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Railwatch 086 - November 2000

Good, bad and ugly

By David Hansen

Recent events in Scotland can be classed as the good, the bad and the ugly. On the good side funding is being increased for sustainable transport and by the time you read this there should have been announcements of rail projects going ahead. Scottish councils should now start bidding in the same energetic way as their southern cousins, otherwise rail improvements will remain a southern England phenomenon.

RDS Scotland is finding the Scottish Executive more approachable than the unlamented Scottish Office, which was obsessed with covering the country in tarmac. Although the Executive is not perfect, it is a lot better than its predecessor.

RDS Scotland now runs an information service to keep those with email up to date. To subscribe send an email to majordomo@spidacom.co.uk, with the subject rdsscotinfo-subscribe and this will be done automatically. This will also send you the help file which has all the necessary instructions.

What councils think The Centre for Transport Policy sent questionnaires to party politicians throughout Britain, asking them what they thought about transport policy. The answers are summarised in a report called What do Local Authority Politicians Think About Transport Policy? In Scotland 54% said rail use would be higher in the future, 25% about the same, none lower, none don't know and 21% say it is not applicable. The last answer is worrying, as rail can be part of longer journeys from any part of Scotland.

The bad relates to what some councils are doing in their local transport strategies. Despite many warm words about sustainable transport many councils have dressed up long-held road ambitions in green tinsel and presented these as part of a "balanced" package. The low level of funding given to sustainable transport projects shows where the council's heart is. The Executive must be active in weeding these things out and ensuring that corridor studies are done that explore all the options.

No SRA in Scotland Despite railways being an almost entirely devolved matter, the SRA will not exist in Scotland. Instead the small railway branch in the Scottish Executive will issue advice and guidance to the SRA. We do know that the SRA has been to Scotland (and even which pub officials drank in), so let's hope that there is no problem with this arrangement that disadvantages Scotland.

We don't want passengers The accolade this time goes to Glasgow Queen Street station. Standing on the high-level station the uninitiated can get no clue there is a low-level station. The departure boards and screens, the timetables and the signs give no clue that trains run from there to places like Partick. Passengers newly attracted to the railways are unlikely to be impressed by this. Glasgow Central is not as bad, but could be improved. Perhaps someone is ashamed of the low-level stations?

Two items come under the heading of the ugly. Scotrail has all its fuel delivered by road! Not only that, all rail maintenance is done from road vans. In the fuel crisis people fell about laughing when they heard this. An excellent opportunity to show car travellers the benefits of train travel that could not be exploited. Let's hope funding for better rail loading facilities at Grangemouth is granted, so that rail fuel (and fuel supplies to many areas) can be returned to the railways. The fuel crisis also exposed the short sightedness of the railways in relying on a fuel the price of which can fluctuate wildly.

Franchise bids were made at a time of low fuel prices, so the railways are presumably feeling the effects of the price rises in their wallets. The Scottish Executive and SRA must take a strategic decision on electrification to ensure the reliability of rail services. They must also stop rail companies running diesel trains for long distances over electrified routes. The worst example of this is the new trains for Virgin CrossCountry. In principle only the lines west of Helensburgh and north of Inverness are unlikely to be candidates for electrification. Scotland has enormous resources of renewable energy and exports electricity, so all that is needed is the will by government and the railways.

The end of the affair Before the Scottish government was set up concerns were expressed that it would be a road-building machine. The appointment of an environmentally minded Transport and Environment Minister seemed to indicate these fears were groundless. However, a series of announcements, culminating in the approval of the highly destructive M74 extension in Glasgow (the Birmingham Northern relief road of Scotland), indicate that these fears were correct.

Although there have been increases in sustainable transport funding we can see where the executive's heart is. "These road schemes have not been tested against corridor analysis to see if they are value for money," to quote Transform Scotland.

The M74 decision further undermines the Executive's environmental credibility. Its professed support for sustainable transport has been shown to be no more than a hollow pretence. It appears the minister provides a green fig leaf for the executive, while at the same time keeping those interested in sustainable transport quiet on the Micawber principle, "something good will turn up".

Note: contact details (postal and email addresses, along with telephone numbers) in old editions of Railwatch out of date. Click CONTACT US for latest contact details.

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