The Scottish Government needs to take the initiative on expanding our rail network, says JOHN RUDDY
The SNP don’t seem to get railways.
Don’t get me wrong, they’ve been there to cut the ribbons on projects across Scotland, from Laurencekirk station re-opening (authorised December 2006) to the Airdrie to Bathgate line (initial feasibility studies were started way back in 2004, and authorisation by parliament in March 2007).
The much-delayed Borders rail line, of course, was approved by parliament in 2006. Even the recently announced Edinburgh-Glasgow Rail Improvement Programme owes its origins to the Scotland’s Railways report published by the Scottish Executive in 2006. I’m sure the First Minister will be there to take all the credit when the first electric trains start running just before the election in 2016.
What the government seems not to realise is that rail projects take a long time to come to fruition, from the moment that someone has a light bulb go on above their head, through signing the cheque, to cutting that ribbon. The problem is that since Labour left office in 2007, no one in the Scottish Government has had a light bulb go on about how we can improve and expand Scotland’s rail network. If one doesn’t happen soon, there will be no rail projects for the next government to open after 2016.
We need to look now at the next steps for the rail network. We need to start work on proposals for extending electrification north out of the Central belt to Aberdeen and Inverness; we need to have plans begun for reopening new lines to St. Andrews, Levenmouth and even Peterhead or Fraserburgh. Implementation of the delayed Aberdeen Crossrail and the abandoned Dundee Crossrail must be set in stone. Extension of the Waverly line through to Carlisle makes good sense, and could improve the viability of the whole line, as well as providing extra capacity for Anglo Scottish traffic. Or how about the government comes up with some fresh ideas of its own?
We must not forget rail freight either, and press the SNP for further support for the freight facilities grant scheme, to which they only begrudgingly gave a stay of execution earlier in the year. By improving the Highland Main Line, through increasing capacity and electrification, we can shift HGVs off the over-crowded and accident prone A9 and onto rail. It might even mean we don’t have to spend billions of pounds dualling it all the way through to Inverness. We must also improve the line to Stranraer, especially for freight traffic to Northern Ireland.
Without these plans being started now, the long period of successful growth started by the previous Labour/Lib Dem administrations at Holyrood will come to an end. And there will be nothing to replace it.
Originally from Devon, John Ruddy now lives in Angus. He was an agent for Scottish Labour at the Holyrood election and is a Unison shop steward. Follow John on Twitter at @jruddy99