03 February 2016

S4M-14678 Edinburgh South Suburban Railway

The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-14678, in the name of Jim Eadie, on the reinstatement of the Edinburgh south suburban railway.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament recognises the ongoing campaign that is being led by the Capital Rail Action Group to reinstate the Edinburgh South Suburban Railway (ESSR) for passenger use; notes that the previous passenger service ran from Waverley station via Haymarket, Gorgie, Craiglockhart, Morningside, Blackford, Newington, Craigmillar and Portobello stations; acknowledges the development of new and innovative methods of transport in other parts of Europe, such as the hybrid tram-train that has been used in parts of Germany since the 1990s, and which, it understands, is soon to be piloted in Sheffield; believes that, given current capacity issues, using existing transport infrastructure through innovative methods of transport might represent the best means of reopening the line; considers ambitious the proposals in the Edinburgh and South East Scotland city deal, which, it understands, outline the need to upgrade existing transport infrastructure to enhance the network of integrated and sustainable transport links across the Lothian region; believes that the reinstatement of the ESSR could bring significant economic and social benefits to the people of Edinburgh, and notes the calls for the City of Edinburgh Council and Transport Scotland to work with all interested stakeholders, including the South East Scotland Transport Partnership, to explore the viability of reopening the line for passenger use to serve the area’s transport needs and enhance journey times in what it sees as Scotland’s increasingly congested capital city.

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

I draw members’ attention to the fact that I am the honorary president of the Scottish Association for Public Transport and honorary vice-president of Railfuture UK. In the light of that, it will be no surprise to members that I would always wish to engage in efforts to increase the availability and use of public transport.

Like other members, I congratulate Jim Eadie on giving us the opportunity to debate this important subject for Edinburgh. When I was Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change, I responded to Gavin Brown’s members’ business debate on the subject on 3 December 2008. At that time, I encouraged the City of Edinburgh Council to meet me as minister to discuss the issues around what were—and are—largely freight lines that were used less for passenger traffic. I do not recall that meeting happening, so I very much welcome hearing from Jim Eadie that the council is engaged on the issue.

Jim Eadie referred, properly, to capacity and technical issues at our major stations. In particular, we ought to think about the issues for those stations that would result from our connecting them to a high-speed rail network, which may have different technical standards and will certainly present issues with platform length and capacity. We need to work hand in glove so that, if we do something on the suburban railway, we do not compromise our ability to connect to high-speed rail in the future.

Would the south suburban railway line be of value? Yes, of course it would. Can it be done easily? No, it cannot, for many of the reasons to which Jim Eadie referred. The platforms issue is perhaps not as great as has been suggested; in most cases, it would simply be a question of putting in a low platform at the end of the heavy-rail high platform, which is a solution that has been adopted elsewhere. However, that depends on there being land available at the stations concerned.

The motion states that we should

“explore the viability of reopening the line for passenger use”,

and I absolutely agree. There has always been a need in Edinburgh for an inner—or perhaps a middle—circle round Edinburgh so that, precisely as Alison Johnson mentioned, people do not have to come into the middle of the city and then get on another bus to go back to the outside. That has always been the missing link, and in many ways it is why we were uncomfortable, as a political party, with the trams proposal that was ultimately implemented. It was not because trams are a bad idea. They are a very good idea, but the route was perhaps not the one that was most urgently needed. Perhaps the route of the south suburban railway is the one that we need most urgently.

We know that, when we put rails down and run trains on them, people come and use them. There has not been a single development in the past couple of decades in which passenger usage has not significantly exceeded the estimates. Of course, that is in part because the Great Britain network model for estimating passenger usage is not a good one. We need to deal with that issue.

In my time as minister, I was delighted to be photographed down in the Borders with Madge Elliot, who saw both the last train that ran when the line was previously in operation and the recent reopening of the Borders railway.

I cannot talk about railways in Edinburgh without making the point that none of the communities in my constituency is anything less than a 1.5 hour bus ride from a railhead. My support for the proposal is entirely conditional on our also thinking about the Buchan rail link.

My enthusiasm for railways is substantial. My wife’s Christmas present to me this year was David Spaven’s “The Railway Atlas of Scotland: Two Hundred Years of History in Maps”, which I commend to members. It shows what railways used to be like. Let us try to get some of the way back to where we were. Not all of the old railways are worth restoring, but many of them are, including the Edinburgh south suburban railway and, even more important, the Buchan rail link.


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