30 May 2013

S4M-06766 Scotland’s Railways

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): Good afternoon, everyone. The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-06766, in the name of Keith Brown, on transforming Scotland’s railways.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

We have heard a lot of politicians’ opinions about Scotland’s railways, so let us hear from one or two other people.

I happened to meet James Abbott, who is the editor of Modern Railways, at Waverley station on Tuesday this week—it was a fortuitous, not planned, meeting. He is up having a look at the improvements that are being made at Waverley and which have been made in Scotland’s railways.

About four years ago, Rail magazine published a beautifully drawn cartoon of a train in ScotRail livery with the logo “ScotRail England” because it thought that, if the rail services in England got a little bit of the respect, investment and treatment that they got in Scotland, that would do extremely well south of the border.

In a discussion of rail fares in this month’s issue of Rail magazine, the point is made to the rest of the UK rail network that Scotland is simplifying rail fares via a fair fares service. The magazine asks why passengers cannot have that south of the border. The objective commentators—who are quite distinct from us politicians—are very clear about the achievements that have been made in Scotland.

Elaine Murray said that it was a great achievement that the £28 million Paisley canal project was brought in for £12 million; I absolutely agree with her. However, our improvements to the costings for the EGIP project were miraculously transformed into a cut, whereas taking £16 million out of the Paisley canal project was not.

Elaine Murray: Would the member like to remind us what Rail magazine had to say about the cutbacks to EGIP?

Stewart Stevenson: We can all choose our quotes. [Laughter.] When Iain Gray was transport minister, he promised us that nobody in Scotland—it was not a promise that applied to 95 per cent of people—would have to stand for more than 10 minutes anywhere on the ScotRail network. I do not think that that is either possible or practical, but it was one of the promises that the Labour Party made, on which I have yet to see the faintest glimmer of delivery.

Tavish Scott, quite reasonably, focused on journey times. I think that journey times are a good point to focus on, but we all recognise and share the understanding that there is a tension between how many stops are made on a journey and the journey time. That is why it is a little invidious to compare journey times between Edinburgh and Aberdeen and those between Edinburgh and Newcastle—the distances are similar, but the stopping patterns are very different.

When Tavish Scott talked about journey times to Aberdeen, he quoted averages. They might well be correct, but they conceal something very important. If we look at the median times, we find that there are more trains and that more of them stop in Fife but that most of the ones from Aberdeen to Edinburgh stop hardly at all in Fife. Therefore, the availability to people in Aberdeen of faster journeys to Edinburgh has increased substantially. Simultaneously, there are additional stops in Fife that increase access to rail.

I see that Mr Scott wishes to intervene.

Tavish Scott: I am grateful to Mr Stevenson for giving way. I take his point, but I was simply quoting the Government’s own figures on average journey times.

I also looked at the SNP’s manifesto from 2011, with which I am sure that the member is entirely familiar. It says:

“Our proposals will also mean faster and more-frequent connections between Inverness and Aberdeen, and between these cities and the central belt.”

That did not happen, as the figures that I used show.

Stewart Stevenson: I simply return to the point that Tavish Scott is correct about average times but that median times are a better way of looking at the issue, because we have introduced more fast journeys between Aberdeen and Edinburgh. That is the point. We only get the answer to the question that we ask; sometimes we have to modify the question to understand what is going on.

I turn to rail fares. One of the great benefits of old age—there are not very many of them—is having access to the senior railcard, which costs £30 a year and is an enormous bargain. That, coupled with offers from ScotRail, has meant that this week the cost of my return journey from Huntly to the south is a mere £17—provided that I travel off peak, of course. That is very good. There are many opportunities for people to get such bargains.

It is important that we look at the fare structure. For example, I have been advised that, when travelling from Keith to Inverness, one should buy a ticket to Muir of Ord, which is beyond Inverness, because it is cheaper to do so. That is the sort of anomaly that I hope we will continue to work on.

In relation to the railway line from Aberdeen to Inverness, it is worth looking at what has happened at Inverurie. A great proportion of the trains that previously stopped at Dyce now continue to Inverurie. We are paying the penalty for success. Patronage has been driven up at Inverurie. We now have the longest operational train anywhere on the ScotRail network—a seven-carriage train—running between Aberdeen and Inverness. That part of the network is important to my constituents and others.

Jenny Marra: Will Stewart Stevenson take an intervention?

The Deputy Presiding Officer: The member is in his last minute.

Stewart Stevenson: I am sorry—I am out of time.

Finally, I congratulate the Scottish Government on the introduction of wi-fi, which I am finding highly useful. On my daily commute, I see dozens of people in each carriage using the wi-fi. I congratulate the minister and the Government on everything that they have done.


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