Railways

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:01 pm on 28 March 2007.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 5:01, 28 March 2007

The final item of business today is a members' business debate on motion S2M-5762, in the name of Mark Ruskell, on reconnecting communities by rail. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the work undertaken by communities across Scotland to enhance the rail network; recognises in particular the long-standing need to reopen railway stations at Blackford, Greenloaning, St Andrews and Levenmouth, and further recognises the role that community rail partnerships and businesses can play in developing new services and enhancing the quality and uptake of existing services.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green 5:05, 28 March 2007

I thank those members who have stayed behind to engage in the debate and the many others who signed my motion.

This is the last members' business debate of the second session. We have just taken the positive step of passing the bill to reopen the Airdrie to Bathgate railway line, so this is a good time to look up and to look ahead to the further steps that are needed to bring about a renaissance of our railways in Scotland. It is clear that Scotland is ahead of England and Wales in restoring its railways and reconnecting the communities that were rubbed off the rail map by the Beeching cuts. However, we still lack the integrated transport that is enjoyed in many other European countries. The reopening of lines such as the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine line has shown what is possible, but we must go ever further forward, building on that success and expanding the network so that it is fit for the needs of a low-carbon Scotland in the 21st century.

In my motion, I pay tribute to campaigns in my region of Mid Scotland and Fife to reopen stations and routes. I welcome to the gallery some of those who are working to make that progress a reality. In the west of the region, the campaign to reopen Blackford and Greenloaning rail stations has been spirited. It is rooted in the desire for a reconnection to the rail network not just of those two communities, but of the wider area of Strathallan and Strathearn. It is clear to the many people who commute from Perthshire to Edinburgh and Glasgow that reopening Blackford and Greenloaning stations is needed. Gleneagles station was built to serve a hotel, but it does not meet the needs of many current commuters in terms of convenience or safe access from the A9. As a result, many people drive to Dunblane station, which is turning into a giant, overcrowded car park during the week. Reopening Blackford and Greenloaning stations would serve Perthshire better, taking pressure off Dunblane as the railhead and providing public transport connections for growing commuter communities. There is also synergy with the potential for rail-freight facilities at Highland Spring Limited in Blackford, which would cut down the number of lorries that use the A9.

The potential for freight and traffic reduction on the A9 is real, given the other proposals that are coming from business. Diageo wants to open a spur off the Stirling to Kincardine route to serve the vast spirit warehouses at Cambus. It also wants the Levenmouth rail route to be reopened, to allow rail freight to serve the Cameronbridge distillery. Such a facility would remove the company's impact and dependence on the Forth road bridge. Currently, 20 per cent of Scotland's wheat crop is driven in on the roads to Cameronbridge, so there is the potential in future to get the wheat, the bottles and the spirit moving on the rails once again. When that facility is in place, other companies such as Tullis Russell will have the option of using it.

Just as significant for the communities of Methil and Leven would be the option of a passenger service to connect them once again to the Fife circle, through the Levenmouth line. Those communities should never have been rubbed off the rail map in the first place. Given the communities' profile of low car ownership and low income, there can be no greater need, in social and economic terms alone, for the line to be reopened to both passenger and freight traffic.

That does not mean that St Andrews should be forgotten in transport planning in Fife, as it has so quietly been forgotten in the draft south-east Scotland transport partnership plan. The arguments for a new link between Leuchars and the town, as well as arguments for the reopening of the Levenmouth line, are strong, but for slightly different reasons. St Andrews is a big economic driver for Fife, through tourism and the university. It is also a world-class venue for golf tournaments, but it lacks the public transport infrastructure that would put it clearly above other venues' ability to deliver. When I talk to people in St Andrews about what for many is a daily commute to Dundee, the bridge tolls are an issue, but not the biggest issue. It is the lack of convenient rail transport to get people efficiently over the Tay that forces many people into cars. It is time to reinvigorate the community's bid to get back on to the rail map.

What is needed to help the communities that I have mentioned and other communities across Scotland to reconnect to the rail network? In my motion I highlight the strong and emerging role that community rail partnerships can play in Scotland. We have seen how successful the Highland Rail Partnership and CRPs in England have been in building communities directly into the planning and promotion of new services, as well as developing the use of station facilities for commuter use and small business lets.

There is also a role for CRPs in tackling route crime, such as vandalism and antisocial behaviour, through community development. CRPs are well placed to work with Network Rail, linking into existing community projects, including youth projects and community arts. Ultimately, communities need to see rail stations as their own stations, as they would have done at the dawn of the railways. The partnerships are one excellent way of achieving that sense of ownership.

Regional transport partnerships that are busy submitting their final plans to ministers this week need to shift the focus away from increasing trunk road capacity towards asking ministers for increased spending on rail network improvements. For example, the SESTRAN plan highlights the Levenmouth link and potential links from Kincardine to Dunfermline, but it does not promote St Andrews, Wormit or even Newburgh as candidates for reopening.

Meanwhile, to the bewilderment of many communities, TACTRAN—the Tayside and central Scotland transport partnership—has pushed through bypasses for Dundee and Bridge of Allan and a Scone road bridge into its draft plan as short-term and high-priority transport measures, while Blackford and Greenloaning stations hardly warrant a mention. That is not good enough and, as I did last week, I call on ministers to view the regional plans critically, particularly where communities feel that the priority given to road building is running well ahead of debate on and amendments to structure plans.

We need a network that is fit to run more services serving local communities as well as improved intercity routes. Network Rail must adopt a can-do approach to bring the vision into reality. That means implementing the network utilisation strategy, planning for further growth and eliminating pinch points.

Finally, we need to make tough choices. If £3 billion is spent on a tunnel under the Forth and at least a further £500 million on dualling the A9, plus all the other road projects that I have mentioned, that will blow not only the transport budget but the aspirations of communities to get connected to the rail network. It is time to make those tough choices, build on our achievements so far and put our communities back on to the rail map, where they belong.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

We move to the debate; speeches will be three minutes.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party 5:12, 28 March 2007

I congratulate Mark Ruskell on securing the debate. Given the bill that Parliament passed this afternoon, it is particularly appropriate that we continue to talk about the railways and the extent to which they are beginning to be seen by ordinary people as profoundly important in their transport options.

Presiding Officer, you will not be surprised to learn that I will concentrate on Perthshire, because it is a key central point of connection for much of Scotland's transport—not just railways but roads; everything tends to run through Perth. However, Perthshire's major connectivity does not seem to be acknowledged in its transport infrastructure. I know that the minister has commented on that in the past.

We in Perthshire are particularly concerned about the railway links. There is a bigger issue to do with railways—including the frequency and speed of trains—that is not really part of tonight's debate, although I am sure that we will come back to it another time. Blackford and Greenloaning are examples of places where we are failing to acknowledge the enormous demand that is being expressed by communities. There does not seem to be any response to that demand from the various authorities that are charged with dealing with it.

The main railway station in my constituency is Perth, which is massively important, and there is a station at Gleneagles, which Mark Ruskell mentioned. However, Dunblane station is also important to Perthshire. Many folk in my constituency travel to Dunblane to access trains that run at far greater frequency than do those from either Gleneagles or Perth. That is putting a massive pressure on Dunblane, which cannot cope with the demand, which would be infinitely alleviated if Blackford and Greenloaning were reopened and trains began further back up the line. That idea needs to be considered.

What concerns me about the TACTRAN document to which Mark Ruskell referred—and about which I could go into a great amount of detail—is that it does not link the undercapacity of the park-and-ride facility at Dunblane railway station with the fact that more frequent train services run from the town and that anyone who lives north of Dunblane is bound to want to travel there to access them. Moreover, it does not contain the kind of methodology that provides statistics that are useful enough to use in our arguments.

I am sorry that our speaking time is so brief. I will have to end now, but this debate will run and run. We will certainly return to it after 3 May.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative 5:15, 28 March 2007

I congratulate Mark Ruskell on securing the debate. Of course, no group in the Parliament has a God-given right to give itself the "green" accolade—and I say that with due deference to the party that Mr Ruskell represents. I certainly pay tribute to David Cameron for putting green matters at the forefront of Conservative policy on both sides of the border. Of course, there will be more of that when our manifesto is published.

Effective and widely available public transport must be at the heart of any campaign to reduce carbon emissions. I speak from personal experience because, in my first two years in the Parliament, I regularly took the train from Leuchars junction into Edinburgh. However, I eventually became so frustrated by the delays and the cattle-market conditions on trains that, for the past two years, I have been making the journey by car. Although, thanks to delays in Edinburgh, I now sit in traffic jams rather than in immobile trains, I am at least sitting in relative comfort.

Photo of Ted Brocklebank Ted Brocklebank Conservative

I would rather not; I have only three minutes.

I realise that, as a single car occupier, I am doing little to cut emissions or, for that matter, to help the ozone layer. However, to that charge, I respond that I will do my bit when the Executive introduces efficient alternative means of public transport. To that extent, I agree with Mark Ruskell that major potential developments in Fife—I hope that members will forgive me for concentrating on that area—will bring certain advantages.

Mark Ruskell has already mentioned the proposal to reopen the Levenmouth line. Such a move will be important not only for Diageo's Cameronbridge distillery; if we are serious about developing Leven and Methil, we will have to consider a passenger link to Levenmouth. Having a regular stop at Markinch 6 miles away is simply not good enough.

There is also a very strong argument for restoring a rail link between Leuchars and St Andrews. That would benefit not only those who commute to Dundee; the fact is that despite being the oldest university town in Scotland and home to the only Scottish university in the United Kingdom's top 10, St Andrews is—as far as I am aware—the only university town in the UK without a direct rail link. I am not necessarily suggesting that we reinstall the twin track that was lifted as part of the Beeching cuts, but unmanned, single-track, electric monorails have been installed elsewhere in the world, including at airports, at a fraction of the price of traditional railway systems.

Might that not help to resolve the problem of how to cover the 3.5 miles between Leuchars junction and St Andrews? I believe that such a link would not only work wonders in cutting road traffic but hugely benefit the town's 7,000 students by getting them to Leuchars and then on to the national rail network.

The next Executive will require imagination and vision in formulating transport solutions, including those related to rail transport. To that extent, I am very happy to support Mark Ruskell's motion.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 5:18, 28 March 2007

I, too, congratulate Mark Ruskell on securing the last members' business debate in this session of Parliament and endorse his remarks about freight on rail.

I want to draw the chamber's attention to the situation in my part of the world, the north Highlands. Mark Ruskell highlighted the work of the Highland Rail Partnership and I—and I am sure other Highland members—want to pay tribute to its very forward-looking approach. It marks an enormous change to the situation 10 or 20 years ago, when there was a question mark over the north Highland line's future. That question mark has been removed and the talk now is of building for the future on sure foundations.

It will come as no surprise to the minister that, in the very short time available, I want to highlight the state of some station buildings in the Highlands and Islands, particularly those in Brora, Tain and Invergordon. I should say at the outset that the situation is not all doom and gloom. For example, the minister has had constructive meetings with me and others about the station building at Tain.

Those station buildings are fine monuments to the spirit of endeavour that prevailed in the days when Highland Railway was out and about building such facilities. All the buildings are simply magnificent and are rightfully part of our heritage yet, despite the best intentions, they stand empty. Many of them are vandalised and are deteriorating quickly, despite the good intent and endeavours of ministers and others. The progress is mighty small and very slow. Brora station has been described to me by John McMorran, who will be known to members for the Highlands, as he is the chair of Brora community council, as the gateway to Brora. It is the first thing that people see when they get off the train, but they also see where the last fire was lit on the platform, which is not good at all.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Not by the member, I am sure.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat

I hasten to assure Mr Fraser about that.

Mr McMorran's point was that we need somebody to own the building, in the sense of use and maintenance, as well as in the sense of ownership of property. Responsible ownership would lead to people keeping an eye on the building, which would keep the vandals at bay. To me, it does not matter whether the property is owned commercially in the private sector or by the community. There are many horses for courses.

In those stations and, I am sure, in many others the length and breadth of Scotland, we have an historic asset that was built through courage and faith in the future. It would be a tragedy if we let them deteriorate. The issue is not about selling them for big prices or making big rents. It would benefit Network Rail and the Scottish Executive to get the stations off the books and get them into community use. The buildings could do a huge amount for tourism. For a third time, I pay tribute to the Minister for Transport for coming to Tain—I thank him for that. However, we must push on. We know not which of us will be here in the next session of Parliament but, whatever happens, we must push on in tackling the issue, because our communities expect that.

Photo of Christine May Christine May Labour 5:21, 28 March 2007

I, too, congratulate Mark Ruskell on securing the last members' business debate of the session. I was pleased to sign his motion. My interest in rail goes back many years. I recall meetings some years ago with public transport operators at which I suggested tentatively that passenger services to Leven might be reinstated. At that, there would be many sharp intakes of breath and much sucking of teeth. The people in those gatherings, who were almost universally male—one of them was in the public gallery earlier, but he has now gone—would delve into their pockets, produce railway timetables and go into a huddle and mutter, before explaining to me carefully and clearly why it was impossible to get even another single carriage anywhere in Fife without inflicting catastrophic damage on the whole national rail network, from Cornwall to John O'Groats.

Then, they might well have been right but, in the eight years that have passed since then, there has been a sea change. We have had significant and sustained investment in public transport, particularly in rail, and, because of increasing fuel costs and environmental considerations, there has been a welcome resurgence of interest among manufacturing businesses in moving goods off road and on to rail. That has resulted in a climate in which teeth are no longer sucked and there is a willingness to talk about the expansion of rail services in Fife, both passenger and freight. I do not claim that reaching that stage has been easy—it has been extraordinarily difficult and hurdles have had to be overcome. Discussions are still far too protracted with far too many people. When the property interests become involved, the discussions get extraordinarily difficult, which is an issue that the minister and his successor must get hold of if we are to speed up the process.

I will mention three projects that have led to my belief that, sooner rather than later, passenger services to Leven will finally be restored. The first is the improvements that are under way at Markinch after some delay. The second is the development at Earlseat which, although not directly on the line, will allow coal to be taken out and will get lorries off the roads. That was our first blooding in dealing with the new Network Rail. The third project is Diageo's proposal to reopen the Thornton to Methil line, which will take us within a mile of our goal of passenger services to Leven. The project is in the draft structure plan. I certainly put the proposal in my submission to SESTRAN. The catchment population of 25,000 or more will, I hope, have access to about 60 stations, including the proposed new station at Edinburgh airport. When we build the multimodal crossing over the Forth, they will have trains that go over that as well.

I thank everybody who has supported us in the long campaign when it seemed as if the line would never happen. I thank the community with railway interests and everybody else. I look forward to being able to travel from here to Leven on the train, just as I travel from here to my home in Kirkcaldy. Once again, I thank Mark Ruskell.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party 5:25, 28 March 2007

I, too, congratulate Mark Ruskell on securing this debate on reconnecting communities by rail. I hope that other MSPs will not mind a Glasgow MSP intruding on their territory. They will not be surprised to learn that I am going to mention the Glasgow crossrail link. I have mentioned it before and I make no apologies for that.

Crossrail, as a rail link and not a tunnel, has been mentioned by others. As a rail link, it is feasible, affordable and realistic. It has been studied for over 30 years and it has been costed. It would be a crossrail not just for Glasgow but for the whole of Scotland. It would give communities the opportunity to travel from the north and south of Glasgow to the north and south of Edinburgh and to Aberdeen. Some communities do not have public transport at all, so the link would be all encompassing. That is why I wanted to speak in this debate.

As I have said, crossrail is not just about Glasgow but about the whole of Scotland. If the link went ahead, it would be the equivalent of a heart bypass for Scotland. I hope that people will accept that that comment is sincere. The link would benefit the whole of Scotland, just like the Glasgow airport rail link that the Parliament has recently passed. What would be the cost? It would be only up to £200 million. That is very good value. It would be cheap when compared with other rail links. I said up to £200 million, but it is actually £120 million to £200 million, so there is leeway.

There is cross-party support from politicians and there is support from Strathclyde partnership for transport and the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce. The Evening Times is campaigning to ensure that crossrail becomes a reality. All that we really need is support from Transport Scotland—I have spoken to the minister about that—and from ministers. The draft endorsement will be with ministers in July and will go for finalisation in September with costings.

I will urge whoever is the transport minister in the next session of the Parliament to back the crossrail project. It is not the Glasgow crossrail but the Scotland crossrail, and we desperately need it in communities throughout Scotland.

Photo of Mark Ballard Mark Ballard Green 5:27, 28 March 2007

I join other members in congratulating Mark Ruskell for securing the debate and for highlighting the desire of communities throughout Scotland to be reconnected to the rail network. Sandra White was right to say that it is not just rural Scottish communities that want to be reconnected to the rail network: in Glasgow, with the crossrail, and in Edinburgh, people want railway stations to be reopened.

When I came to Edinburgh 17 years ago, it struck me that the south of Edinburgh has a railway line that still has, in places such as Craiglockhart and Morningside, the platforms of the old south suburban line. Trains still travel on the line, but they are not passenger trains. Since 1962, when passenger trains were removed from the line, there has been a continuing campaign to have those stations reopened so that the south suburban line could give the people of Edinburgh the benefit of a suburban network similar to that of Glasgow or even London.

Christine May talked about her frustration that Levenmouth still does not have a rail connection, but trying to reopen the stations on the south suburban line has been even more frustrating. Sandra White talked about the cost of Glasgow crossrail being £200 million. The cost of reopening the south suburban line, because the line and the platforms are already there, is estimated at between £15 million and £30 million. That is a trifling sum when compared with the £300 million that we have just agreed to spend on the Airdrie to Bathgate line, let alone when compared to the tunnel under the Forth that Mark Ruskell mentioned.

What gives me faith that we might see progress is the pioneering work that has been done by Professor George Hazel with his E-Rail Ltd proposal, which seeks to capture value from the uplift in land values that would come from restoring the south suburban line. We know that development of the Jubilee line in London led to an uplift of over £13 billion in land values. The development of the south suburban line would lead to a massive uplift in land values in Edinburgh, which is why developers have come forward, through the E-Rail proposal, to offer half the cost of restoring passenger trains to the south suburban line. In the terms of Mark Ruskell's motion, that shows that not only communities but businesses have a role in reconnecting communities to the national rail network.

Successive Executives and Scottish Office ministers have prevaricated on the issue. It is now time to reopen the south suburban line and to get trains running again through Cameron Toll. Such trains could connect to a tram scheme and Edinburgh's bus network, which would enable us to realise the vision of sustainable transport for Edinburgh.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I wonder whether I might take the liberty of moving a motion without notice that the debate be extended until five to six. You might wish to be aware, Presiding Officer, that I left an important event in my constituency so that I could come here today for my sole parliamentary speech on a matter that is of import to my constituents. If it is not possible to extend the debate, members present who may be denied the opportunity to speak should understand why that is happening.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

It is not possible for me to extend the debate—I am doing the best I can. If you had not stood up and taken so long, I could probably have got somebody else in. Iain Smith is to be followed by Rob Gibson.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 5:31, 28 March 2007

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I will try to be brief to help you get someone else into the debate.

I, too, congratulate Mark Ruskell on securing the final members' business debate in the current parliamentary session. Ted Brocklebank secured one of the first members' business debates in this session—that debate also mentioned St Andrews, which is in my constituency. It is perhaps fitting that we have references to St Andrews at both ends of the session of Parliament in members' business debates.

I am keen to see further expansion of our rail network, but it is important to bear it in mind that we already have significant visions for our rail network. This afternoon we passed the last in a series of private bills—the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Bill—to expand our rail network. The Borders rail link is progressing, as is the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine line, and there are proposals to reopen the station at Laurencekirk. Those are all extremely important improvements.

I am particularly keen on the Edinburgh airport rail link's being developed—Mark Ruskell's party does not support it—because it will connect communities. It will connect my constituents directly to Edinburgh airport, but it will also give them an opportunity to connect to other parts of the rail network at Edinburgh airport instead of their having to go into Edinburgh, which adds considerable time to their journeys. It will also help them to connect to other parts of the transport network, such as trams and buses, at the transport hub at Edinburgh airport.

Other things that we are doing to connect our communities include, of course, investment in our existing stations, which is also important. Christine May mentioned the long-overdue redevelopment at Markinch, which will include proper disabled access. I take this opportunity to record my thanks to the minister for the announcement last week that Cupar station is in line to have its facilities improved so that disabled people can access both platforms, which is extremely important.

There are other stations in my constituency that I would like to be considered for reopening: Newburgh would be a very valuable station on the Perth to Ladybank line and it could be developed as a park-and-ride facility. It would also help to develop the community of Newburgh. Wormit has been mentioned as a possible station that could provide park-and-ride facilities for people wishing to cross the Tay.

I want to concentrate in the last few moments of my speech on an issue that is not to do with my constituency, but which would be of benefit to it—the Levenmouth proposal. It is important that we redevelop passenger services—

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

You should be finishing now, Mr Smith.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

I have had only two and a half minutes, but I will finish with a final comment.

The Levenmouth development is important because it would have significant regenerative benefits for that part of Fife, which needs it. It would be a major economic boost to have a passenger rail network as well as freight services to Levenmouth, so I thoroughly support that proposal.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I call Rob Gibson. If members stick to their times I will manage to get everyone in.

Photo of Rob Gibson Rob Gibson Scottish National Party 5:34, 28 March 2007

I welcome the chance to speak in the debate and congratulate Mark Ruskell on securing it.

I am glad that there is such a positive attitude in Mid Scotland and Fife. Support from community organisations for railway development is important for people in the Highlands and Islands, too. Good work is done in the far north by the Caithness transport forum, Rail Futures Scotland, which works throughout the country, and the Dornoch rail link action group. We are ambitious for stations to be reopened at places such as Halkirk and Dornoch, which is the golfing capital of the north, but has no railway station.

Mark Ruskell mentioned the Highlands, but perhaps distance lends enchantment to the bodies that we deal with in the area. The Highland Rail Partnership, the voluntary Friends of the Far North Line, the Highlands and Islands strategic transport partnership and Highland Council, despite structure plan commitments, have all been negative about the development of the main railways north of Inverness. A large chunk of Scotland has been ignored. When I asked the minister last week about scrutiny of the HITRANS proposals, he replied:

"I do not believe for a minute that regional transport partnerships will disregard any views from elected parliamentarians in this place or from local people, constituent councils, community councils and other bodies." —[Official Report, 22 March 2007; c 33527.]

However, regional transport partnerships have ignored such views. I do not have time to go into detail, but post-Dounreay economic development, which hinges on rail development, is at stake. The potential Orkney container transhipment port would also benefit from rail-freight developments.

The enhancement of quality and uptake of existing services must be measured carefully. The industry-standard tables that are currently used do not work. People must be asked directly whether they want to use railways—freight users must be asked directly—and the Scottish transport appraisal guidance system must be changed to fit the needs of the climate-change era. The European northern periphery roadex network is considering lifeline roads in fragile areas; we need a similar project for railways.

For the past 30 years, it has been possible to use European funding for development of railways, but little has been done with objective 1 money, transitional funds, European regional development funds or convergence funds. Today, my colleague Alyn Smith MEP received an answer from Commissioner Barrot, in which he was told that there is no money for any rail developments in the north of Scotland in the next tranche of time and we will have to rely on European Investment Bank loans schemes. That is a scandal for Scotland, which must be dealt with. The debate has allowed us only to touch on the edges of a problem that must be solved soon. Rail developments in the far north, in particular the Dornoch rail link, are wanted by many people. I hope that the minister will do something to help us along the way.

Photo of Chris Ballance Chris Ballance Green 5:38, 28 March 2007

I will speak quickly in support of the motion in the name of my colleague Mark Ruskell. Communities throughout Scotland have campaigned hard to expand their local rail network. As Mark Ruskell said, if we are to improve rail travel for the vast majority of the travelling public, we need to focus on the smaller schemes for which communities are campaigning. The reconnection of communities by rail requires the reopening of stations, to maximise opportunities for rail travel and enable a much greater number of passengers to access the rail network.

I can evidence Mark Ruskell's arguments from my experience. A station at East Linton in East Lothian would cost just £2.9 million at 2004 prices. The community is campaigning for a station, through the excellent rail action group east of Scotland—RAGES—but where is the Executive? The Executive has got its priorities wrong. It is committed to spending at least £650 million, perhaps even £1 billion, on the Edinburgh airport rail link, but it rejects local campaigns such as that of the Clydesdale rail action group to reopen stations at Beattock, Symington and Carluke, to provide a local service on the west coast main line. I would be delighted if the minister supported the reopening of those stations, which would provide a service that was described in the Atkins report as feasible and strongly integrated with local policy across a number of transport and economic development areas. The Atkins report found that the scheme would bring significant benefits and concluded that its wider economic benefits have large potential. The cost of the scheme would be just £12 million, with an annual operating subsidy of £2.3 million.

There has been a community campaign in the west of my region to reopen the station at Dunragit and for a feasibility study into reopening the old military line from Stranraer to Cairnryan. If we do not do that, when Stena Line moves to Cairnryan the largest port in Scotland will have no rail access at all and the Glasgow to Belfast rail-sail option will have gone. The Executive is nowhere to be seen when it comes to supporting those campaigns.

We all welcome the fact that part of the historic Waverley line is to be reinstated, but it is not a Borders railway. I support the campaign for a Borders railway, which would allow Borderers to travel around the region. Such a railway would provide access to Borders general hospital, Scottish Borders Council, Melrose and Hawick. The current plan could increase the economic divide between Hawick and Galashiels and the central Borders.

The Executive plans to commit huge sums of public money to wasteful and pointless road projects such as the M74, the Aberdeen western peripheral route and an additional Forth road bridge. I call on the minister to listen to the local community campaigners, some of whom have joined us in the public gallery.

Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party 5:41, 28 March 2007

I congratulate Mark Ruskell on securing the debate.

I will start with a declaration of interest: I believe in rail travel and I travel by rail every day. I think that it is the best way to travel but, unlike the Greens, I do not believe in rail travel to the exclusion of every other kind of travel. We need a further crossing of the Forth. That is as important as connecting our communities by rail—one should not be done instead of the other.

It is almost 10 years since I became involved in the campaign to restore the Thornton to Leven rail link. Levenmouth is the largest urban conurbation in Scotland that has no access to a rail link. To me, the case for reopening the line is as overwhelming now as it was 10 years ago. I believe that the whole corridor is intact and that compulsory purchase would not be needed.

I well remember the case that was considered by Fife Council—when Christine May was its leader, I think—which was a travesty. Despite the huge conurbation and despite the fact that the line could be connected to the Fife rail line, Fife Council found that the reopening of the Leven to Thornton rail line would be uneconomic so it refused to support it. I am glad that time has moved on and that there now seems to be a willingness to acknowledge the case for the reopening of the Thornton to Leven rail line. That is mostly to do with Diageo. I cannot say how welcome the company's intervention in the debate is; its commitment to the reopening of the line for freight brings the tantalising possibility that we will also see the return of passenger travel.

The new station at Markinch is very welcome and there will be more car parking space. More car parking space has also been provided at Kirkcaldy. However, Roseanna Cunningham made the important point about ensuring that there is provision further back on the line. If people in Leven and Methil did not have to travel to Kirkcaldy and Markinch but instead had their own railway station, we would not always be looking to expand the car parks at those railway stations.

I understand that there is still a problem with the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine rail line, in respect of freight, with Transport Scotland and English Welsh & Scottish Railway Limited. I understand that Transport Scotland has not yet agreed to encourage EWS to come off the Forth rail bridge and use that line instead. Unless that problem can be solved, it will limit Diageo. I would love to hear the minister comment on that point, because I know that it has been a worry.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I call Alex Fergusson, to be followed—very briefly—by Murdo Fraser.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson Conservative 5:44, 28 March 2007

I will be as brief as I possibly can be. I congratulate Mark Ruskell on securing the debate. I have every intention of being as parochial as Roseanna Cunningham was—and indeed some other members—not in relation to Perthshire, but in relation to my constituency of Galloway and Upper Nithsdale.

I will expand on a point that Chris Ballance rightly made about Stena Line moving from Stranraer up Loch Ryan to Cairnryan, as the minister is aware. That will leave a gap in the direct rail link, between Stranraer and Cairnryan. That might not seem like much of a gap—it is only 4 or 5 miles—but it is a big gap in terms of passenger comfort and convenience. People will have to get off the train or ferry and take a bus, which will be highly inconvenient. Talks have already taken place locally with bus companies about providing a service from Girvan down to Cairnryan. To me, that spells the possible end of a rail link south of Girvan. That would have bad consequences. My concern about what is known as the old military line from Stranraer to Cairnryan—the base still exists, so I do not think that it would be that huge a job—is not so much about what happens if we reopen it, but more about the possible consequences of not doing so.

There is also the possibility of moving freight from road to rail. On that point, I would be happy to stop incurring the wrath of Green party members, which is invoked every time that I stand up to call for improvements to the A75. I unashamedly do so every time that I can, and I look forward to continuing to do so from May. I will happily stop incurring that wrath if and when a future Scottish Executive starts to examine the possibility of reopening a freight line from Cairnryan or Stranraer to Dumfries. That project would take all the pressure off the A75. The pressure on that road is enormous. The Scottish Executive's own figures will show the very high percentage of heavy goods vehicles using that road.

As other members have done, I emphasise the need to consider reopening stations such as Dunragit, which Chris Ballance mentioned, and Thornhill, which is on the existing Dumfries to Glasgow line. I believe that the travelling public are ready and willing to increase their use of rail transport. However, they rightly demand an infrastructure, and indeed a quality of service and convenience, that will allow and encourage them to do so.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 5:47, 28 March 2007

I will be succinct in my remarks, although I fear that, on this occasion, I might not be able to take any interventions. I commend Mark Ruskell for the motion and congratulate him on securing this, the final members' business debate of the session.

We in the Conservative party believe in giving members of the public the opportunity to travel by rail, and we are in favour of reconnecting communities by rail, for all the reasons that have been outlined in the debate. There is an important point to stress. We do not view this as an either/or issue. It is not about having rail instead of increased investment in roads. We believe that there should be both, and that they should be complementary.

Along with Mark Ruskell, and indeed Roseanna Cunningham, I have campaigned for the reopening of Blackford station. Members of COBRA—the campaign to open Blackford railway again—must be congratulated on their work to keep the issue on the political radar. I would like the new parliamentary session to be used to review train station viability on that line, as well as on the highland route across Perthshire and up to Inverness.

We have already heard reasons why Blackford station should be reopened. The same reasons apply to the halt at Greenloaning. Roseanna Cunningham and Mark Ruskell referred to the congestion that is caused at Dunblane by the pressure on the park-and-ride facility. Many of the people who go to the Dunblane park and ride come from points north and west of there. If the facilities were available at Greenloaning or Blackford, that would provide a new opportunity for commuters to take their cars there, rather than clogging up the streets of Dunblane, as happens at the moment. Opening new halts in that part of the world would widen the market for those who wish to use rail, particularly those who commute to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

I would like to add another station to the list of those that could be reopened: that at Bridge of Earn. Bridge of Earn is a community with a growing population where a substantial number of new houses are planned. There would be clear environmental benefits in providing a new station at Bridge of Earn. It would enable those who live there to commute to work in Perth or Edinburgh and also, of course, allow locals and visitors to use the train for shopping and leisure activities.

Rail services have been high on my agenda for some years. We should be encouraging greater use of the train and reopening stations that have been closed. There are substantial environmental benefits to be gained in pursuing that agenda. I hope that we will see progress on that in the next session of Parliament.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 5:50, 28 March 2007

Given that I have no stations in my constituency I, unlike others in this end-of-season debate, cannot be parochial about rail, which is probably just as well. I accept members' concerns and their desire to do more on rail and to see more improvements and a better rail network throughout the country. I do not always agree with Murdo Fraser, but I agree absolutely with him and others who argued in favour of rail being both complementary to other transport modes and a strong alternative to the car. Rail cannot always absolutely displace other forms of transport, but we have to find ways to provide it as a choice, so that we can address wider climate change issues—on which there is probably general cross-party agreement—at the same time as ensuring that we provide the systems for people to use the car, which is still a necessity in many parts of Scotland.

Alex Fergusson is right: for every member who raises a rail issue there is a member who argues the importance of certain road links in Scotland, as Mr Fergusson has done consistently in the two years in which I have been Minister for Transport. That will not stop—nor should it—as we develop our country's economy. I suspect that that is where some of us have a philosophical difference with our Green colleagues.

We all spent quite a lot of money this evening. I saw a few worried looks when Sandra White was holding forth on £200 million here and Mark Ballard mentioned another £15 million to £30 million there. To be fair, Roseanna Cunningham said that one station would cost only £1 million, but we all spent a bit of money.

There are choices to be made. I would love the transport budget to grow even more, but any Government has to make hard choices about rail versus other investments. With the greatest respect, Chris Ballance got the tone wrong. This Government has put 70 per cent of its transport budget into public transport. We have ensured that there has been a fundamental switch in expenditure in that regard. I would have thought that those of us who believe passionately in ensuring that public transport alternatives exist would support that, rather than denigrating it as Chris Ballance did, which was a great shame. I do not and will never agree with the Greens' heads-in-the-sand policy on EARL. The link to Edinburgh airport is one of the most important projects that we will take forward. Those of us on the Executive benches and, to be fair, the Conservatives, who supported the project in Parliament last week, were absolutely right and I hope that we get the project done. I feel strongly about it and I do not agree with either the SNP or the Greens about it.

Mark Ruskell made a good speech. I agreed with many of his arguments and he made powerful points. I believe that a renaissance in rail is happening. We are ensuring that the investment is there and will continue to do so.

As I said earlier in the debate on the Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Bill—Mark Ruskell also made this argument—stations must be transport interchanges where we can ensure that different modes of transport connect. I accept what Roseanna Cunningham said about circumstances where that is not happening. We do not have it right everywhere by any means. However, we will take forward the options in different localities in Scotland to the best of our ability.

I take the point that Rob Gibson and others made about regional transport strategies. I understand members' concerns. As we said at question time last week, when Mark Ruskell pursued the issue, there will be opportunities to ensure that the transport strategies reflect the needs of local people. However, hard choices will always have to be made about transport expenditure. For every occasion that Mr Gibson has raised the issue of rail in the north, Mr Ewing and others have raised the issue of investment in roads. They have every right to do that—I would never attack that—but that is what choices are about and we will have to continue to take that approach in the coming years.

Photo of Mr Mark Ruskell Mr Mark Ruskell Green

The regional transport plans will be submitted to the minister this week. What is his view of transport plans that put forward projects that are not yet in structure plans? Is that unacceptable? Will changes to those plans be required at a local level before the minister—or whoever might follow him—can approve them?

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

It is important that there is consistency between documents. That is in the interests of regional transport partnerships and their constituent councils in respect of transport planning and all that goes with it. Many of the arguments that colleagues across the chamber have made in the past couple of years have been about ensuring that, in relation to health and education, the decisions that we make about the location of new schools or health facilities take into account the transport needs of people who have to use them. It is important that we address those points.

I say to Mark Ballard that I am aware of the E-Rail resource and am grateful for the information about it that he provided to my office earlier today. Earlier in the year, I took part in a cross-party discussion with the City of Edinburgh Council and I support its intention to refresh the business case for the project. However, I hope that Mr Ballard accepts the caveat that, no matter how small that project might appear to be, choices have to be made with regard to how we spend the money that we have available.

There is much to be done to make our railways truly world class, but the foundations have been laid by this Government. We are committed to the major projects and the minor enhancement schemes that many members are, rightly, passionate about. I hope that we can take the opportunity to achieve our aims at that local level and in relation to the larger projects that we are dealing with.

Meeting closed at 17:56.