BUSINESS leaders and transport campaigners have joined forces to urge Finance Secretary John Swinney to use today’s Budget to reverse the cut in funding for the upgrade of the Edinburgh-Glasgow rail line.
The original £1 billion electrification project would have meant six trains an hour on the main line between the two cities and easy access to the airport by switching to the tram at the new Edinburgh Gateway station at Gogar.
But the revised scheme unveiled in July slashed £350 million from the investment, meaning there will only be four trains an hour, and trains from the west will no longer use the Gateway station, leaving passengers for the airport having to go to Haymarket and out again.
In a joint plea, Scottish Chambers of Commerce and Transform Scotland claimed the cut in the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP) could put Scotland at a serious disadvantage and deter investors.
In a briefing for MSPs, they said: “Scotland’s cities are recognised as key drivers of the Scottish economy and for the country and its regions to thrive and prosper in the 21st century a modern public transport system is essential.
“Apparent re-prioritisation and delay of many rail enhancements risks puts Scotland at a serious disadvantage to its competitors. Inward investors may well be deterred if they see the Government retreating from this promised investment.
“In marked contrast, the Westminster Government, following Scotland’s previous lead has just announced a huge raft of new rail investment across England and Wales. The message to the outside world could not be more clear.”
In a debate in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, Labour accused the SNP on going back on a manifesto commitment and warned passengers and businesses would lose out.
Transport spokeswoman Elaine Murray said: “EGIP was a £1bn scheme to electrify 200 miles of track in the Central Belt, but it has now had its budget slashed by more than a third and only half the amount of track will be electrified between 2014 and 2019.”
She said the promise had been to cut journey times between Edinburgh and Glasgow to just over half an hour, but now only ten minutes was to be cut from the current 50-55 minute trip.
But Colin Beattie, SNP MSP for Midlothian North and Musselburgh, said it had always been intended that EGIP would be delivered in phases. And he claimed: “The SNP’s record on rail investment is one we can all be proud of.”
Transport Minister Keith Brown asked Labour where the £350m it wants to reinstate would come from.
He said: “This £650m will be welcomed by most people as a very positive investment.”