We need to get railway policy back on track

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

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43 thoughts on “We need to get railway policy back on track

  1. Bang on the mark. For a man who talks up investment in infrastructure and the need to help the construction industry, the First Minister doesn’t value our railways. Rail is an important part of Scotland’s infrastructure(especially in Glasgow) and it’s time he realised that. With the rest of the world starting to invest in High Speed rail too, I hope our dear leader doesn’t leave us behind. Rail is also a chance for us to reconnect with the rural North who don’t feel who speak for them. More Rail links would help to grow their local economies.

  2. Obviously I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve just had a look at the Dundee proposal and if you strip out the St Andrews station the projected costs then were about £41mn as opposed to £70mn.

    Ultimately you are right the SNP doesn’t really care, they are wedded to the car and major road building projects..

  3. Perhaps if the Labour party hadn’t pushed through the disasterous Trams project in Edinburgh more funding could be available for Railway projects across Scotland!

    1. Perhaps if the SNP weren’t pumping billions into a possibly pointless new Forth Road Bridge there would be a few quid for other things.

    2. Please indicate how cancelling the Trams project helps Network Rail use its regulatory asset base to fund projects such as Edinburgh-Glasgow Rail Improvement?

      Please also indicate why the SNP havnt begun planning for projects which will need funding in 2016 and beyond – long after the money has been spent on the Trams?

      The Trams are nothing to do with this Governments lack of committment. In fact – they highlight their lack of committment in not wanting to take a grip on the project.

  4. Scotland is small enough to have a (relatively) cheap proper high-speed network. Taking 48 minutes to go from Glasgow to Edinburgh in this day and age is ridiculous – particularly when it was only 43 minutes back in the 60s!

    A high speed network would also free up capacity for freight on the current lines, and for more frequent local services. There are a large number of smaller projects which could make a huge difference to our use of public transport, if only the government had the imagination.

  5. This is spot on. Another project that disappeared was the Glasgow Airport Rail link. It seem barmy that the only public transport option from Scotland’s busiest airport are bus services which (if you’re heading somewhere other than Glasgow or Paisely) are pretty unreliable.

    Also on this, we should join this debate up with the one that’s happening around High Speed 2 . Given that the London to Manchester line will only cut journey times from London to Glasgow by 1 hour by 2026, there’s surely an argument to start building from the other end at the same time. A Glasgow – Carlisle line would have less of the obstacles than building out of (and through) large cities and would cut journey times.

  6. “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.”

    Actually, the problem has been that prior to 2007 the Scottish Railway network had suffered from extreme neglect due to being under the control of successive Labour and Tory governments for oh, the last century and more! How the SNP government was supposed to turn this around during 4 years as a minority in Holyrood is a conundrum, considering Labour (along with their unionist chums) played party politics during that term and cared not a jot for any possible benefits to the country.

    There have been many “a light bulb go on” since 2007, the problem has been that where Scotland is concerned, the Scottish unionists and their puppet masters in London had the switches rigged permanently to “off”.

    However, after the rewiring of Holyrood in May the future of Scotland looks to be back on track, which can only be good news for the railway network.

    1. But there will still be a 4 year hiatus. And the electoral maths in 2007 wasnt stopping the SNP from coming up with a plan. But we haven’t seen anyone in the SNP Government since 2007 even TRY to have a light bulb moment.

      Please point me to the plans in the 2011 SNP manifesto for the railway network after EGRIP. There arnt any.

  7. Very good point about the hiatus in new projects being approved. Take a look at Network Rail’s Route Utilisation Strategy – there are plenty of good value for money options in there waiting for government approval: http://www.networkrail.co.uk/browseDirectory.aspx?dir=\RUS%20Documents\Route%20Utilisation%20Strategies\RUS%20Generation%202\Scotland&root=

    Aberdeen crossrail to me is a no brainer. It could be achieved through minimal investment in new bay platforms at some of the smaller stations so that faster trains to the central belt were not impeded. Rolling stock could be cascaded from elsewhere in the Network.

    Ultimately though there’s one discrete pot of money. Currently it’s going on free prescriptions, free bus passes, free university education service. Perhaps a more pressing questions is what would you cut to make way for more railway spending? Road building? Or would you jack up the train fares?

    Or I suppose the get out is using the greater government borrowing powers in the Scotland Bill to pay for it. Or, yes…if you believe in that school of economics, Independence.

    1. Absolutely – when the SNP canned Aberdeen Crossrail it was apalling.

      However, its disappointing to realise that there doesnt seem to have been any engagement from the SNP administration with the consultation on the second route utilisation strategy.

      Well, the SG hasnt had to pay too much for the Edinburgh-Glasgow improvements. Network Rail is going to use its Regulatory Asset base to borrow against for all the infrastructure works – all the SG has to do is guarantee the extra track access charges for Scotrail. The extra subsidy is not that much. Additional works – eg electrification to Aberdeen could be funded in a similar way. Despite what the tories say, Network Rails borrowing is nowhere near maxed out.

  8. How many miles of new railway track was laid in Scotland between 1999 and 2007?

    If I am not mistaken there was a Labour government at Westminster and a Labour/Lib Dem government at Holyrood.

    How many miles could have been laid if Jack McConnell had not sent £1billion back to Westminster.

    1. How about you read the article? In it you will see that rail projects take a long time to happen. I think the projects initiated by Jack McConnels administrations stand very well against the ones which Alex Salmond has (or in fact has NOT) started.

      Edinburgh – Tweedbank

      Now tell me which lines Alex Salmond is planning on reopening?

  9. I have read through both Labour’s and the SNP’s manfesto commitments on rail. They are practically identical except that Labour would not build the Borders railway which the SNP is committed to but would have built the Glasgow Airport Rail Link which the SNP has cancelled.

    So it is your own party as much as the SNP that you need to persuade on this.

    1. Labour Manifesto

      Page 19/20 –
      “We will be advocates of high-speed rail links to London and Europe and will seek to future-proof Scotland’s network to ensure this is a possibility. Our ambition is to see direct services from Scotland to Paris and Brussels. Scottish Labour will take forward the Edinburgh/Glasgow Rail Improvement Project (EGIP), including seeking to improve journey times between Glasgow and Edinburgh to under 40 minutes, taking forward Crossrail and delivering more commuting opportunities from Ayrshire and Renfrewshire, and from rural Lanarkshire to Edinburgh and Glasgow. We will consider all options for the Scotrail franchise, including public and not for profit models and will work to deliver free Wi-Fi and 3G mobile phone coverage as part of the next contract. We will reinstate plans for the Glasgow Airport Rail Link.
      We will support the modernisation of Glasgow’s subway and will campaign to ensure that any changes to the East Coast Main Line do not disadvantage Lanarkshire – Edinburgh commuters. We will seek to progress the expansion of through-ticketing in Scotland.

      1. And the SNP manifesto is pretty much identical except in making a specific commitment to build the Borders rail link.

        1. For the purposes of fairness and to let the readers make their own minds up, please will the moderators allow the posting of the sections from the SNP manifesto about rail. Even John Ruddy himself has asked for this.

          1. What is in the manifesto isnt the point. Because theres nothing in the manifesto about planning for after 2016.

            My point is the Government (which ought to act like one, after all it got elected), should start planning NOW for projects which will come to fruition after 2016. I assume the SNP wants to be in power after the next election? Or are they already planning a scorched earth policy so that the next administration has nothing in the pipeline to open, and the SNP can criticise them for it?

          2. In the excerpt I’ve posted above I don’t see much mention of planning for railways after 2016 in the Labour manifesto either.

            Surely the future of Scotland’s railways is an issue ALL parties need to look at closely, and not just be used an an excuse for yet another bout of nat-bashing from Labour.

          3. And as I have posted elsewhere in these comments, this is something I want our policy to move in the direction of.

            However, the main thrust of my post was this – railways take a long time to plan. This Government (and I seem to recall the SNP winning that election) needs to start that planning NOW. If we wait until labour come into power in 2016, it will be too late, and there will be a hiatus. During which, presumably we will be attacked by the SNP for not doing anything.

    2. In case you hadnt noticed – thats part of the job of this website! New policy ideas. However, my main point still stands – the last Labour Government set in motion various projects which will come to fruition over the next few years – but there will be a hiatus because of a lack of vision from the SNP.

      1. Well maybe you should consider why the SNP and Labour seem to share the identical lack of vision.

        Is it to do with funding?

        1. Since there are other ways of funding rail improvements other than writing a very big cheque (look at the Waverley route, or the EGRIP, for two different examples of this), I suspect not.

  10. Ok

    I will ask again, how many miles of rail track were opened in Scotland between 1999 and 2007?

    Labour were in power in the UK from 1997 so lets widen the time, how many miles of track were opened in Scotland between 1997 and 2007? Ten years, plenty of time for the opening of lots of track.

    How many miles could have been laid if Jack McConnell had not sent £1billion back to Westminster.

    1. OK,I’ll ask you to read the article – again. In case you cant be bothered scrolling up to the top of the page, I’ll repeat it here. And I’ll use short syllables to help you understand.

      Railways take a long time to build.

      I’ll also tell you how many miles of line Jack authorised as First Minister – it was 59. Thats 59 more miles than Alex Salmond has authorised. At the current rate, it will be 59 miles more than Alex will have authorised by the time of the next election.

      And it doesnt matter how much money was sent to Westminster or not – read about Network Rail’s Regulatory Asset Base, find out about its borrowing limits, and discover how rail infrastructure projects are financed.

      1. I never asked how much he authorised, I asked how many miles of track were built in Scotland in the 10 years between 1997 and 2007.

        How many miles could have been laid if Jack McConnell had not sent £1billion back to Westminster.

        1. An none will be built in Scotland after 2016 unless the SNP pulls its finger out and starts planning now. Railways take a long time to build. Anyone can turn up and cut a ribbon on a project they had little or nothing to do with.

      2. The SNP’s focus – and Labour’s is pretty much the same – appears mainly to be on electrifying the central Scotland network and delivering more frequent and faster journeys across the central belt and between the central belt and Inverness and Aberdeen.

        As I said the main difference appears to be that Labour would not have proceeded with the Borders rail link but would have built the Glasgow Airport Rail Link instead while the SNP is doing the opposite.

        So what people need to consider is whether it is a better use of money to improve the trains and journey times that are already heavily used or to build new lines.

        There could be arguments on both sides. As someone who travels fairly frequently between Glasgow and Edinburgh I would certainly welcome the journey time being cut to just over half an hour which is what we are promised will happen. But that’s just my personal view.

        1. please note that I am talking about planning for what happens after that electrification project – rail projects take a long time to come to fruition, if we dont plan now we wont get any projects in the parliament after 2016.

  11. Labour had to be dragged kicking and screaming into supporting the line to Tweedbank. That was only to keep the liberals on board. It is a pity they did not have the vision to go for the Charlesfield option, thus getting it through Melrose. At least under the SNP the first sod has been cut, utilities have been diverted, buildings purchased, etc. etc. If Labour had won in 2011 it would probably have been cancelled!

    1. I suggest you study the act more carefully. If Labour had won in 2011, they couldnt have cancelled the line – it had the so-called “Mastermind” clause – they’ve started so they’ll finish.

      Regardless of whether Labour had to be dragged kicking and screaming, my point still stands. There are a number of projects started by the last two Labour/Lib Dem administrations (and I was careful to give the Liberals their due in my original article) which will finish in the few years – and then there will be nothing. Simply because the SNP havnt had the vision to carry things through.

      1. It is not in the Labour manifesto. It’s nonsense to say that it couldn’t be cancelled. The SNP cancelled the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link as soon as they were elected and then later cancelled the Glasgow Airport Rail Link.

  12. Perhaps if so much was not being wasted on the likes of Trident we could afford railways, hospitals, etc etc.

  13. This site would appear to be heavily censored if one mentions Brown and bankruptcy – hope this stays!

  14. John Ruddy, are you there, or is that silence amounting to consent?

  15. and of course you haven’t yet answered my question as to why Labour did not choose the Charlesfield option. We both know Labour would have preferred Gorebridge if they could have got away with it, but they had to keep the libs onside.

    1. Perhaps you would be better off asking that question of those who made that decision.

      I’ve already made it clear that my view is that the line should be completed through to Carlisle.

  16. Of course the line should have been planned to be completed through to Carlisle, so why did Labour not push for it to go at least to the English Border when they had the power so to do? Answer I have given previously stands – the least they could get away with because their heart was not in it.

  17. Nobody can possibly try and justify the axing of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Airport Links. Because the SNP cut GARL, it’s now too late for it to be in place for the Commonwealth Games in 2014 – in other words, that alone will be a national embarassment on the world stage. And as for Edinburgh, a line runs right past the airport, so even a temporary station on the Fife line connected to a shuttle bus would have a huge benefit.

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