Dale Miller: Little to thrill train commuters from the Capital

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NETWORK Rail’s decision to spend £4 billion on infrastructure for Scotland’s rail network over the next five years was welcomed in some quarters.

For the average Edinburgh commuter, however, the announcement fell flat.

Overcrowding, high ticket prices and delays are the three biggest bugbears for train users in the country, according to independent transport body Passenger Focus.

On all three fronts, commuter groups have uniformly agreed the spending will change little.

Under original plans, the Capital was meant to benefit from a £1bn project involving all railways being upgraded between Edinburgh and Glasgow by 2016.

Confirmation yesterday of the downgraded project instead means only the Edinburgh Waverley-Glasgow Queen Street route will be electrified in the immediate future, cutting ten minutes from journey times.

Paul Tetlaw, board member of sustainable transport alliance Transform Scotland, said electrifying all routes across the central belt should have been the greatest priority if Network Rail had been serious about improving conditions for commuters.

“There could have been fast, efficient, clean electric trains, which would offer more capacity,” he said.

“This document for that timeframe offers very little of that, very little in the way of electrification and very little in the way of new trains.

“There’s a massive spending 
programme on roads – a second Forth road bridge, a dual-lane A9 and others – whereas on railways this just confirms that the promised EGIP programme, the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme, has been cut back.

“Other routes serving Edinburgh include the line from Inverness – the capital of the Highlands to the capital of the country. We had the First Minister three or four years ago promising a major upgrade for that which should have happened by now. Instead, that’s pushed back way into 2020.”

Ken Sutherland, research officer for campaign group Railfuture, said the decision to leave Edinburgh’s 
suburban line out of the improvements package was of equal concern.

He said: “Creating a station at Abbeyhill and the reopening of the South Suburban line would be of immense improvement to the Edinburgh community as an attractive, competitive alternative to car 
commuting.”

Despite the major investment, Network Rail itself conceded there will be no overall improvement in train punctuality compared with the trains-on-time target for 2009-14.

A figure of 92.5 per cent punctuality was set for that period – a target the national rail network operator has so far failed to meet.

It comes at a time when rail fares have increased by a further 3.9 per cent across Scotland.

Despite the scepticism, the release of yesterday’s business case was not solely met with doom and gloom.

The decision to reconnect Edinburgh to the Borders by reopening 30 miles of railway at a cost of £360 million received widespread support.

Improvements to Scotland’s heaviest used rail route between the Capital and Glasgow will also double capacity during peak periods, create a new station at Edinburgh Gateway (Gogar) and involve further upgrades to Waverley and Queen Street stations by 2019.

ScotRail also reiterated it was committed to extending rail services at a time when it has achieved record levels of more than 2400 train services a day and 81.1m passengers a year 
in 2012.

Mr Sutherland said the rail network servicing Edinburgh was largely a victim of its own success, but added: “They need to respond to that by more rolling stock and not pricing people off the trains as a way of reducing the overcrowding.”

KEEPING TRACK OF CHANGES

THE five-year strategic business plan submitted by Network Rail for 2014-19 has set specific targets for improvements across Scotland.

Under plans released yesterday, a £4 billion investment would be made on improving rail infrastructure.

The priorities for Edinburgh are:

n Reconnecting the Borders with Edinburgh by reopening 30 miles of railway closed in the 1960s;

n Electrifying the route between Edinburgh Waverley and Glasgow Queen Street route, via Falkirk High. The existing service of four trains per hour will operate as eight-car formations during peak times, increasing capacity;

n A new station at Gogar interchange and upgrades to Waverley by 2019;

n Introducing a rolling programme of electrification to cover about 100 single track kilometres each year. Routes include those to Stirling, Dunblane and Alloa.