South Sub ‘not a current priority’

The South Sub closed to passenger services in 1962. Picture; Andrew O'Brien
The South Sub closed to passenger services in 1962. Picture; Andrew O'Brien
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CITY transport bosses have been accused of a lack of leadership over the South Suburban rail line after they said reopening the route was “not a current priority”.

Lothian Conservative MSP Miles Briggs had urged the council to act speedily on proposing a fresh feasibility study and putting together a business case so the opportunity did not pass.

He feared Network Rail plans to increase freight trains using the line could scupper hopes for reviving a passenger service, which closed in 1962.

And he hoped the much-anticipated City Deal, bringing investment cash from Scottish and UK governments, could help fund re-opening the route.

But a letter from council leader Andrew Burns, chief executive Andrew Kerr and transport convener Lesley Hinds said research in 2009 had concluded none of the options for developing the line stood up well to financial scrutiny.

And it said that following a meeting between Cllr Burns and the then-transport minister Derek Mackay in February, “we remain in collective agreement that this should not be a current transport priority for the council or the Scottish Government”.

The letter said the council did “see potential benefits to such a service in the future” and would “continue to monitor opportunities that would allow us to develop the best option for what is a great asset for Edinburgh”.

The council added that it hoped to learn from the Sheffield trial of tram-trains which starts next year in 2017.

But Mr Briggs said he was disappointed with the council’s response.

“They seem to be kicking it into the long grass,” he said. “I would have expected to see more vision and leadership from the council.

“They have not ruled it out, but it’s this very slow dragging of heels that’s so frustrating.”

He said the indications he had received from the current Transport Minister Humza Yousaf about the Scottish Government’s interest in the line were positive.

Mr Yousaf wrote to Mr Briggs: “Although passenger service operating on the Edinburgh South Suburban Railway does not feature in our current £5 billion investment programme to 2019, we remain committed to ongoing improvements in connectivity across Scotland. We are willing to consider proposals for new stations where there is clear evidence of benefits.”

Cllr Hinds said the council had recently made a submission to Network Rail’s consultation on future investment, mentioning the South Sub and stressing that any plans for electrification of the route should be compatible with passenger services.

She said: “We support investment in public transport. We need to get more people onto rail and make it more affordable.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com