The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-4851, in the name of Mike Rumbles, on Kintore station and Aberdeen crossrail.
That the Parliament welcomes the announcement that passenger numbers at the reopened Laurencekirk station have exceeded estimations by around 80%; notes that the decision by the previous Scottish Executive to reopen the Laurencekirk station followed a long community-based campaign; believes that a reopened Kintore station would be similarly successful; expresses its concern that progress on the Aberdeen Crossrail project has stalled under the current Scottish Government, and would welcome funding being brought forward to reopen Kintore station as part of the Aberdeen Crossrail project.
When the Scottish strategic rail study was published by the previous Scottish Executive in 2003, it had at its heart a vision for an Aberdeen crossrail service in the north east. Nestrans—the north east of Scotland transport partnership—was chaired at the time by my colleague Alison McInnes, and it had the vision to believe that we could have a 15 minute peak time commuter service running into and out of Aberdeen along the length of the railway, from Inverurie in the north to Stonehaven in the south.
Not only would there be a 15 minute commuter service, but new stations could be built along the line at Kintore and Newtonhill. The idea was to make rail use easier for the consumer, to expand the capability of the existing rail system and to develop new markets for rail. It was a real vision for the transport needs of the north-east. I initially pressed for the inclusion of the station at Laurencekirk, which is further south in my constituency, in those crossrail plans. I am now very grateful for the advice that I received from Alison McInnes and her colleagues at Nestrans at the time, which was that I should instead press the then transport minister, Nicol Stephen, to reopen Laurencekirk station as a stand-alone project, because it was outwith the concept of the crossrail project, being some 14 miles south of the southerly Stonehaven terminus. I was delighted when, in December 2005, Nicol Stephen allocated the £3.5 million that was needed to reopen Laurencekirk station. Although the current Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change, Stewart Stevenson, announced in June 2007 that the reopening would be delayed a year until December 2008, it was—after a further delay—reopened in May this year.
The reopening of Laurencekirk station has been a tremendous success, with passenger numbers exceeding expectations by around 80 per cent. I am convinced that reopening Kintore station would also be resoundingly successful. Not only would it benefit the expanding community of Kintore, it would serve many other people too, including my constituents in nearby Kemnay and people much further afield. However, I have steadily become alarmed and disappointed by what I see as the lack of interest and vision that has been shown in the Aberdeen crossrail project. In June last year, Councillor Kevin Stewart, the chair of Nestrans, wrote to Stewart Stevenson:
"The distinct impression had been given that at officer level this scheme was dead and only political pressure could change that."
On 7 November, I attended a Nestrans briefing that contained not one reference to the Aberdeen crossrail project. The director of Nestrans, Derick Murray, revealed that the Scottish Government's transport wing, Transport Scotland, had indicated that it was not interested in developing local rail services for the north-east and that, instead, it was focusing on improving services between Aberdeen and Glasgow.
I asked the Scottish Government about that, and I was informed in answers to parliamentary questions that the Scottish Government had not allocated any funding for crossrail in the current year, that the transport minister had not held any discussions with Councillor Stewart about crossrail, and that there had been no recent discussions about the project between the Scottish Government and Network Rail.
As a result of all that, the Liberal Democrats held a debate on the matter in our time on 12 March. We noted that the Aberdeen crossrail project previously enjoyed cross-party support, regretted that it was omitted from the Government's strategic transport projects review and called on the Scottish Government to make a firm commitment to restart active development of the Aberdeen crossrail project immediately. I was hugely disappointed by the decision of SNP and Conservative MSPs to combine to block the request in the motion on 12 March for action to restart the project. I am not surprised that not one of them has supported my motion today. However, the Aberdeen crossrail project deserves the support of every member of this Parliament. In particular, it deserves the support of every north-east MSP from every party. Where is the vision that needs to be displayed by my fellow north-east MSPs to take the project forward?
At a meeting with Aberdeenshire Council on 11 September, which was unfortunately not attended by either the transport minister, as an Aberdeenshire MSP, or the two Conservative
It is clear to me that, at the moment, the minister does not have the vision that is needed. He has not set out a clear vision for the crossrail project. He said in the Parliament that his incremental approach was the way forward and that he aimed to have two trains an hour on the line, but yesterday I received a letter from the Government's transport body, Transport Scotland, that makes it clear that the sum of the ambition is to have two trains an hour from Inverness to Nairn but only one train an hour from Inverness to Aberdeen. Nobody would call that an effective commuter service. I do not even know whether the minister supports the idea of a peak commuter service every 15 minutes into and out of Aberdeen running between Inverurie in the north and Stonehaven in the south with new stations at Kintore, Altens and Newtonhill.
I would like the transport minister to answer this simple and straightforward question when he sums up this evening's debate. Does he have the vision to see the service developed in that way? I sincerely hope that he does. I am not calling on him to provide the funds for that now. Evidently not—that would be a nonsense, particularly in the economic circumstances that we now face. However, if he could indicate today his support in principle for a 15 minute commuter service with new stations on the line from Inverurie to Stonehaven via Aberdeen—the same support that I believe he voiced when he was in opposition—that would be a real step forward.
The people of the north-east deserve a straight answer from our transport minister tonight. I hope that he will give it. Does he have the necessary vision? Will he support the principle and work towards a 15 minute commuter service with reopened stations at Altens, Newtonhill and Kintore? We all await his response.
I thank Mike Rumbles for securing the debate and for giving us the opportunity to highlight the fact that the Scottish National Party is delivering for the north-east. I put on record the fact that I lodged an amendment to the motion.
The delivery of a reopened Laurencekirk station under the SNP Government after years of talk has not gone unnoticed by the good people of Laurencekirk. The usage figures for Laurencekirk
Mike Rumbles's motion also deals with the crossrail project and Kintore station. Frankly, his suggestion that movement on the project has stalled is ludicrous, considering that, in the eight years of the previous Administration and under two Lib Dem transport ministers, no tangible steps forward were made on delivering any aspect of the project. From that standing start—purely a vision, as Mike Rumbles said—activity is happening and progress is being made towards implementing the aims of crossrail on an incremental basis. That is manifestly the correct way to proceed, as Nestrans acknowledged after a feasibility and technical study into the project. Increasing services and the frequency of trains is an important part of improving rail links for communities between Inverurie and Stonehaven. The number of trains going to Inverurie has increased significantly since 2007, with many more services that previously terminated in Dyce continuing to Inverurie. Additionally, from December, there will once again be an evening link from Dyce to Portlethen and Stonehaven, thanks to coming scheduling changes.
Those changes are important improvements in their own right, but they will also provide an invaluable measure of the extent of the improvement in the number of people using the services. Establishing those numbers and the potential demand among rail users for a reopened Kintore station is vital to ensuring that the right decision is made on the station. Mike Rumbles might gleefully demand funding for projects before they are examined and scrutinised fully but, thankfully, the Scottish Government takes more responsibility when it comes to investing taxpayers' money. It is simple common sense to grow the number of potential users for Kintore station and to firmly establish evidence that there are enough users to make the service viable before committing investment to the project.
Plans for Kintore station will be examined as part of the Aberdeen to Inverness rail line improvements, which I believe are to be studied by Network Rail this year. The delivery of Kintore station through those improvements would avoid the duplication of effort and would help to keep the project costs down. I look forward to the outcome of that study and to the improvements in rail
I congratulate Mike Rumbles on securing the debate. We have debated Aberdeen crossrail several times in the Parliament and members have lodged a number of motions on it, but Mike Rumbles is right to give Parliament another opportunity to debate the proposal and to preserve that vision, which is vital to the transport infrastructure and economy of the north-east. We are all aware that rail services for the oil capital of Europe and the region as a whole must improve, which is what the Aberdeen crossrail scheme is all about.
I do not share Maureen Watt's rose-tinted analysis of the current situation. It is deeply disappointing that the cross-party consensus in favour of the proposal that existed before the election has dissipated. Like Mike Rumbles, I am bewildered as to why, when we had the chance to vote on the issue in March, every member from the north-east could not vote for a straightforward motion calling for support for and progress on the scheme.
When it was announced that the Scottish Government would not support the Glasgow airport rail link, I felt empathy with members from Glasgow—as, I am sure, did colleagues who had supported the Edinburgh airport rail link—because we in the north-east had already gone through the experience of having our major rail project dropped by the Scottish Government, despite SNP support for it locally before the elections.
I believe that the minister has a personal commitment to developing public transport, but I am afraid that his Government is fast developing the reputation of being the inheritor of Dr Beeching. Mike Rumbles hits the nail on the head when he says in his motion:
"passenger numbers at the reopened Laurencekirk station have exceeded estimations".
In fact, passenger numbers have exceeded estimations substantially. In so many cases, the projections for the use of new stations and services significantly underestimate the actual use when those services are put in place. I am sure that that has been a factor in what has happened to the crossrail proposal, too.
A recent cross-party meeting with the minister, at which the issue was discussed, was positive. I hope that we will receive more positive signals
The member makes the interesting and valid point that we underestimate patronage in new railway stations. It might be worth saying that we use a Great Britain-based model, which we are increasingly of the view does not properly reflect Scottish circumstances. That is not just the view from this Government; I think it has been a long-term view. We are looking to have discussions to see whether we can get a better model that will help us understand patronage better.
I welcome that intervention. The models that are used should be more sensitive and should be correct for the Scottish situation. I hope that that will help the proposal for a new station at Kintore, which commands cross-party support.
In Aberdeen and the north-east, the issue of commuter options into the city of Aberdeen is extremely pressing. We still do not know how the western peripheral route will be funded or when it will finally get the go-ahead. There is no progress on addressing congestion at the Haudagain roundabout. We need progress on road and rail services for the north-east. I am sure that there will be a great deal of consensus in the chamber tonight on the proposal for a new station at Kintore. I hope that we can re-establish a consensus for Aberdeen crossrail, and a focus on delivering it. As Mike Rumbles said, there should now at the very least be a commitment to that principle. This issue should continue to be raised until that ambition is realised. The project is of vital importance to the north-east, and to Scotland, given its potential contribution to the centre of our energy industry.
I, too, congratulate Mike Rumbles on bringing the motion to Parliament this evening, because the issue that it raises remains live. I was a little surprised when I read the title of the motion, given that Kintore is currently in the First Minister's constituency, although I concede that some of Mr Rumbles's constituents from Kemnay might well use a station at Kintore.
I will restrict my remarks to the proposed reopening of Kintore station; I have been involved in the campaign for that for a number of years. In April of this year I was pleased that the transport minister agreed to my request for a meeting with interested parties, including Graham McDonald and Kenny Thomson from Kintore and district
The reopening of Laurencekirk station has undoubtedly been a major success. It has been warmly welcomed and supported, and the number of passengers using the station has exceeded the provisional estimates by around 80 per cent, as the motion states. That is good news and I believe that it makes a positive case for the reopening of Kintore station and, eventually, other local stations.
Given the inevitability of future housing developments across Aberdeenshire, reopening the station and improving the transport infrastructure for communities north of Aberdeen city is becoming increasingly important. I hope that the reopening of Laurencekirk station has acted as a catalyst to promote the case for including Kintore as a stopping place on the Aberdeen to Inverness line.
I have said in previous debates on the issue that Kintore must surely be one of the fastest growing villages in the country. In only five years its population has grown from just over 1,600 to more than 2,500, completely changing its character from a traditional north-east village to an urban satellite of Aberdeen, with tightly packed streets of modern houses clustered around its historic village centre. That has had a significant impact on the back road to Newhills, on the Haudagain roundabout and on Anderson Drive, where peak-time traffic is noticeably heavier.
Think of the advantages to the environment if even half of the cars from Kintore were to stay at home while their owners commuted by train. That method of travel is increasingly favoured by residents in Inverurie and Dyce and many people in Kintore would also like to have local access to the rail network.
Recent developments that allow hourly services to operate between Aberdeen and Inverness are an important step forward and I hope that Kintore will be developed as a stopping point for some of those services. I realise that the single track at Kintore is a problem, but it is one that can in due course be overcome if the political will is there to open the station. From the minister's response at our meeting I think that he is supportive of that in principle.
It is a little premature to ask for funding to be allocated to the project—rightly or wrongly, I took Mr Rumbles's motion to be asking for that—given that it has not yet been costed and that we do not have the results of the study into the feasibility of the station's reopening. That is why I did not sign the motion.
I recognise the case that the member has made for Kintore in the context of the Aberdeen to Inverness line. Does she also see a case for Kintore in the context of Aberdeen crossrail?
Yes, of course, but I said that I would confine my remarks to Kintore.
It is important that local community demand and support for the reopening of the station is taken account of and that Nestrans and the Scottish Government look to the benefits that reopening Kintore station could have for the environment, the local economy and local communities.
It is welcome news that the reopening of Laurencekirk station has proved to be a great success. That can only be good news for local people and for the local economy and, of course, the environmental benefits that result from moving people from car to train will contribute to reducing our local carbon footprint. I believe that a reopened Kintore station would be similarly successful. The Scottish Conservatives support its reopening and I hope that with continued cross-party support that can become a reality. I hope that in his response the minister will be able to provide further details on taking the proposal forward and bring us up to speed on any progress since our meeting earlier this year.
I, too, am grateful to my colleague Mike Rumbles for giving us the opportunity to further discuss the proposed new station at Kintore and the wider Aberdeen crossrail project.
I feel that I hardly need to go over old arguments and the many reasons why we should build a new station at Kintore and why the Aberdeen crossrail project should be looked on as a vital piece of transport infrastructure for the north-east. However, I must challenge Maureen Watt's assertion that nothing was achieved under the previous Administration. During the terms of office of our Lib Dem transport ministers, much groundwork was carried out. Like the foundations of a house, groundwork is not visible, but it is vital. We identified the project, carried out preparatory work, built the project into the regional plan and started negotiations with Network Rail. A great deal of work was carried out in the early days. The disappointment is that that work has not been taken forward.
I will focus on what we can do now. I understand that, as part of the process of working towards the rail improvement priorities that have been identified by the Government, Network Rail has prepared for Transport Scotland its proposals for the Inverness to Aberdeen line. I have been told
The minister will recall the commitment that he made to me personally late last year that he would look at reviewing the forecast passenger number calculations as well as disaggregating the costs of the main Aberdeen to Inverness line improvements from those of the local project, because it was when the two projects were pooled that things started to get difficult. I am glad to have heard from the minister already during the debate that he is looking at a new model for passenger patronage. I think that that will benefit the Kintore project. I was grateful for the minister's commitment and I trust that he will ensure that Transport Scotland remembers it during its discussions on the proposals. I believe that if ever a project needed political direction, it is this one. I would be interested to hear whether the minister has updated figures that he may be able to share with the chamber this evening or even in the next few weeks.
Obviously, given the overwhelming success of the new station at Laurencekirk, I feel that it is even more vital that updated projected passenger figures are used when considering Kintore. Even with the currently available figures, I am certain of the case for the new station and I have no doubt that Nestrans, Aberdeenshire Council and the other local bodies are similarly convinced. Again, I refer to the petition that I handed to the minister last year, which showed overwhelming support for the proposal. I expect revised forecasts that take figures from Laurencekirk into account will only strengthen the case.
I am informed that Nestrans already feels that a new station at Kintore should be progressed as soon as possible, perhaps initially as a single-platform station, and in advance of any finalised proposals for the fuller developments on the Aberdeen to Inverness line. In other words, we should not simply wait until we have the full package. I hope that the minister and Transport Scotland will continue to work closely with Nestrans on the matter—I certainly will—and that firm plans for the station can be brought forward at the earliest opportunity.
Turning from Kintore to the wider crossrail project, I think that it is obvious that in the current climate it is not realistic to do the whole thing in one go. However, it is equally obvious that we should not simply forget about it, and I am very pleased to hear that Government officials have been working with the local authorities on the plans. I encourage them and the minister to continue to listen closely to people's views and to be careful not to dismiss the long-term ideas that Mike Rumbles has espoused purely on the basis
As the minister with responsibility for planning, Mr Stevenson will be aware of the Aberdeen city and shire long-term structure plan. Approved by him without going to inquiry and held up as a model by the Scottish Government's chief planner, the plan identifies transport corridors, one of which is Huntly to Laurencekirk, as key areas of future growth and envisages that the growth of the corridor and the crossrail project will be somewhat symbiotic. The building of crossrail will support sustainable growth, which in turn will bolster passenger numbers, and I urge that the model be remembered in discussions or plans.
I hope that when the plans for the Inverness to Aberdeen line are finalised they will improve local suburban services to the north of Aberdeen. That would certainly be a good first step—or a good second step, if Kintore station has been opened by then. However, I ask the minister to remind Transport Scotland that it should not be satisfied with that and that it should bear in mind the bigger picture and that comprehensive improvements, including a regular service from Inverurie to Stonehaven and further station reopenings, must be the ultimate goal.
I congratulate Mike Rumbles on securing another debate on an important issue that needs to be discussed periodically. However, before I come to the railway itself, I want briefly to work round the subject and develop Nanette Milne's comments on cars.
According to all sorts of data from Transport Scotland and Nestrans, car ownership in the north-east is higher than in comparable places, with 57 per cent of Aberdeenshire residents using their car every day. That figure is quite high and indicates that, in rural communities, car ownership is almost essential unless one happens to live on rail or bus corridors. I should also mention in passing that 42 per cent of Aberdeen's residents use their car every day, which seems to me to be far too high. I have to wonder why people who live in a very small conurbation have to use the car so much.
The answer, of course, is the buses. I seriously suggest that, in discussing the railway, we should recognise that there is an issue with Aberdeen's bus service. After all, buses should form the mainstream transport system in any city. I am quite prepared to accept that we should talk about the railways—and, indeed, the crossrail route—but we might be aiming at the wrong target if we
I will swiftly pass by the Aberdeen peripheral route, noting only that it will present more park-and-ride opportunities and will therefore, I hope, help the situation in Aberdeen city centre, and move to the projects in question, which are set out in the Nestrans document. We all agree about the reopening of Kintore station. The date is yet to be agreed, but the proposal is in the document and the intention is that it will happen. Is it important? Of course it is, not least because it provides an opportunity for those taking the north-west route to park at Kintore, take the train to Aberdeen and, now that the bus station has been put in the right place, connect as necessary with the city's buses.
Does Nigel Don agree that, if people are to park their cars at a reopened Kintore station, to use the railway and to commute in and out of Aberdeen, they need a regular service? We are talking about the vision.
I have no difficulty agreeing with the member. However, I am grateful to Alison McInnes for pointing out that she now accepts that an incremental process is necessary. If we can all see that, it is a step in the right direction. The vision is fine, but it is some way away. Things will change as we go along.
I will comment briefly on some of the points that have been made about crossrail and on the reasons why the project was not picked up quite as much as people hoped. First, we know that more stations means more stops—correctly—which increases journey times. That is one of the issues that will never be resolved. Unless there is enough track space to run the main line and the stoppers, it is not possible to get the timetable right. Secondly, the model did not predict modal shift on to the railways from cars. As far as I can tell, it predicted that most transfer would be from buses to the railways. That may just be welcome, but it is not really what we want. It may now be possible to challenge that conclusion, given that the minister has indicated that the model will be re-examined. I encourage the minister and his staff to look at the issue.
I join others in thanking Mike Rumbles for bringing his motion to Parliament. I agree that Parliament should acknowledge that the number of passengers who use Laurencekirk station has
The project was developed with strong cross-party support and funding at all levels. The final piece of the jigsaw at Laurencekirk station is the car park, which opens today or tomorrow—I cannot remember exactly when, but it is certainly this week—with support from Aberdeenshire Council and Nestrans. The station reopened, after 42 years of closure, in May this year. In a sense, the consensus among politicians was of no great importance—the important point was that there was a cross-community campaign for the station to be reopened.
Similarly, there is substantial support for reopening the station at Kintore. As an MSP for the north-east of Scotland, I share Mr Rumbles's interest in that. I am enthusiast for rail and a regular user of rail services in the area and have jotted down that the only station between Inverness and Aberdeen that I have not used as a minister is Insch station—although that statement is subject to review, as I may find that I have used it. I am familiar with the area and have made approximately 750 journeys on our railway network as a minister.
Many members who are here this evening were present for the meeting that I had with Kintore and district community council—Mike Rumbles, however, was not able to attend that meeting. I am sure that there was a good reason for that, just as there was a good reason for my inability to attend the meeting of 12 September.
Instead, we arranged a different date just a few days later.
In expressing their opinions, the members of Kintore and District community council demonstrated a balanced view at that meeting.
The community certainly wants improved transport links for Kintore, but the council was clear that the work should be done only if there is a case that justifies it, based on objective analysis of passenger numbers. The community council's view—this is the view that we should all have—was that investment in transport infrastructure is important, but we need to do the analysis and make the right investment. Kintore looks to be a pretty good option, I have to say, and we are of course doing the work, with Network Rail, to ensure that we have a solid case and a clear understanding of the cost.
We must consider two options. The railway at Kintore is single track, and we could put a platform there at relatively modest cost to support a single-track operation. However, if we do that, we need to ensure that we do not design out the option of providing for a two-track operation at a later date. That forms part of what we need to consider.
Does the minister accept that the strategy that has been so successful for Laurencekirk, with campaigning and the making of a business case for the station, is the strategy that is most likely to be successful at Kintore, and that in the current era of spending restraint, such a strategy is most likely to be successful at any other points along the line, where stations may be built in the future?
That is self-evident. If community demand is demonstrated, it gives credibility to estimates of patronage, and it builds the case. It is important to qualify the matter about the estimating tool—estimated patronage levels will be raised at all the stations that one might consider throughout Scotland, so the ranking of any particular station is not necessarily changed. Nonetheless, we should have accurate figures.
I was not seeking to suggest that we are doing something on that based on a nationwide system; I was making the general point that, if we change the model, it is likely to affect all estimates everywhere. I am not posting a recipe for delay, by any means.
Richard Baker raised the question of funding for the Aberdeen western peripheral route. I say from memory—this is subject to confirmation, so I will e-
Nanette Milne stressed that a station should be opened at Kintore only if there is demand. Nobody could possibly disagree with that.
Alison McInnes's contribution was extremely helpful and constructive. She highlighted the structure plan for Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen. It is a very good plan that has been produced according to a very good process. I note that one of the things that are contained in it is protection of a corridor. It takes the long-term view that it might, at some point, be possible to construct a case for a station and a new railway to Ellon. There are some interesting ideas in that plan. Alison McInnes spoke about happiness. I am reminded of an old saying—although I cannot remember whose it is:
"Always be happy, but never be satisfied."
That is absolutely on the money as far as this issue is concerned. As Alison McInnes recognised, the incremental approach enables us to make progress as funds become available.
On a matter of general concern, of course we are supporting the north-east through improving services between Aberdeen and Inverness. We have increased the number of services that run up to Inverurie and patronage is beginning to grow, which enhances the case for Kintore by showing that there is increased and genuine demand in the area. I hope that there will be further growth in the area, because that will give us the step change that I want.
I note and encourage the cross-party support that underpinned delivery of the reopened station at Laurencekirk. I urge members to try to find consensus and not to create the false discord that has been slightly apparent from time to time during the debate. It is sensible for us to consider Kintore as the next step, and to ensure that we have an objective case and can find the funds to do the work. We continue to do the work that is necessary on that.
Meeting closed at 17:40.