SNP keen to back trams – at Westminster

MPS from the previously anti-tram SNP are queuing to join a Westminster group to learn about the merits of light rail, The Scotsman has learned.

Sunday, 21st June 2015, 3:12 pm
The SNP have long opposed the trams
The SNP have long opposed the trams

Several new Nationalist members have expressed interest in joining the All Party Parliamentary Light Rail Group, which holds its annual general meeting on Wednesday.

They are believed to include Drew Hendry, the SNP’s transport spokesman in the Commons.

Other said to have made contact with the group include East Kilbride MP Dr Lisa Cameron, who is thought to be interested in a light rail extension into the town centre from the end-of-the-line train station on its edge.

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Berwickshire MP Calum Kerr is another member of the new Nationalist intake tipped as a potential member of the tram group.

One aspect the MPs are thought be particularly keen on is the potential for “tram-trains” which run on both tram lines and railway tracks.

This could link Edinburgh’s tram system with the adjacent rail network, such as the Borders route and the south suburban rail line which arcs round the capital.

Their development is being held back by a long-delayed trial in Yorkshire planned by track owner Network Rail, which is controlled by Westminster.

Jim Harkins, managing director of consultants Light Rail (UK), described the change of heart as a “blossoming of enlightenment”.

He said: “The Nationalists have been by and large anti-tram, but what seems to have happened is they have seen trams being successful and exceedingly popular.”

The news comes four months after Scotland on Sunday revealed a softening in SNP ministers’ opposition.

Holyrood transport minister Derek Mackay said new schemes could be supported and even funded by the Scottish Government.

Mackay pledged to back proposals if they fitted in with other public transport.

This contrasts with the SNP’s failed attempt to scrap the Edinburgh scheme when it came to power in 2007, and Mackay’s predecessor Keith Brown describing trams as “incongruous”

Labour welcomed the change of heart.

Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray, the party’s sole remaining Westminster representative, pointed to the SNP group on Edinburgh City Council backing both completion of the city’s tram line and its planned extension towards Newhaven.

He said: “They have railed against trams as long as I can remember and I’m pleased at their conversion. It’s nice to see now the SNP supports trams in public as they always have in private.”

Transport writer Paul Bigland said: “The SNP’s change of stance on trams may well have more to do with no longer needing to use them as political ammunition.

“Tram-trains have the potential to be an attractive proposition in Edinburgh and the Borders, so it’s logical that the SNP would be interested.

“They could provide a seamless service from the airport to the Borders, and free up rail capacity at Waverley Station, depending on the route chosen to link the routes together.

“Electrifying the Borders Railway would involve making a choice of voltage between rail and tram systems.

“Alternatively, dual voltage vehicles, such as the ones being built for the UK tram-train trials could be used.

“Of course, tram-trains to the Borders wouldn’t prevent any future extension of the line southwards being used by trains.”

The all-party group describes itself as an “independent forum for MPs and peers from all political parties and industry to come together and raise awareness of matters concerning light rail and tramways’ best practice and sustainable development.”

Past members have included former Edinburgh West Liberal Democrat MP Mike Crockart, who lost his seat at last month’s general election.