Capital needs new age of the trains

An article by Gavin Strang in the Edinburgh Evening News

As Edinburgh grows and develops, we need new ways to tackle the transport challenges we face. Rail will be an important part of the answer.

Anyone who has driven across town during rush hour will know that Edinburgh has congestion to rival any city in the UK.

If we do not act, Edinburgh’s congestion will get much worse. Left alone, traffic in Edinburgh will increase by 30% by 2021.

That would be disastrous. Bad for our health as we breathe in more pollution, bad for our economy as it adds costs to business, and bad for us all held up in traffic as we try to go about our daily lives.

Transport policy-makers learned a big lesson in the last century: we cannot tackle congestion just by building new and bigger roads. We must instead improve public transport so more people can choose to leave their car at home.
Edinburgh is only a fraction of the size of London. But it is worth noting that 69% of people working in central London get there by rail. The proportion in Edinburgh is only 3%.

Edinburgh is a fast growing city. I believe we are at the stage of our development where the proportion of people travelling by train should rise significantly.

There is no doubt that rail is the best way to move large numbers of people into and around Edinburgh. Rail can get people from A to B directly, safely, comfortably and cleanly.

So what does the future hold?

In and around Edinburgh there are interesting plans afoot.

Edinburgh Council has secured funding for Phase 1 of Crossrail, providing from June cross-city services from a new park-and-ride station at Newcraighall through to West Lothian via a new station at Brunstane, Waverley, Haymarket and, from next year, Edinburgh Park. There are also calls for Crossrail to extend into Midlothian and beyond.

We should also see a rail link to Edinburgh airport. Glasgow and Edinburgh are the two largest airports in the UK without rail links, making these cities less attractive for business visitors and for tourists. The Scottish Executive confirmed last week that a rail link will be developed.

Trams should be making a comeback too. Edinburgh Council is taking forward preparatory work on a tramline for North Edinburgh and will seek further funding from the Scottish Executive for preparatory work on a West Edinburgh tramline.

For the future, there are also proposals for the reopening of the South Suburban railway – currently used by freight – for passenger services.
Looking further afield, the bulk of rail services within Scotland are currently provided by ScotRail.

Last week the Scottish Executive announced that instead of extending ScotRail’s franchise when it expires in 2004, a new franchise will be awarded. The new franchise will be for 15 years, rather than the current 7 year term, allowing the successful bidder time and security to invest in rolling stock and infrastructure. From my postbag I am more than aware of the need for improvement.

In addition to the new franchise, development of Waverley Station has long been planned as pressure on the station has increased steeply. It was announced last week that work on Waverley Station should begin in 2004, and the plans have been altered to provide better facilities for services for the West of Scotland as well as to those for the East and South.

The Borders need a rail link to Edinburgh, and the campaign for the reopening of the line should be supported.

Last week Wendy Alexander gave the strongest backing yet to re-opening the Central Borders Rail Link, saying that the line is key to the development of Edinburgh as a financial centre, and that she wants to make it as easy to get from the Borders to Edinburgh as from Hertfordshire to London.

Scottish Borders Council has been awarded £1.9million towards obtaining the necessary Parliamentary permissions for reinstating the line. A bill is expected to be presented to the Scottish Parliament at the turn of the year, with work starting in 2005.

Looking North, the bus priority measures on the road from the Forth road bridge are a positive development, but we also need to get more people across the Forth by rail. The SRA is currently examining a scheme to allow two trains to run simultaneously in the same direction on the same line on the Forth bridge.
Northwards to Aberdeen and Inverness and southwards to York and London, rail services are currently provided by GNER. Investment in these lines is greatly needed.

Given airport congestion and the environmental benefits of the train, rail must be made attractive to people travelling between Edinburgh and London.
Investment in the East Coast Main Line is in the national interest, and it is also very much in Edinburgh’s interests as a major European centre. And out to the east of the city, plans for a Musselburgh Parkway Station would be a major boost for our transport infrastructure.

Last month at a meeting with myself and Norman Murray, Leader of East Lothian Council, Christopher Garnett, the head of GNER confirmed that the company still intends to go ahead with the Musselburgh Parkway Station.

A Musselburgh Parkway Station would be beneficial not only to the people on the East of the city – it would also relieve congestion in the centre of Edinburgh.
So that is what is on the cards for Edinburgh’s railway connections. I am sure that everyone who travels into and around Edinburgh will join me in urging decision takers to be bold – after decades of neglect and the nonsense of privatisation, our city needs better rail links and services.

Of course rail is not the only answer to Edinburgh’s transport questions. New links take time and money to develop, and in many parts of the city there are no plans for a rail link.

Decent rail services must be part of an integrated transport solution including a modern bus network and facilities for bikes, pedestrians and motor vehicles. But if we are serious about addressing Edinburgh’s transport problems, then we must be serious about a role for rail.