Forth Estuary (Travel)

Question Time — Scottish Executive — Enterprise, Lifelong Learning and Transport – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:00 pm on 16th December 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour 2:00 pm, 16th December 2004

To ask the Scottish Executive what progress is being made in improving travel across the Forth estuary. (S2O-4638)

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

The Executive is working closely with the Forth Estuary Transport Authority and other stakeholders to improve transport links across the Forth. That work includes initiatives such as the expansion of Ferry Toll park and ride and the improvement of rail services across the Forth rail bridge. We are also progressing the construction of a new crossing at Kincardine.

Photo of Scott Barrie Scott Barrie Labour

The minister will be well aware of the major traffic difficulties that people experience in trying to get across the Forth road bridge, especially at peak times. Hold-ups now commence prior to 7 am and there are still problems with rail services to and from Fife, notably in respect of reliability and overcrowding. What plans does the minister have to improve the appalling A8000 bottleneck, which plays a large part in the difficulties on the bridge? What improvements can be made to Fife circle and east coast main line services to increase the number of trains on those routes?

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

As Scott Barrie knows, we are investing in new trains on those routes, which will significantly increase peak-time capacity. To bring about that major improvement, we are extending the length of the platforms at some stations to accommodate the longer trains.

As regards the ever-increasing congestion on the road bridge, the Forth Estuary Transport Authority is considering a number of ways to improve the situation in the long term. A key development that I want to be progressed as quickly as possible is the completion of the A8000 upgrade to dual carriageway. The Executive is offering every assistance to ensure that that happens on time and on budget and I believe that the project, which should get under way next year, can be completed by the middle of 2007.

Photo of Keith Raffan Keith Raffan Liberal Democrat

Will the minister join me in congratulating bridgemaster Alastair Andrew and his team on the efficient way in which they are managing traffic on the Forth road bridge? They cannot be expected to do that indefinitely. What does the most recent structural report that the minister has received say about the state of the bridge, especially since the opening of the main suspension cables, which I understand has caused concern?

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

Those are matters for the Forth Estuary Transport Authority. I meet the authority and the bridgemaster regularly. They are doing a lot of good work and are looking to the long term.

As Keith Raffan knows, they are considering whether there should be another crossing of the Forth estuary. They are also examining ways of managing the traffic on the bridge through measures such as tolls that vary according to the time of day people cross the bridge and according to whether a vehicle has a single occupant. About 70 per cent of the vehicles that cross the bridge have single occupants, so there is real potential to reduce congestion on the bridge through innovative new measures.

Photo of Lord James Selkirk Lord James Selkirk Conservative

Is the minister aware that there is substantial demand for the A8000 to be upgraded speedily? If the minister was able to bring forward the completion date from 2007, that would be widely welcomed by the many thousands of commuters on both sides of the Forth who would be greatly assisted by reduced congestion, especially during rush hour.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

I understand the point that Lord James Douglas-Hamilton makes. I use the A8000 regularly and I see the huge amount of congestion that can occur.

The last time I met the bridgemaster, I discussed the issue with him. Along with City of Edinburgh Council, the Forth Estuary Transport Authority has a key role in delivering the upgrade of the A8000. I offered the bridgemaster every assistance that I can make available. We considered a timetable that could be achieved as quickly as possible, given the work that must still be done in terms of land acquisition and issuing the contract. I am confident that we can get the work under way next year and that we can meet the sort of deadline that I mentioned. If I can assist with anything that needs to be done to speed up the process, I will do so.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party

I associate myself with the comments that have been made by other members, in particular Scott Barrie, on rail travel. I invite the minister to travel with Fife members on what passes for a rail service between Fife and Edinburgh. Can the minister update Parliament on the discussions that have taken place and the progress that has been made on encouragement of a fast ferry service from Fife to Edinburgh?

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

Such a ferry service would have to be a commercial service. It would not be seen as a lifeline ferry link and so would not qualify for subsidy under European Union regulations. That said, I will not travel too far into the area of ferries.

On train services, I agree with Tricia Marwick that we need to modernise, improve and upgrade services to Fife. That will be one of the significant benefits of introducing the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine line. As well as the improvements that the new trains and longer platforms will bring, once the SAK line is completed in 2008, we will have opportunities to introduce more services. Significant improvements are on the horizon and my role is to drive forward those improvements to ensure that they are delivered as quickly as possible. There is real potential to grow the rail market between Fife and Edinburgh.