Strategic rail routes should be a major part of the nation’s future

Richard Ardern writes in today’s The Herald newspaper:

The High Speed Trains which are to be introduced on the inter-city routes north from Glasgow and Edinburgh will give passengers more carriages and a much more comfortable ride. Although capable of 125 mph, the permitted track speeds will limit them to 100mph.

As you reported (“Passengers do not care how old their trains are”, The Herald, October 9) delegates to the SNP conference were highly critical of the service capacity on the Highland Main Line to Inverness. On board capacity will be much improved by these refurbished trains, but the £60 Million infrastructure improvements mentioned are only a small step towards improving the track capacity to prevent trains having to wait in loops to access the next section of single track when another train is coming the other way.

Without wishing to be too political, we might remember that the sanctioned enhancement spend on the line for 2014-2019 was up to £120M, double what is actually happening. The Strategic Transport Projects Review in December 2008 put the line as third priority after the Queensferry Crossing and the Edinburgh-Glasgow [rail] Improvements Programme. Now EGIP is nearing completion, it is high time to deliver a modern strategic railway to the north. As the Scottish Chambers of Commerce said in April 2016 “a connected economy is a successful economy” such that “single track railways linking Inverness, Aberdeen and the Central Belt are unacceptable in the 21st century”. The superb Airdrie to Bathgate line would be a standard to aim for.

The problem now for the Government is that money is getting ever tighter and other claims such as replacing vessels for Caledonian MacBrayne are also getting more urgent. This is compounded by the denial of geography which affecting HM Treasury this year and resulting in them allocating railway monies on a crude per capita basis rather than, as hitherto, by need. Scotland’s railways have been denied some £400M through this.

Underlying all this is yesterday’s electrifying report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggesting that we only have 12 years in which to avoid a catastrophic environmental breakdown. Despite good work on energy emissions, Scotland’s transport emissions are still going up. It is essential that we put more effort into sustainable transport. Strategic rail routes within Scotland should be a major part of that.