03 December 2008

S3M-1975 South Edinburgh Suburban Railway

Scottish Parliament

Wednesday 3 December 2008

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 14:30]

... ... ...

South Edinburgh Suburban Railway

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S3M-1975, in the name of Gavin Brown, on the south Edinburgh suburban railway. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the wide public and cross-party political support that the campaign for the reopening of the South Sub railway has gathered; acknowledges the importance of the work carried out by groups such as Capital Rail Action Group (CRAG), E-Rail and TRANSform Scotland; observes that the most recent report on the reopening of the South Sub did not contain a benefit-cost ratio, which was positive in previous reports; believes that the reopening of the South Sub would ease the impact of traffic on the main routes into the city as well as playing an important role in the reduction of fuel emissions in the south of Edinburgh, and believes that there is a case for the reopening of passenger services on the South Edinburgh Suburban Railway.


... ... ...


The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson):

I begin by congratulating Gavin Brown on securing the debate. My personal experience as transport minister is that between 17 May 2007, when I came into office, and 5 November 2008—I do my counting monthly—I have made 436 ministerial rail journeys and 116 ministerial bus journeys, so I speak not from the position of the abstract theoretician but as an engaged user of Scotland's public transport network.

The Government's economic strategy makes it clear that the aims of our focus on transport are to make better connections across Scotland, to improve reliability, to reduce journey times, and to maximise opportunities for employment, business, leisure and tourism. Members will hear a great deal more about transport in the statement that I will make to the Parliament next week on the strategic transport projects review.

I acknowledge the clear support for the proposal that exists in many parts of Edinburgh. Gavin Brown named eight groups, and I recognise the commitment and sincerity of those people. He also made a point about the impact on road traffic, and that point is certainly made in the report. He mentioned a seven-minute journey time from Morningside, and clearly there are advantages to such provision for passengers.

Gavin Brown also highlighted the fact that, at present, 50 freight trains use the railway each day. That is not an inconsiderable issue in thinking about what can be done. He mentioned that the station locations are already known. That is true, although, as Christopher Harvie said, there might be issues about bringing the stations back into use. In particular, as much of the route is elevated, there are issues in relation to disability legislation that would substantially increase the cost from what one might imagine and what might previously have been thought. The option is not as cheap as it would appear to be, given that it involves a working, fully signalled railway that is joined to the network.

Why does the most recent report not provide a cost benefit ratio? The report was produced using the Scottish transport appraisal guidance, which is primarily about identifying what transport problem exists and, from that, seeking to identify the appropriate solution. It is not about evaluating whether we should have a railway through south suburban Edinburgh. The study has not yet developed to the point at which it would be reasonable or appropriate to update the cost benefit ratio. Having said that, I am not going to pick at or criticise the previous figures that have been produced.

I turn to the issue of resources and where they can best be deployed. Chris Harvie said that, in a sense, the big issue is the switches that join the south suburban loop to the main line. There are substantial costs in upgrading such switches.

Recently, we went through an upgrade in connecting the Bathgate line to the main line, taking a dual line and merging it into a single connection to the main network to be a fully doubled connection. That closed the line for a week last Christmas and cost a substantial amount of money. We would certainly need to do such work for the project that we are discussing tonight. Furthermore, the Bathgate line has a much lower level of use than the one that is talked about in relation to the south suburban line.

More fundamentally, the big problem is capacity at the two main stations in Edinburgh and the use to which we should put that scarce capacity. I will return to that shortly.

Robin Harper is obviously a former pupil of the Royal high school. I am not sure where David McLetchie went but, given his remarks I suspect it that was a rival school in Edinburgh. He suggested that I should sit down and talk to the City of Edinburgh Council. As an enthusiast for public transport, I am always happy to do that sort of thing. If that is helpful, I will do so.

Robin Harper latched on to the key issue of the carbon contribution—and quite properly so. There would be a carbon benefit in getting more people off the roads and on to the south suburban line. However, we have to compare that with the carbon benefit of using the slots at Haymarket and Waverley for longer distances, which is likely to be greater.

Robin Harper highlighted the issue of signalling. We in the British isles are looking at the European signalling system, which is essentially a moving-block system that improves the utilisation of rail lines. However, the new timetable for Kirkcaldy has about 12 trains an hour, proving that we can do quite well in the existing system. The European system will be piloted on the Cambrian network quite soon, and we would expect to see the system here. We need investment in rail signalling if we are going to improve services.

Ian McKee suggested that

"Little extra in the way of signalling would be needed",

and he asked a number of questions, some of which I can answer. One of the reasons why the estimates of potential users are variable is because the routes that were being considered were somewhat different. Further, we must take into account that if we get people on to rail, we get them out of the bus. Considering the system as a whole, I think that the situation is not as clear cut as some might suggest. With six or seven rail stations, the cost might be quite high.

Margo MacDonald said that the problems can be overcome by engineering. Engineering can solve almost every problem but, as she suggests, that approach may be constrained by the fact that this transport minister is deaved.

The key difficulty is that the Halcrow study has not identified a transport problem that requires to be solved. There are already significant changes to our network: the adjacent corridors, supported by the development of Edinburgh Park services through to Newcraighall; and the Edinburgh tram link—there was not huge enthusiasm for that on the part of the Scottish National Party, but nonetheless it will be part of Edinburgh's transport infrastructure. Joining tram and train—those are all things we are doing. Other developments include the Waverley line to the Borders and recent improvements to Edinburgh to Glasgow connections, with increased frequency and speed.

For the moment, the bottom line for the Government is that, on the basis of the information available, opening the Edinburgh south suburban line would not be the most cost-effective use of our scarce resources. However, as an enthusiast for expanding the rail network, I hold out an olive leaf. If there are issues that the City of Edinburgh Council wishes to discuss with me, I am very happy to sit down and discuss them. However, I do not want to raise expectations to the point where they simply cannot be filled. With scarce resources, we have to make choices.

Meeting closed at 17:37.

Stewart Stevenson
does not gather, use or
retain any cookie data.

However Google who publish for us, may do.
fios ZS is a name registered in Scotland for Stewart Stevenson

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP