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Railwatch 069 - October 1996

Enemies within

Douglas Smart is retiring from his post reporting on Scottish events for Railwatch. This is his "last effort".

First some good news. Three new train services have started in Scotland: Kirkcaldy-Glasgow, Garelochhead-Glasgow and Cumbernauld-Motherwell. Sadly this is about all there is to be positive about in the Scottish transport scene.

The above services use existing track and stations. The prospect of new stations is receding. There was hope that work would start soon on Dalgety Bay, the first part of the Fife rail project. This is now stalled. Railtrack is taking most of the flak in the media for this delay.

If politicians are shown to have played a part in this debacle, it will be difficult to avoid the conclusion that the railways have few real friends in Scotland. Whatever the truth, privatisation is certainly the main culprit. The fact that £100,000 is on offer from a house building company towards the cost does not seem to focus minds. If work does not start in October, the offer will be withdrawn. The cost of the project has risen from £500,000 in 1994 to £1,800,000 demanded by Railtrack in June 1996.

If this modest project fails because of buckpassing and lack of ambition by the fragmented rail network and lack of interest by politicians, the implications for the entire rail network will be disastrous.

The following statistics obtained in a parliamentary question from Labour MP Sam Galbraith illustrate perfectly one problem faced by those of us campaigning for the railways and the environment.

The following projects have been approved for "objective one" funding by the European Community for the Highlands and Islands:

  • Roads: 32 projects with £14.35 million in grants.
  • Ferries: 2 projects with £1.75 million in grant.
  • Airports: 1 project with £0.32 million in grant.
  • Railways: 0 projects £0 grant.

These figures do not include top-ups from the Scottish Office and local councils. This is not the fault of the European Union. Incredibly there is £8 million of European money still waiting to be spent. This money could transform the railways.

This scandal reflects badly on the road-obsessed political parties. It is also a sad reflection that the railway industry simply has not asked for the money!

One wonders if the railways have enemies within. At the start of the privatisation debate, I said that the worst scenario would be if the road lobby obtained control of the railways and ran them down as happened in America in the 1930s.

Is it happening here now?

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