The SNP Government just doesn’t get railways, as their recent cuts package reveals, writes JOHN RUDDY

 

I’ve blogged here before about how the SNP don’t seem to get railways. The events of the summer have only proved my point. They’ve shown they’re not interested in the benefits of rail electrification (unlike the Tories in Westminster, who, while being late converts are pressing ahead) – and even their cost cutting will result in fewer benefits for not just the central belt, but further afield too.

To refresh your memories: the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP) was first announced back in 2006 by the Labour/Lib Dem Scottish Executive as a massive electrification project for the central belt – and as a stepping stone for taking it further. As it developed, it was to be funded by Network Rail borrowing against its regulatory asset base, at very low interest rates (effectively government backed loans), which were to be repaid over 30 years.  The annual cost to the Scottish Government would therefore be relatively low, and allow the work to go ahead without affecting the Government’s capital budget.

Back in May, the Scottish Government commissioned a report by an external consultant – whose terms of reference were kept deliberately obscure. It seems these consultants didn’t even consult with Network Rail (who were to do the work on EGIP) or ScotRail (who were to run the trains).  The report (which despite being used to make the decision at the start of July), is still in draft and can’t be released to the public. The first that even senior directors at either organisation saw it was just days before the announcement. The rumour is that the report said while things could be cut, this would reduce the benefits – especially to passengers from Dunblane and Stirling.

However, the press release from Transport Scotland managed to gloss over the cutbacks, and in typical SNP Panglossian style, claimed that this was an improvement, despite there being no increase in frequency – indeed there may be further delays as electric trains have to compete with slower diesel trains on routes not being wired up.

The list of items dropped is actually jaw-dropping: electrification to Stirling/Dunblane/Alloa; journey time improvements to Stirling/Dunblane/Alloa (10 minutes); electrification of Polmont-Greenhill via Falkirk Grahamston; Garngad Chord; Greenhill grade separated junction; planned half-hourly service to Bishopriggs, Lenzie and Croy; electrification to Grangemouth; Dalmeny Chord; electrification of Edinburgh-Winchburgh via Dalmeny; signalling improvements to Haymarket-Dalmeny; Glasgow services to Edinburgh airport via Googar; Fife services to West of Scotland via Googar; Winchburgh grade separated junction; and of course the planned six trains an hour between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Apparently, these projects are not being cut, they are merely being “phased” to be implemented as part of High Speed Rail coming to Scotland. Or 2035, whichever is later. Maybe they read my previous post and wanted to ensure there was future projects to be completed at a later date, but simply couldn’t think up any of their own?

It really takes something to unite unions, the CBI, councils, passenger groups, transport campaigners as well as the official opposition parties against you. And rather than take some responsibility and come clean, the response at the moment is to deny any cuts at all.

I think Iain McMillan, the CBI director, said it best. He called it sleekit.

Originally from Devon, John Ruddy now lives in Angus. He was an agent for Scottish Labour at the Holyrood election and is a Unison shop steward. Follow John on Twitter at @jruddy99