02 October 2008

S3M-2419 Alloa to Fife and Edinburgh Rail Link

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 2 October 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

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Alloa to Fife and Edinburgh Rail Link

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Trish Godman): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S3M-2419, in the name of Jim Tolson, on the Alloa to Fife and Edinburgh rail link. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that the South East of Scotland Transport Partnership has proposed that a feasibility study into a rail passenger service between Alloa or Stirling and Edinburgh via Fife should be sought; believes that the upgrading of the Charlestown Junction would allow a direct rail service between Alloa and Edinburgh and improve direct freight operations from the west coast via Stirling-Alloa and into Rosyth; notes that the usage of the newly reopened Stirling-Alloa rail service has greatly exceeded the forecast passenger numbers, and believes that there is a strong case for early work to explore the opportunities to increase the sustainable transport options available to people in the Stirling, Fife and Edinburgh areas.


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The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): I will start by briefly referring to the proposed industrial action, which is within the terms of the motion, as it is on sustainable transport options for the Stirling, Fife and Edinburgh areas. I understand that the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers—the RMT—and railway representatives will be at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service at 10 o'clock tomorrow morning. Like the First Minister today, we encourage all the parties to take a mature and sensible approach and to use the opportunity to bring to the table an independent third party that is skilled in mediation and negotiation. We hope that doing so will deliver the outcome that we all seek.

Murdo Fraser asked why we are having so many debates on Fife. The answer to that question is straightforward. The transport minister lived in Fife from 1947 to 1969, which is why we are having so many debates on transport in Fife. Members across the chamber know about the commitment to and interest in Fife that I retain. Some members of my family remain there.

Murdo Fraser also talked about the pressure on train transport from Fife. We recently announced 1,200 additional seats throughout Scotland's network, which will be welcome. Some 500 of those are geared towards creating additional capacity from Fife to Edinburgh. That opportunity was created in particular by getting English Welsh & Scottish Railway freight traffic off the bridge. That has meant better use being made of the bridge's paths, which were one of the constraints. There are constraints at Waverley, but the constraints on the bridge were rather more important.

We are examining capacity at other stations. For additional capacity at Haymarket, we have retained platform 0, which is not being used. The Edinburgh to Glasgow improvement programme shows the priority that we give to rail and we will consider stations as part of that.

I congratulate the motion's proposer, Jim Tolson, on obtaining this important debate. He raised several matters, including the Rosyth container depot. Quoting Babcock's response to the consultation on the draft version of the second national planning framework might be useful. It says that opening the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine railway loop

"will effectively divert all coal freight trains off ... the Forth Rail Bridge and reroute them through Stirling ... It is our view that services into Rosyth via Elbowend and Charlestown Junctions could easily be provided".

Babcock is on the case. That was some of the input that we have received.

It is worth making the point that in rail freight, which I support strongly, a key aspect is having alternative paths. Very little—if any—rail freight is likely to use the line from the east to Longannet, but it remains important as an alternative path for operational reasons, so there is no prospect of downgrading.

Members have referred to speed limits, which are quite low on the route that we are discussing. Average speeds in some parts are as low as 20mph, and 30mph is the general average. To bring the route into use for passenger travel, considerable investment would be required.

Chris Harvie suggested that we are looking at cheaper roads—that relates to sustainable transport options for Stirling, Fife and Edinburgh, Presiding Officer—than the Forth replacement crossing. However, it should be remembered that we are using outcome pricing, which includes a lot of inflation, and half the cost is for roads. I was pleased to hear Richard Simpson say that no one is asking for hard cash.

Dr Simpson: At present.

Stewart Stevenson: I noted the words "at present".

I am pleased that our putting Clackmannanshire on the transport map through the name for the new bridge has given so much pleasure. Support for that name was decisively clear.

Keith Brown talked about the STAG appraisal that SEStran is pursuing. It is important to remember that STAG appraisals are mode independent. Although a decision that we require to provide additional rail connections in a corridor might be the result of a STAG appraisal, the appraisal could say something different. However, I accept that, given the existing railway and the wider benefits to which Keith Brown referred, it would be perverse not to consider railways seriously.

Jim Tolson is likely to be in serious trouble with his party leader, as he has asked for additional money when his leader wants to carve £800 million out of the public spending budget, but perhaps we will discuss that at greater length on another occasion.

The Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine railway has been an outstanding success. It is first class and there is no more enthusiastic supporter of the railway than me—as a user and as the minister responsible for targeting investment. It is part of a £1.5 billion programme of investment by the Government in new infrastructure.

It is important that we consider more broadly what we are trying to do for Edinburgh and sustainable transport, by getting up to six trains an hour between Edinburgh and Glasgow—two with journey times of 35 minutes—by improving services for Fife and by improving bus services. It is a delight to travel behind a bus from Fife that announces that Wi-Fi is available on board and to know that there are leather seats on the bus. The quality of offering across a range of transport modes is improving. I think that all members will welcome that.

I congratulate Jim Tolson on bringing the matter to our attention and allowing us to explore the issues for Fife and for wider Scotland—we must put the debate in that context—on a fairly non-partisan basis. I hope that the SEStran STAG appraisal proceeds at a reasonable speed and I look forward to the outcome.

Meeting closed at 17:40.

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