, with just 73% of services arriving within five minutes of the booked time.
Through its franchise agreement with the Scottish Government, ScotRail is required to provide a delay-repay scheme to passengers.
Compensation is offered for those kept waiting for more than 30 minutes.
Figures for compensation payments over the past two years were revealed by Scottish transport secretary Michael Matheson in response to a parliamentary question from Tom Mason of the Conservatives.
In 2019-20, ScotRail paid passengers a total of £1,129,976 in compensation under the delay-repay scheme.
This fell to only £87,480 last year.
The statistics showed a slight peak in payments around late summer and early autumn, when travel restrictions were eased.
Calls for fares to be frozen
Poor reliability of services has caused anger among commuters in recent years.
Angus Council pressed for improvements to the region’s rail service after it slumped to the bottom of the table for punctuality across Scotland.
And in Fife there were calls for fares to be frozen until what was described as a sub-standard service improved.
Towards the end of 2018, a staffing crisis caused chaos for travellers across Scotland, with 57 out of 70 cancelled services put down to a shortage of train crew.
Liz Smith, the Scottish Conservative parliamentary candidate for Perthshire South and Kinross-shire, said: “ScotRail has a very poor record of three million minutes of delays over the past nine years, with many of these occurring in Fife, where on-time stops have fallen as low as 44% in recent months.
“In 2019, local Fife rail stations were hit with more than 2,000 trains being cancelled on the Fife Circle line. As a result, I’m sure many rail commuters will be understandably wary on hearing of the news of the SNP’s rail nationalisation plan.”
Annabelle Ewing, who is standing as an SNP candidate in the Cowdenbeath constituency, responded: “Of course, many of the delays and cancellations on the network in Scotland are caused by infrastructure issues that are the responsibility of Network Rail, which remains under the control of the UK Government.
“Perhaps the Tories could support the call to give the Scottish Parliament full powers over rail services, so that we can use them in a way that reflects the needs of the Scottish rail network in general, and the Fife Circle in particular.”
Punctuality of trains at ‘nine-year high’
According to ScotRail, the punctuality of Scotland’s trains is at its highest level since 2013.
A spokesperson for ScotRail said: “Over the last few months, ScotRail has delivered the most impressive punctuality figures since the franchise was awarded in 2015.
“And, in February, Scotland’s Railway continued to provide a critical service for key workers with the number of trains running on time across the network at an all-time high for that time of year.
“ScotRail has seen an almost 90% drop in the number of passengers using our services since the first lockdown was brought in.
“Consequently, the delay-repay scheme, which offers compensation when journeys are delayed by more than 30 minutes, has made significantly fewer payments.”
Contract ‘failed very badly’
Labour parliamentary candidate for Cowdenbeath Alex Rowley said: “This is yet another demonstration of the poor performance of Abellio, the Dutch government nationalised rail company who were awarded the contract by the SNP to run ScotRail and failed very badly.
“Scottish Labour, along with the rail trade unions, have been campaigning for these services to be taken into public control, with the profits being ploughed back into services.
“I believe we will see better services and a better deal for rail users. That has to be a good thing,” he added.