Scotland’s railways are in the midst of a transformation and there is a real success story to tell. Now is the right time to take account of our achievements as we plan for the next franchise and rail investment periods.
The network performance is up and passenger satisfaction reached a high this year, which confirmed that rail’s performance impacts significantly on passengers’ opinions of the rail system. I congratulate Network Rail and First ScotRail on their efforts. Although we have benefited from a relatively mild winter, that reflects their successful collaboration. Whether it is in services, lines, rolling stock or performance, we recognise that there is more to do, but there is a good story to tell about what has been done so far.
An example is that passenger figures today are higher than they were in the last golden age of rail in the 1920s and 1930s. Last year, there were a staggering 83 million passenger journeys in Scotland, which was a 33 per cent increase since the start of the current franchise. That figure undermines the Beeching assumption that rail would lose out to the car and rail passenger numbers would wither. This Government has been instrumental in reversing some of the Beeching cuts and creating for Scotland the possibility of a new golden age of rail. Nothing illustrates that more clearly than our commitment to the new Borders railway line: a link that has been broken for 40 years will reconnect communities in the Scottish Borders and Midlothian with our nation’s capital.
We have recently seen the positive impact of bringing communities together, with the reopening earlier this year of Conon Bridge station in the Highlands. We have also completed phase 1 of the Highlands main-line project, which has provided two additional services from 2011 and has meant, from December 2012, journey time improvements of up to 18 minutes on some services.
Further south, in the central belt, the Airdrie to Bathgate line project, which received cross-party support in Parliament, has provided a new through line from the west of Scotland to Edinburgh, with new stations and new travel opportunities. We have ensured that our new stations are accessible by offering step-free access for people with reduced mobility, and we have increased the number of accessible stations in Scotland.
We have made passenger journeys more comfortable by investing more than £430 million in new electric and refurbished rolling stock.
We are enhancing the passenger experience by providing wi-fi and modern, appropriate facilities. We are making strides towards better integration of rail services, and between rail services and other modes. Our commitment is manifest in the recent opening of Scotland’s first rail-cycle hub in Stirling. That exciting three-year pilot will offer expert knowledge on local roads and cycling facilities. It will also raise the profile of greener active transport options to reach our rail stations.
In respect of cross-border rail, there have been huge successes, with unprecedented passenger growth—more than 144 per cent on the Glasgow to London route since 2008. Last year, after much pressure from Scotland, we finally saw the introduction of a full hourly service between Glasgow and London. We have also seen the extension to London of Edinburgh to Birmingham services, which has opened up new connectivity for passengers. The recent announcement of an additional 2,500 seats a day on services between Scotland and Birmingham underlines the importance of Scotland to the United Kingdom rail market and dispels the myth that we do not need more passenger and network capacity north of Preston.
Yet, despite huge passenger growth between Scotland and Birmingham—more than 261 per cent since 2008—the role of the Scottish people in determining the specification of the franchise on the arterial east and west coast main lines is extremely limited; we remain at the mercy of Westminster. I have long argued that the prevailing UK legislation prevents me from being empowered to act in the interests of Scotland. On cross-border issues, rather than Scotland being treated in a subordinate manner, we should be equals.
Is the minister aware of the rail improvements that have been made between Belfast and Dublin, where there is equity of interest? Cross-border rail services can therefore be planned in a way that is of mutual benefit, as distinct from the one size—London size—fits all approach that we currently experience?
The example that has been given by Stewart Stevenson illustrates that cross-border services can be organised in the mutual interest of two countries if the will exists to do so. I have heard general reports about the success of the line that he mentioned. There is no reason, of course, why an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK could not collaborate in that way on cross-border services.
On cross-border issues, we should be treated as equals, which is the point that Stewart Stevenson made, rather than being treated as subordinates. This is the first time I can remember having any say whatever in the east coast and west coast main lines and the future franchises. I see Gavin Brown shaking his head. Perhaps he prefers the outcome of the west coast main line franchise process to one of collaboration, in which the Governments can talk about these things and get it right first time.
In the immediate future, we face challenges in the lead-up to 2014, when our country will host the Commonwealth games and the Ryder cup, and there will be an increased focus on Scotland with another homecoming Scotland year and, of course, the forthcoming referendum. We are in a good place to deliver transport services that meet the expectations of Scotland’s residents and their visitors during what will be a milestone year. There have been significant investments in Gleneagles and Dalmarnock stations, along with Strathclyde Partnership for Transport subway improvements, which will result in better connectivity for Scottish visitors during 2014, as well as increased access to economic and cultural opportunities for residents.
Affordability is another issue. I know that the cost of travel is very important for the people who live and work in Scotland, so I am determined to offer some relief from the current pressures on household budgets. That is why, in December 2012, as part of my statement on the franchise continuation, I announced a freeze on off-peak fare rises, and peak fare increases were restricted to the retail prices index. Since then, my officials have worked with ScotRail to identify and eradicate fares anomalies to make our fares fairer.
Although the UK Government has promised to put an end to inflation-busting fares, we are taking action now and from 2016 we will be going further by ensuring that regulated peak fares cannot rise above inflation and that regulated off-peak fares will be restricted to RPI minus 1 per cent.
In dealing with about a quarter of a million journeys on which anomalies had occurred, we made substantial progress. That progress could have been made many years ago, but it was not. I am convinced that we have made great strides, but the next tranche of dealing with anomalies will have to come when we renegotiate the franchise, which will happen soon. I am pleased that Jenny Marra has acknowledged the work that this Government has done—work that was not done by previous Governments—to address anomalies.
On the future of the ScotRail franchise, which is due to be renewed in 2015, I confirm again that we will let two new franchises—the main ScotRail franchise and a separate sleeper franchise. We had the largest-ever rail consultation in Scotland, which has helped us to shape the specifications for those franchises. More than ever, we are able to specify services that will best meet the needs of our cities and rural communities.
I have also been mindful of the Laidlaw inquiry and the Brown review into the UK’s west coast main line fiasco in the franchising process. We have learned lessons from them. Where appropriate, they have informed our franchising process, so I am confident about the competence of the officials and about the process that has been followed by Transport Scotland to ensure that we secure a contract that meets our needs and offers value for money.
The sleeper franchise process has already commenced; pre-qualification questionnaires were returned by four potential bidders this month and the draft invitation to tender will be issued in August. For the main ScotRail franchise, the questionnaires will be issued to potential bidders in July this year. That contract is still the biggest that the Scottish Government procures.
We have learned what Scotland can achieve through the successes of the current franchise and I intend to ensure that we build on those successes for the future. I look to the next ScotRail franchisee to work closely with Network Rail to drive down costs and to improve the passenger experience.
I think that I answered that question from Ken Macintosh last week. I am interested to know what the Labour Party’s position is. I reiterate that I cannot encourage one bid over another bid. That is how the process goes and that is what is laid down in law. If the Labour Party would encourage one bid over another, it would be useful for it to confirm that today, because its doing so would be in breach of the procurement regulations.
I am happy to discuss—as, I am sure, we will as we go through the debate—the issues related to public ownership of railways. However, I repeat what I said last week: from when the previous Labour Government took office in 1997 right through to 2010, it did not change the Railways Act 1993, which leaves us in the position in which we can accept public sector bids, but only from foreign countries: we cannot allow one of our public bodies to bid. I do not know why the Labour Party supported that position. I do not support it, but that is where we are. We have asked the UK Government to change the act, but it has said that it will not.
In the meantime, it is important that we drive down costs where we can. The alliance between ScotRail and Network Rail delivered the Paisley canal electrification scheme in record time and significantly below the original cost estimates.
I am pleased to announce that—subject to approval by the Office of Rail Regulation—Network Rail and First ScotRail will work together, through the alliance, to accelerate the electrification of the Whifflet route. Through close collaboration and application of the approaches that we used for the Paisley canal scheme, we expect that the costs of delivering the project can be reduced below Network Rail’s planning estimate of £29.6 million. That will be the first major output of the next five-year rail investment period—known as control period 5—which starts on 1 April 2014. The route, which runs from Glasgow to Coatbridge, was originally planned for full electrification by 2018-19. We now plan to deliver that by summer 2014, which will give us greater flexibility to support passengers for the Commonwealth games and the Ryder cup.
Last year’s high-level output specification set out more than £3 billion of capital investment for control period 5, which put us on the cusp of the most transformative rail programme ever in Scotland. We also have a £30 million stations fund, in which there is a huge amount of interest.
I want to make more progress, but I will see if I have time at the end to give way.
The £30 million fund will provide investment for new and improved stations. In addition to that, I will fund substantial enhancements to the line between Aberdeen and Inverness. There will be further work on the Highlands main line, which will reduce journey times and support more efficient freight operations. Those investments, along with road improvements including the A9 upgrade, will ensure better connections between our cities and beyond.
To ensure that our rail services meet the expectations of our communities, I have made available up to £200,000 over the three years to 2015 to establish community rail partnerships. On the west Highlands line, we are improving connections to the islands and boosting tourism. We have already provided additional Sunday services and, from May 2014, the number of trains between Oban and the central belt will double in the summer from three to six services each way.
In July last year, I announced our £650 million investment in the first phase of the Edinburgh to Glasgow improvement programme. Since then, EGIP has made significant progress, delivering new services on the Edinburgh to Glasgow via Carstairs line a year earlier than planned.
A £27 million redevelopment of Haymarket station is making excellent progress towards opening to passengers later this year. The electrification of the main Edinburgh-Glasgow line is scheduled for completion by December 2016. We will also fulfil our commitment to electrification of the Cumbernauld line in time for next year’s Commonwealth games.
I intend to publish our EGIP business case soon. That will set out the delivery of EGIP improvements for the next rail control period, starting with electrification of the Edinburgh to Glasgow route by December 2016. By December 2018, we will complete electrification of the Stirling-Alloa-Dunblane line, and we will have delivered a 42-minute fastest journey time between Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The redevelopment of Glasgow Queen Street station offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform one of Scotland’s most iconic stations, and will enable eight-car train operation to increase capacity on our busiest route. A potential future high-speed rail line will further increase capacity and offer speeds of 140mph and journey times of less than 30 minutes. The additional rail capacity will bring benefits for the rest of the rail network in the central belt and beyond.
I am impatient for change, so I am bringing forward £5 million for shovel-ready projects in stations. Those include car park expansions, cycling facilities and bus interchanges. Through that fund, and along with the future Scottish stations fund investment, bus connectivity to the Borders railway and the Stirling cycle hub, the Government will ensure better transport integration across our rail network in the next franchise period.
To summarise, we are in the midst of a transformation of Scotland’s railways. We have made substantial improvements to date with passenger numbers growth, increased passenger satisfaction and better performance. Our plans for investment in the network and our considered approach and plans for new franchises underline our commitment to rail. To that end, I ask the Parliament’s support for my motion.
That the Parliament notes record passenger numbers of 83.3 million on Scotland’s railways, high levels of passenger satisfaction and improved performance; recognises the benefits of a collaborative approach by the Scottish Government and industry in achieving value for money for passengers and the taxpayer; commends the Scottish Government’s action to make fares fairer by reducing anomalies; welcomes the measures to reduce pressures on hard-pressed household budgets while still investing to enhance services, improve stations and build new stations; acknowledges the measured approach taken by the Scottish Government to refranchising and welcomes franchise specifications that will better meet the needs of the people of Scotland, and acknowledges that, although further improvements will always be necessary, significant investment has been made by the Scottish Government in rail to support communities, improve connectivity, reduce car use and encourage sustainable economic growth.
This Government never really fails to disappoint on the height of the complacency and self-congratulation to which it aspires. There are really only two themes for Scottish Government debates: either “We are fantastic” or “The United Kingdom is rubbish”; it varies, but ministers just repeat one of those mantras.
I am not arguing that nothing has been achieved in the railways, because that is patently not true. However, the Labour amendment is intended to counteract the rather vainglorious tenor of the motion and to present a reminder of what the Government has not done with regard to projects that it has not fully delivered, has delivered more slowly than it promised or has not delivered at all. It is important that the amendment also serves as a reminder of the opportunity that was not taken, but was presented by the end of the current ScotRail franchise, to discuss more fully what we expect of our railways and to examine whether a different model of delivery could be developed that would recycle profits back into real service improvements rather than into shareholders’ pockets.
We agree that rail services in Scotland have improved, but that is because there has, since the Scottish Parliament was reinstated 14 years ago, been a welcome focus on rolling back the damaging effects of the Beeching cuts. That has been due to the attitude of successive Governments, supported by members of the Scottish Parliament.
May 2007 was not year zero and just because a project was completed during the reign of the Scottish National Party does not mean that its achievement is solely to its credit. For example, the re-opening of the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine line in 2008 was due largely to investment by Clackmannanshire Council and the Labour-Liberal Scottish Executive of 2003 to 2007, and the Airdrie to Bathgate line was also initiated by that Administration. The Airdrie-Bathgate Railway and Linked Improvements Bill was passed in 2007; and the Waverley Railway (Scotland) Bill was passed in 2006.
Some improvements have even taken place despite Transport Scotland and Scottish ministers. For example, the electrification of the Paisley canal line was achieved through an initiative by ScotRail and Network Rail, without Transport Scotland’s involvement. That was just as well, as Network Rail and ScotRail achieved the upgrade for £12 million, and Transport Scotland had estimated that it would cost £28 million.
Will Elaine Murray take the opportunity to congratulate the young engineer who came up with the idea for that project and whom I had the privilege of adjudging, in a competition, had produced the best project of the year, which shows that Scotland has the real engineering initiative to deliver real value in railways?
I am more than happy to congratulate that young engineer; I just do not particularly want to congratulate the Scottish Government.
Of course, there are the projects that have not happened. The Edinburgh airport rail link was scrapped shortly after the SNP took over Government in 2007, and the Glasgow airport rail link bit the dust in 2009. Glasgow crossrail, which would have brought benefits not only to Glasgow, but to rail links to the south-west, including to Dumfries—in my constituency—Ayr and Kilmarnock, was abandoned in 2007, despite having been assessed as presenting a good business case in 2006 and having been about to move to a parliamentary bill. Ironically, Network Rail intends to electrify that route, but only to enable empty electric stock to access the Shields Road maintenance depot. Does not that seem to be a missed opportunity to use investment to achieve additional benefits? Furthermore, Aberdeen crossrail was also abandoned in 2007.
Glasgow crossrail was actually in the infrastructure plan. In fact, it had gone as far as being moved to a parliamentary bill, so it was a little bit further on than being on a wish list at that point.
There are the projects that have been delayed or deferred. Thanks to a debate in Labour time last year, Parliament got the opportunity to discuss the changes to the Edinburgh to Glasgow improvement programme, which were trumpeted then and now as efficiency savings by the Scottish Government, but were in reality a scaling back of the project that was promised in the SNP manifesto of 2011. The parts of the Edinburgh to Glasgow improvement programme that were “deferred”, as ministers described it, included electrification of the Falkirk Grahamston loop; the Cumbernauld-Falkirk-Grangemouth line; the Stirling-Alloa-Dunblane line, which I believe is now coming forward; the Dalmeny curve, which would have linked the Edinburgh to Glasgow line directly with the Edinburgh to Fife line; and the grade-separated junctions at Greenhill and Polmont. In addition, of course, there was the earlier scrapping of the Garngad chord link in 2011.
The journey time between Edinburgh and Glasgow on the electrified route will be reduced by only six to eight minutes, rather than the promised 13 minutes. In addition, although Transport Scotland and Network Rail protest that there will be no delay in its delivery, others report key obstacles, including the need to close part of the route for three months to undertake work on a tunnel and the requirement to reach a deal with the owners of the Millennium hotel, part of which will need to be demolished to enable the platforms at Queen Street to be extended. Maybe I am being a bit cynical, but I am suspicious of the reasons why Transport Scotland’s website now contains scant information about the EGIP project or its progress, despite more than £70 million having been spent on it.
However, it is not just with EGIP that there are problems. The Perth to Inverness main line upgrading was originally promised for December 2011, but has now been deferred until 2025. The Aberdeen to Inverness line upgrading was scheduled for 2016, but has been deferred until 2030. The Borders railway, too, has been subject to delays, thanks to confusion over its funding mechanism. It is now projected to be up and running by September 2015—four years later than was the plan when it was approved by MSPs in 2006, following the scrapping of the tender process and the project being handed over to Network Rail for development.
The second part of our amendment highlights the opportunity that the ending of the current ScotRail franchise could have presented for a wider discussion of how our rail services could develop in the future, and for the exploration of how other models of delivery, such as not-for-profit or mutually owned companies, might be developed.
I will not just now; I want to develop my point.
“On the substantive point, the Railways Act 1993 prevents the Scottish Government from encouraging a public sector bid.”
He made the same point earlier today.
“specifically prohibits public sector bids, not not-for-profit bids.”—[Official Report, 23 May 2013; c 20222.]
The Welsh Government, however, is not so timid. It is currently considering the consultation responses to a report that was written by Professor Paul Salveson and was produced by the Co-operative Party, the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen, Co-operatives and Mutuals Wales and Co-operatives UK, in advance of the Wales and borders contract coming up for renewal in 2018. That document argues that franchising does not work well for railways, and instead proposes the establishment of a not-for-profit enterprise—rail Cymru—operating as an arm’s-length enterprise, with the Welsh Government as its principal funder.
Instead of hiding behind the Railways Act 1993, the then Welsh transport minister Carl Sargeant—now the Minister for Housing and Regeneration—was able to advise the Welsh Assembly during a debate on 28 November that he had
“already raised with the Department for Transport the issue of a fair level playing field for all franchisees, whether they be not-for-dividend or profit seeking.”
“There should be a fair opportunity for people to bid, because the upfront costs are sometimes prohibitive for organisations to create the right business case to move forward. I have already raised that with the Secretary of State for Transport.”—[Official Report, National Assembly for Wales, 28 November 2012; p 134.]
If the Welsh transport minister can raise that issue, why cannot the Scottish transport minister do the same?
I agree that that needs leadership. What I am saying is that that leadership is being shown in Wales. Indeed, the Labour Party at UK level is also considering a similar document.
The minister said that state-owned rail companies in other countries could bid for the Scottish franchise. If he feels bad about that, I am surprised that he is not prepared to pursue options to encourage the submission of a mutual and co-operative bid as an alternative to private sector bids from elsewhere.
I have said a number of times that I have approached the Secretary of State for Transport about changing the terms of the 1993 act to allow us to open up the bidding process. I have said that we will, of course, consider a not-for-profit bid—I said that to Kenneth Macintosh last week. The issue is simply that we could not encourage one bid over the other. I have also said why we are prevented from having a publicly funded railway bid. Can Elaine Murray say whether Ed Milliband agrees with her notion of a publicly owned railway in Scotland or the UK?
I am not saying that either the model that is being considered by the UK Labour Party or the model that is under consultation in Wales is necessarily correct, but what is disappointing is that the Scottish ministers seem to have no interest in having that wider debate. Instead, any time that anyone asks a question, as Kenneth Macintosh did last week, we get prevarication about the 1993 act, rather than a willingness to discuss matters in more detail. I suggest that, instead of patting themselves on the back about their achievements, Scottish ministers need to use more imagination to envisage what a successful future for Scotland’s railways might look like.
I move amendment S4M-06766.2, to leave out from “high levels” to end and insert:
“; believes that this is due to the importance attached to improving rail services by successive administrations since May 1999; is disappointed however that the first phase of the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme has been scaled back, that projects such as the Borders Railway have experienced significant delays and that others, including the Glasgow Airport Rail Link, have been cancelled altogether; notes that the level of public subsidy for Scotland’s railways in 2013-14 will be £511.5 million; further notes the publication of Rail Cymru - A People’s Railway for Wales and Rebuilding Rail in 2012, and believes that the renewal of the rail franchises in 2015 should be an opportunity for discussion of the future development of rail services in Scotland, including the option of a not-for-profit or mutual company running Scotland’s railways.”
The Government’s record on transport differs from that of the Government that preceded it. The previous Labour-Liberal Democrat Administration’s reluctance to invest in roads has been corrected, and the SNP Government has made the roads investments that many people thought were required. However, the importance of rail should never be underestimated, so we welcome the opportunity to talk about rail investment and services.
It was, nevertheless, with some disappointment that I read Keith Brown’s motion. In my view it is self-congratulatory and claims many successes that in fact belong to Scotland’s rail franchise holders. I pay tribute to the work that has been done by the various franchise holders in Scotland to achieve the significant improvements in the level of passenger satisfaction and performance that stand as a credit to the system.
I will not, at this stage.
The achievements demonstrate the benefits of the existing industry structure, and I am determined to ensure that we do not make any of the mistakes that are suggested in the Labour amendment, which would interfere with a process that will allow continued effective rail services in Scotland.
The ScotRail franchise is an example of how such success can be achieved. Through working in collaboration with the Government, new services and new stations have been developed, which genuinely demonstrates the effectiveness of the current system. The Government will, of course, point out the difficulties that have been associated with the west coast main line franchise, but any criticism of that will be put to bed when we eventually come to a conclusion on the Clyde and Hebrides ferries contract, on which the Government seems determined to drag its feet over the long term.
There are a number of key issues that it will be necessary to address during the debate. First, there is an issue surrounding the balance of the contributions of the fare payer and the taxpayer in provision of public rail services. We heard from the minister, in his opening remarks, about the efforts that are being made to keep fares down. I acknowledge that the minister has pursued that policy objective in a quite obvious fashion. Nevertheless, I am repeatedly contacted by people who are concerned about the figure of £511.5 million—it is cited in the Labour Party’s amendment—which is the cost to the public purse of maintaining rail services in Scotland. We must keep that balance in mind and remember that we cannot criticise the level of support at a time when the Government is increasing its support in order to keep fares down. We cannot criticise both sides without realising that there is a balance to be struck. Although I may, at times, argue about the nature of that balance, I am not prepared to condemn the level of support when it is obvious why the Government has chosen to increase it at this time.
Secondly, I turn to the efforts that have been made by Scotland’s rail operators to produce new services. There are a number of examples of how profits that have been made by the ScotRail franchise holder have been ploughed back into provision of new services. In fact, the franchise extension that took place during the current franchise is an example of how a deal can be done with the Government to take money from the profits of the company and invest it back in services. When that was addressed in Parliament at the time, we supported the action of the Government in pursuing that aim.
The third and final issue that I will address is the key issue in the Labour Party amendment, and which is covered to some extent by the Green Party amendment, that somehow we should find a way to take Scotland’s rail industry either partially or totally back into public ownership.
I believe that many of the improvements that are mentioned in the Government’s motion are genuine examples of how the current system can work. Of course there have been difficulties with the west coast main line and east coast main line franchises, but the quality of service that the franchisees provide is a credit only to those who provide it. At the end of the day, ensuring that the current system is properly administered will deliver rail services that will continue to improve, continue to provide higher levels of passenger satisfaction, offer improved performance and, if managed correctly, provide better value for money for the taxpayer and the fare payer alike.
Only if we persist with the current system will we be able to see those improvements take place. If we fall back on a system that is designed to run on a nationalised or not-for-profit basis, we will run the risk of making all the same mistakes that were made in previous decades.
I invite the Government to see sense and to ensure that it does not listen to the Labour Party and the Green Party during the course of today’s debate.
I move amendment S4M-06766.1, to leave out from “high levels” to end and insert:
“; congratulates First ScotRail and other franchise holders on their high levels of passenger satisfaction and improved performance; believes that this demonstrates the benefits of the existing industry structure; supports the collaborative approach by the Scottish Government and industry in achieving value for money but acknowledges the need for greater public understanding of the balance of contribution between the passenger and the taxpayer; recognises action taken by the Scottish Government to improve the fares structure; welcomes the efforts made by Scotland’s rail operators to introduce innovative new services; notes with interest the success of recently opened new stations on the network, but urges the Scottish Government to address public concern over some recent investment decisions, including the reduced scope of the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme.”
One thing on which I agree with Alex Johnstone is that there was a complete reversal of policy in 1999. The budget that the Liberal Democrat-Labour Government inherited was aimed entirely at roads rather than at rail, and we turned that around. I do not expect nationalist ministers ever to give that Government credit for anything, but that was the most dramatic change in transport policy that could possibly have happened. That change proved the point of devolution because it proved that Scotland could take a completely different route.
The Conservatives’ lead spokesman at the time was Murray Tosh, who I remember excoriated Sarah Boyack, who was the first transport minister in that Administration. I thought that Murray Tosh was just plain wrong about that. The shift in policy towards a more sustainable transport system was made by that Government, and those of us who were around at the time are very proud of that fact.
Keith Brown has taken on many of the good initiatives that he inherited. As Elaine Murray said, he has been able to take the credit for opening stations that were started under the previous Government. That is the nature of politics so there is no point in being churlish about that, but occasionally it would be nice if the current Government gave some credit—even a smidgen of credit—to those of us who were brave enough to stand up against the roads lobby and all the rest at the time who said that we were completely wrong to make that switch in policy.
On 19 December 2002, the Deputy Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning, Lewis Macdonald, said:
“Congestion remains the key challenge that faces us”.
He thus put roads, rather than rail, at the heart of the then Executive’s policy. Is that not indicative of a degree of schizophrenia?
That intervention absolutely gives the game away. I was trying to remember what the Scottish National Party position was on the big policy change that we made in the budgets. To be entirely fair, the Conservatives said that they did not support our position, but I now remember that the SNP’s then transport spokesperson Kenny MacAskill seemed to say that we were right while the SNP attacked us at a local level—as usual with the nationalists. Stewart Stevenson has just given the game away.
Since the nationalists want to talk about their record, let us look at that, but first let me pick up Keith Brown on what he said about ticketing. I applaud his efforts to simplify the system, and he is quite right to do that. However, he should not claim all the credit—perhaps the claims are made not by him but by the people around him—because, as a correspondent from Kincardineshire wrote in The Scotsman the other day,
“ending the practice of split ticketing ... benefits precisely 0.3 per cent of the travelling public and First ScotRail has ... a £2.28 million subsidy from the Scottish Government to cover downturn in revenue as a result of ending split-ticketing.”
In considering the minister’s sensible moves to try to end that process, we should recognise that it is not without its costs by comparison with the benefits that it brings.
In today’s transport world, the Government’s record on train journey times bears some scrutiny. We can have important debates on how we should procure the services and whether, instead of using franchises, we should look at the other models that Elaine Murray and Patrick Harvie have proposed—as they are quite entitled to do so—but I suspect that what matters most to the travelling public is journey times.
Through answers to parliamentary questions that I have lodged—not through anything that I have done—we find that the Government’s record, particularly in the north-east, is pretty lamentable. In the period from 2007 to 2013, in which the SNP has been in Government, average journey times for Glasgow to Edinburgh, Edinburgh to Glasgow, Edinburgh to Aberdeen, Aberdeen to Edinburgh and Inverness to Aberdeen have increased rather than fallen.
It is no wonder that people in the north east and the Highlands wonder why their Government has left them behind in all the rail investment. The north-east of Scotland is the economic powerhouse of the Scottish economy, as oil and gas is one of the few sectors—sadly—in Scotland and the United Kingdom that is moving ahead at a rate of knots. It should benefit from rail investment that is proportionate—at least to some extent—to what is happening elsewhere.
Cuts in journey times are needed to allow the people in that economy to make connections to the places that they need to go. However, the record—I am reading out the Government’s own statistics from its parliamentary answers—illustrates that the situation has got worse.
The transport minister has mentioned a cut of 17 minutes. I presume that he was referring to the services from Glasgow and Edinburgh to Inverness, because, in answer to a parliamentary question in December, he said:
“Journey times for some services operating between Glasgow/Edinburgh and Inverness will be reduced by up to 17 minutes”.—[Official Report, Written Answers, 4 December 2012; S4W-11393.]
I looked into that and lodged another question. It turns out that, of the 266 services over seven days between Glasgow and Edinburgh and Inverness, one service is 18 minutes faster and one service is 17 minutes faster. That is 0.8 per cent of the services. Although the Government is congratulating itself and patting itself on the back, those figures suggest that it has an awful lot more to do to help people who genuinely want to travel by rail to and from Aberdeen and the Highlands.
The Transform Scotland briefing neatly sums up the challenge that the Government still faces, not least in persuading those of us who believe strongly in a renaissance in rail. I applaud the minister’s language in the debate and his general approach to talking up a golden age of rail, but the figures that I mentioned strongly suggest that he has a long way to go.
Transform Scotland said just this week that
“railways north of the Central Belt remain uncompetitive with the roads—and are due to worsen”.
I fear that the Government has an awful lot more to do.
I move amendment S4M-06766.3, to leave out from the first “acknowledges” to end and insert
“notes Transform Scotland’s observations that ‘railways north of the central belt remain uncompetitive with the roads and are due to worsen’; recognises that some rail journey times between Glasgow/Edinburgh and Aberdeen have increased since 2007; further notes the failure of the Scottish Government to take forward the Aberdeen Crossrail project, which included the reopening of the Kintore station and recognises the ongoing overcrowding on services between Inverurie, Dyce and Aberdeen, and calls on the Scottish Government to focus on improving journey times and rail links to, and in, the north east.”
I welcome the debate, and I see positive things to celebrate about the state of our railways, which is why the Green and Independent amendment does not seek to delete the whole of the Government’s motion. However, we part company with the Government on the issue of franchising. Although there may be benefits to the collaborative approach with the industry that the Government’s motion sets out, we see the possibility of greater benefits from another approach.
There is a need for the travelling public to be much more fully involved in future decisions about franchising. Current train operating companies may be private-sector profit-seeking businesses, but Scotland’s railways are public services, and the public should be centrally involved in setting the priorities.
I want all the options to be open for Scotland in restoring a public service ethos to our rail business. We on the Green side of the chamber hope that Scotland will soon take on the powers to change UK legislation and open up new possibilities, which would include Labour’s option of a mutual or not-for-profit franchisee. Such a bid could be made at the moment, but realistically it will not materialise out of thin air. That option needs Government support, which would at present be inhibited. Private-sector bidders would be able to oppose such Government support for a not-for-profit operator, but we could in future remove that barrier.
We could go further and look again at the whole concept of franchising or at least permit publicly owned bodies to bid against other competitors. Against a public subsidy of just over £300 million in 2011-12, more than £20 million was taken out as profit in the ScotRail franchise. As Alex Johnstone said, the Scottish Government is then beholden to a haggling process to see whether any of that money can be put back into reinvestment. That is a substantial proportion of the public subsidy that we are paying.
The ideological obsession with privatisation reveals itself in relation to the east coast franchise. We have seen two private sector failures, and we have seen public sector rescue followed by broadly successful public sector management. Punctuality levels are up, and customer satisfaction on the line is at its highest ever level. More than £800 million has been returned to the taxpayer. The state-run east coast rail service requires less public subsidy than any of the 15 privately run rail franchises in Britain. That is according to the rail regulator. In April this year, it reported that the net subsidy for the east coast line was 1 per cent of its income compared with an average of 32 per cent.
As far as we understand, the UK Government has invited bids without reference to the Scottish Government or the interests of the travelling public in Scotland. That is a damning indictment of the ideological obsession with what should be a public service being run for private profit.
I very much welcome the briefing paper from Transform Scotland and I welcome the Liberal Democrat amendment, which refers to it. If we want rail to continue to grow not as part of a more-of-everything approach but to reduce car use—which the minister’s motion claims as a priority—there is a real need to ensure that rail services are not only reliable and affordable in absolute terms but competitive with road journeys on cost and journey time.
The Transform Scotland proposals are of direct relevance to that issue. For example, Transform Scotland’s proposals on the Highland main line cite the Edinburgh to Aberdeen comparison alongside the Edinburgh to Newcastle comparison. Those train journeys are of roughly the same distance—124 miles and 130 miles—and yet the one from Edinburgh to Aberdeen is 50 minutes slower than the one to Newcastle.
Transform Scotland said that it might have been a wee bit too conservative in the figures on the Perth to Inverness journey times in its briefing. The figures that it used, which are based on the AA’s figures, suggest that the leg from Perth to Inverness should take two hours and 33 minutes by car, but Transport Scotland’s figures suggest that the journey is typically 90 minutes to 110 minutes by car, which compares very poorly with the train service.
We need to prioritise the relatively modest investment that would be required to improve the Highland main line and make those services competitive for the future. Transform Scotland has also made proposals for the Edinburgh to Perth direct line. Reinstating that would not only give the chance for shorter intercity journeys within Scotland but free up capacity for improved local services in Fife.
Notwithstanding Tavish Scott’s assertions about the early days of devolution, for years we have seen a heavy emphasis on road investment. We need only to follow the money. Successive Scottish Administrations have prioritised road spending. The M74 was extended while Glasgow crossrail plans gathered dust on the shelf. The Aberdeen western peripheral route was pushed through on spurious cost projections while the Aberdeen crossrail suffers the same fate as its Glasgow comparator.
Current spending on the A9 and the additional Forth road bridge not only represent resources being diverted to road when they could have improved our rail infrastructure but could lead to a threat to the long-term competitiveness of rail services in the future.
I urge the Scottish Government to acknowledge not only what is good but what needs to be much better.
I move amendment S4M-06766.4, to leave out from first “acknowledges” to end and insert:
“recognises the constraints under which the ScotRail franchise must operate as a result of UK legislation, but considers that the Scottish Government could ensure greater transparency in its franchise decisions; believes that, when Scotland is able to remove the constraints of UK legislation, renationalisation of the railways or the use of a non-profit franchise holder would deliver better value for the public investment in Scotland’s railways; condemns the UK Government’s plans to reprivatise the profitable East Coast line, a decision that it understands was announced without reference to the Scottish Government; expresses concern that the Scottish Government’s road-building priorities risk making rail uncompetitive on price and journey times for routes north of the central belt, and believes that the public money currently committed to upgrading the A9 would be better spent on rail infrastructure, including the comparatively modest upgrades required to improve the Highland main line.”
We have heard a lot of politicians’ opinions about Scotland’s railways, so let us hear from one or two other people.
I happened to meet James Abbott, who is the editor of Modern Railways, at Waverley station on Tuesday this week—it was a fortuitous, not planned, meeting. He is up having a look at the improvements that are being made at Waverley and which have been made in Scotland’s railways.
About four years ago, Rail magazine published a beautifully drawn cartoon of a train in ScotRail livery with the logo “ScotRail England” because it thought that, if the rail services in England got a little bit of the respect, investment and treatment that they got in Scotland, that would do extremely well south of the border.
In a discussion of rail fares in this month’s issue of Rail magazine, the point is made to the rest of the UK rail network that Scotland is simplifying rail fares via a fair fares service. The magazine asks why passengers cannot have that south of the border. The objective commentators—who are quite distinct from us politicians—are very clear about the achievements that have been made in Scotland.
Elaine Murray said that it was a great achievement that the £28 million Paisley canal project was brought in for £12 million; I absolutely agree with her. However, our improvements to the costings for the EGIP project were miraculously transformed into a cut, whereas taking £16 million out of the Paisley canal project was not.
We can all choose our quotes. [Laughter.] When Iain Gray was transport minister, he promised us that nobody in Scotland—it was not a promise that applied to 95 per cent of people—would have to stand for more than 10 minutes anywhere on the ScotRail network. I do not think that that is either possible or practical, but it was one of the promises that the Labour Party made, on which I have yet to see the faintest glimmer of delivery.
Tavish Scott, quite reasonably, focused on journey times. I think that journey times are a good point to focus on, but we all recognise and share the understanding that there is a tension between how many stops are made on a journey and the journey time. That is why it is a little invidious to compare journey times between Edinburgh and Aberdeen and those between Edinburgh and Newcastle—the distances are similar, but the stopping patterns are very different.
When Tavish Scott talked about journey times to Aberdeen, he quoted averages. They might well be correct, but they conceal something very important. If we look at the median times, we find that there are more trains and that more of them stop in Fife but that most of the ones from Aberdeen to Edinburgh stop hardly at all in Fife. Therefore, the availability to people in Aberdeen of faster journeys to Edinburgh has increased substantially. Simultaneously, there are additional stops in Fife that increase access to rail.
I see that Mr Scott wishes to intervene.
I am grateful to Mr Stevenson for giving way. I take his point, but I was simply quoting the Government’s own figures on average journey times.
I also looked at the SNP’s manifesto from 2011, with which I am sure that the member is entirely familiar. It says:
“Our proposals will also mean faster and more-frequent connections between Inverness and Aberdeen, and between these cities and the central belt.”
That did not happen, as the figures that I used show.
I simply return to the point that Tavish Scott is correct about average times but that median times are a better way of looking at the issue, because we have introduced more fast journeys between Aberdeen and Edinburgh. That is the point. We only get the answer to the question that we ask; sometimes we have to modify the question to understand what is going on.
I turn to rail fares. One of the great benefits of old age—there are not very many of them—is having access to the senior railcard, which costs £30 a year and is an enormous bargain. That, coupled with offers from ScotRail, has meant that this week the cost of my return journey from Huntly to the south is a mere £17—provided that I travel off peak, of course. That is very good. There are many opportunities for people to get such bargains.
It is important that we look at the fare structure. For example, I have been advised that, when travelling from Keith to Inverness, one should buy a ticket to Muir of Ord, which is beyond Inverness, because it is cheaper to do so. That is the sort of anomaly that I hope we will continue to work on.
In relation to the railway line from Aberdeen to Inverness, it is worth looking at what has happened at Inverurie. A great proportion of the trains that previously stopped at Dyce now continue to Inverurie. We are paying the penalty for success. Patronage has been driven up at Inverurie. We now have the longest operational train anywhere on the ScotRail network—a seven-carriage train—running between Aberdeen and Inverness. That part of the network is important to my constituents and others.
I am sorry—I am out of time.
Finally, I congratulate the Scottish Government on the introduction of wi-fi, which I am finding highly useful. On my daily commute, I see dozens of people in each carriage using the wi-fi. I congratulate the minister and the Government on everything that they have done.
The point that I wanted to put to Stewart Stevenson was that I am glad to hear that he feels that the remaining anomalies on the railways should be sorted out. Perhaps we will get the chance later in the debate to hear whether he thinks that they should be sorted out during this franchise, or whether people will have to wait until the next franchise, as the Scottish Government has indicated.
Nearly two months ago, the Scottish Government answered Labour’s calls to end the Tay tax for Dundonians by pledging to lower the cost of 275,000 rail journeys into and out of the city. My campaign to end the Tay tax began in July 2011. For years, Dundonians were unfairly penalised at the train station, simply because they did not live in the central belt, inside the Government’s subsidised zone. On journeys to Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, it was cheaper for Dundonians to split their tickets across different legs of a journey and thus make a modest saving. At new year this year, a return fare from Dundee to Glasgow hit £50.50, making it cheaper for four people travelling from Dundee to Glasgow to take a taxi there and back.
Yes—I am aware of the myriad of fares across our system and of the fact that they are incomprehensible. The Government has made some moves to sort out the anomalies, but there are still many anomalies in existence, which I will come to.
It is now exactly two weeks since lower fares kicked in, and I am pleased to say that many Dundonians are benefiting. Not all of them are, however. Some are still being hit with the Tay tax—the one that we wanted to abolish. Will the Government finish the job that it started at Easter and commit to ending all rail fare anomalies for Dundee within the current franchise?
It is still cheaper to buy a return ticket from Dundee to Leuchars, at £7.80, and a return ticket from Leuchars to Edinburgh, at £23.20, than it is to buy a direct return from Dundee to Edinburgh, at £31.40. It is 40p more expensive to travel with a direct ticket. That is not much, members might say, but it makes no sense at all—and this is my point. The cost per mile between Dundee and Leuchars over the Tay bridge is far higher than for the journey between Leuchars and Edinburgh. Why is that, when Alex Salmond said that he would sort out the Tay tax?
For someone travelling from Edinburgh to Dundee, the last 14 minutes of their journey home, across the beautiful Tay, puts their fare up by 35 per cent. It is a beautiful view, as I am sure the Minister for Transport and Veterans will agree, but people still have to pay through the nose for it, even after the intervention at Easter. Furthermore, I am told that it is cheaper to travel from Leuchars to Edinburgh in first class than it is to travel the longer journey from Dundee to the capital city in standard class.
I share the member’s frustration. Does she recognise that that situation also applies in many other parts of the country? I say that with a little irritation, having recently been stung for £12 for the convenience of a single ticket between my home and the centre of Glasgow, on my way to Perth.
I agree with the member that there are anomalies across the country, but he will forgive me for coming back to my pet topic and talking about the situation facing my home city.
As I have said, I welcome the alterations to fares that Alex Salmond made at Easter. I am glad that he listened to our campaign and made commuters’ lives a bit easier. However, I am asking the transport minister to consider this issue again today.
Dundee to Edinburgh is a well-used commuting route. The rail subsidies are designed to encourage business and investment; that is what the subsidised zone is for. Many people travel from Dundee to Edinburgh for business and work purposes. When the new Malmaison opens on our waterfront this autumn, we will want to make it attractive to visitors and potential investors in our city from Edinburgh as well as from Glasgow.
We cannot wait until the next franchise period to tee up investment opportunities for our important waterfront project. I am asking the transport minister this today: he has sorted the Clyde tax and the Don tax; will he now be true to his pledge and abolish the iniquitous Tay tax for my city, once and for all?
It seems fair on such occasions that we should both comment on the current situation and express hopes for the future. I would like to do both.
We have had two useful receptions at Holyrood recently, one with the Office of Rail Regulation and, on Tuesday, one with Virgin. I thank both for the opportunity to have extremely interesting discussions with a number of experts. At the Virgin reception, there was a reminder that there was a suggestion not that long ago that the only railways in Scotland would be between Glasgow and Edinburgh and between each city and London. When we think about what might have happened, we can be extremely positive about where we are now and about the fact that, for example, ScotRail had 83.2 million passengers in 2012-13.
It is not only that there have not been the closures that were suggested at one stage; there have been some real steps forward. Members will not be surprised that I want to mention the Airdrie to Bathgate railway line, which is obviously my favourite railway line. Based on the points that were made earlier, I accept that the legislation was passed under a previous Administration and I understand that the final funding decision was made under the current Government—there was a combination of the two. That rail link has meant that the east end of Glasgow and, further west, Milngavie and Helensburgh have direct routes through to the capital.
Dalmarnock station is even more local for my constituency. That station is to be the main one for the Commonwealth games. It was very run down and poorly used, but it has had an £11 million refurbishment, I think, and has recently reopened, although the building is not quite finished. If I picked up correctly what the minister said, the electrification of the Whifflet line is being sped up, which is tremendous. Three stations in my constituency—at Carmyle, Mount Vernon and Baillieston—are included.
On a wider scale, perhaps one of the best improvements on the railways over recent years has been the availability of much better information to passengers—I do not like the word “customers”. Even at a relatively small station, such as mine at Garrowhill, there are now screens on both platforms that show the next three trains, estimated times of arrival and major announcements on storm damage or flooding, for example. On top of that, there are announcements over the public address systems. The situation is much better than it used to be. The announcements on the trains vary a bit, and some drivers volunteer much more information than others do, but there is no question but that there has been an improvement over recent years.
It is clear that a lot of this debate will be about future projects—things that we would like to happen. We can split those into three categories: projects that are beginning to happen now, such as EGIP and the Borders line projects; the high priorities for the future; and the wish list. We all have a wish list of pet projects that we would like to happen if we had pots of money.
On the projects that are beginning to happen, I recently drove down to Galashiels to take part in a meeting with Murdo Fraser. I confess that that was the first time that I had been down that way for a while. I was hugely impressed when I was driving down the road. It seemed that every few hundred metres, there was a sign about the work on the railway that was going on and the access to the work sites. It is clear to me that a dramatic amount of work is going on there.
I will mention a few improvements that I would like to see. I would certainly welcome the electrification of the lines into the Queen Street high-level station. I think that the Jacobs report on the issue came out around the same time as we previously debated the railways, so we did not really have time to look at it properly. I also welcome the idea of having longer platforms at Queen Street that would allow four eight-car trains per hour rather than six six-car trains, which was originally suggested and which would have meant much more complex signalling. As one of my colleagues said, if the same result can be produced for less money, that is surely a success. If the minister could give us an update on the timescales for the work at Queen Street, I would be interested in that.
The idea of more through trains has been a theme. For a number of years, more through trains have been seen as a good thing to take pressure off city-centre termini. The route from Helensburgh to Edinburgh via the Queen Street low-level station has already been mentioned. The Argyle line was previously reopened, of course, and that gave routes from Lanarkshire to Dunbartonshire via Glasgow Central low-level station.
The next obvious through route would be from Ayrshire and Renfrewshire—which, for Mr Adam’s information, includes Paisley—via crossrail to Edinburgh, using an existing line. For those who are not familiar with that line, it used to serve St Enoch station in Glasgow. Those lines are currently in use and available but they are not electrified. For relatively little cost, the necessary 1.8 miles could be electrified. I accept that it would be more expensive in the longer term to put in a station at Glasgow Cross, but doing that would also have a tremendous economic impact on the east end of Glasgow.
I have a few other pet projects, such as a station at Parkhead on the Airdrie to Bathgate line. I want also to mention ticketing, which has been referred to already. The letter that Tavish Scott read out from The Scotsman went on to talk about triangular journeys, which is a particular interest of mine. Sometimes I go from Glasgow to Perth to Edinburgh and then back to Glasgow in the one day and there seems to be no way of coping with that within the ticketing system. Similarly, many members travel to Edinburgh three times a week but we cannot get vouchers and have to pay cash every day on the train. More widely, people say to me that the bus is cheaper than the train, and we need to consider that.
In conclusion, I am very enthusiastic about rail. Of course we all have our wish lists of what we want to see, but we have to accept that there have been huge improvements in recent years.
I will focus on rail developments in South Scotland and I hope to draw some Scotland-wide conclusions. The developing success story of Carstairs station is testament to the tenacity of the Clydesdale rail action group and many others who fought for the station for many years. Now there are trains every two hours throughout the day, and the station is being used again to such an extent that a car park feasibility study is being undertaken. There are, of course, other successes that have gone beyond expectations, such as new ventures, new stations and lines that have been opened.
However, at a recent Office of Rail Regulation presentation, I was concerned to identify a gap or a lack of balance in priorities from the Scottish Government in relation to people connectivity. Under the heading of “Journey Times” the ORR stressed that
“Scottish Ministers have made it clear to us that fast and efficient rail services across Scotland, between Scotland and the rest of the UK and beyond are vital to opening up new markets and business opportunities, driving up competitiveness and increasing access to employment and education.”
Thus, the ORR states:
“we will be asking Network Rail to develop a process to identify opportunities for journey time improvement”.
Speed is, of course, necessary, not least because rail has to compete with road, as highlighted by Transform Scotland.
However, the ORR presentation failed to mention another ministerial priority, which has been highlighted today and which is in the Scottish ministers’ high-level output specification. One of the commitments is to delivering rail services
“which support our businesses and communities by connecting towns, cities and rural areas”,
and I emphasise the phrase “rural areas”. Fast journey times are good only for those who are already on the train. How can the potential conflict between those two ministerial priorities be evaluated if one of them is not highlighted in the periodic review for control period 5? Will the minister reassure members about my concern in his closing remarks?
One way to reconcile those two priorities is to look at our commitment to the new high-speed line between Edinburgh and Glasgow. When that is established, the other four lines will be more accessible to the opening of other stations. If journey time is important to people, they can use the fastest line, but others can use the other links. That is how journey time improvements and more accessibility can work together.
The work of the Co-operative Party, SERA—Labour’s environment campaign and the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen in Wales for a people’s railway for Wales—I commend the document “Rail Cymru: A People’s Railway for Wales” to everyone in the chamber—is really significant. Although I have listened to the arguments and concerns about the new franchising process, I hope that the minister will press forward with that approach as a consideration.
The approach could lead to what is described in the document as
“a new kind of railway company, whose main commitment would be to the people ... not to a group of shareholders. Its values would reflect this wider social mission and it would aim to set new standards of outstanding customer service and community benefit. To succeed in being regarded as an outstanding social enterprise, full involvement of its employees would be essential ... Close and positive relationships with local authorities and their regional consortia are equally essential.”
The document goes on to say that rail Cymru
“would also build on the outstanding work of the Welsh community rail partnerships”—
I understand that the minister is interested in such partnerships for Scotland—
“and station friends groups to ensure that Rail Cymru would be strongly focussed on working with the local communities it serves.”
I commend the document to members. It is very interesting indeed.
A debate that is entitled “Transforming Scotland’s Railways” would not be complete without a reference to the long-awaited Borders rail project. I am pleased that Network Rail has arranged a number of community drop-in sessions, so that it can hear local people’s views. That is the way forward. Tomorrow, the Scottish Borders tourism partnership will host a conference at the Tweed horizons centre, to explore tourism opportunities from the Borders railway.
I acknowledge the minister’s sensible adjustment to the Borders rail spec in relation to charter trains, and I hope that he will look again at Saturday trains, which are a big concern. The Campaign for Borders Rail has asked me to raise the issue of the line going to Hawick and perhaps, in the distant future, to Carlisle.
A regeneration issue that is intimately connected with rail relates to Stranraer station. There are concerns about busing people from Cairnryan to Glasgow, and the station’s dilapidated state is a worry. The local community rail partnership is keen to meet the minister, and I hope that he will respond to requests to meet the partnership and the Stranraer to Ayr Line Support Association.
On a more general point, will the minister say whether more provision will be made for taking bikes on trains?
On behalf of my colleague Dr Simpson, I ask about the health impact of night freight trains in the minister’s constituency. I know that the minister is looking into the issue, but surely he can ask the chief medical officer at least to study the effect on households and consider mitigation measures.
In the context of climate change, I praise ScotRail’s encouraging steps to reduce our impact on the environment. However, there is much more to do if we are to enable people to get on the train and off the roads whenever possible.
I will take on board the Presiding Officer’s remarks at the start of the debate and do my best to stay on time—and, of course, on track—[Interruption.] Oh dear. It gets worse.
My constituents have much to be pleased about, given the proposed improvements for north-east Scotland. We are delighted to have confirmation that Kintore station will at last reopen, which will happen by 2019.
I am pleased that the Government has finally listened to our campaign and agreed to reopen Kintore railway station. Does Mr Robertson agree that it would be much more ambitious to reopen the station sooner and that a wait until 2019 is far too long?
I am glad that Alison McInnes believes that her campaign alone was the reason for the decision to reopen the station—I think not. There is cause for celebration about the decision to reopen the station, but much work needs to be done to ensure that it provides the best link, not just between Aberdeen and Kintore but between Aberdeen and Inverness. I am sure that she is aware of that.
Also in my constituency, we look forward to Insch station having step-free accessibility and additional car parking. I understand that the discussions between Network Rail and the landowner are going well; we look forward to their conclusion and an improved service for constituents in Insch.
The improvements at Kintore and Insch will enable far more car drivers to leave their cars at their local station when they travel to the city and beyond. As a non-car driver—which I am sure is a great relief to many here—I take the train from my home station of Stonehaven to Edinburgh on a weekly basis. On those journeys I am becoming more aware of the increasing number of passengers using their laptops on the train, just as I do. The inclusion of the wi-fi service is certainly making my job much easier, given the connectivity. However, we must acknowledge that there are black spots on the line, although that is no fault of First ScotRail or the Government.
I hear and accept the cry for better train journey times. However, we have to take cognisance of the fact that not everyone lives in the major cities. Some people rely on trains stopping at intermediate stations. I said that I use the station in my home town of Stonehaven. I certainly appreciate the fact that, with the new timetabling, more trains are stopping there. However, in looking beyond the peripheries of our cities, we sometimes need to be a bit more imaginative if we want more car drivers to leave their cars at home and take the last few miles, or even 20 miles, into the city centre by train. I urge First ScotRail to look at its timetabling to see whether more trains can stop at the likes of Stonehaven and, indeed, Inverurie.
Perhaps we could be more imaginative when it comes to the franchise. Perhaps the minister could discuss with First ScotRail or any other provider the possibility of having a shuttle service—I am not talking about the express train between Aberdeen and Edinburgh or Glasgow—for commuters going from Stonehaven to Inverurie. That would provide a fantastic opportunity for more people to leave their cars at their home station and would provide better connectivity for passengers in those areas.
The journey from Stonehaven to Edinburgh is just over two hours. It is not a long journey, but it is much more comfortable when I take the East Coast train or the CrossCountry train. First ScotRail needs to look at the comfort of its passengers, which I know could be looked at in the franchise for 2015. As we are trying to encourage people on to rail services, it is important not just to cut journey times but to improve comfort on the journeys.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on Scotland’s railways and to underline the importance of our rail infrastructure to our economy, communities and potential as a nation.
Scotland’s rail network is a tremendous asset that we can get much more out of than we do. The most underdeveloped part of the rail network, at least outside major cities, is our local train stations. I acknowledge the station improvements that have been achieved through the Scottish Government, Network Rail, SPT, First ScotRail and others. I can think of plenty of examples from my region of new car parking, new shelters, new signage and new toilet facilities, but we are still not realising the full potential of our train stations.
I know that the minister is aware of the adopt-a-station programme and the difference that it has made to communities the length and breadth of Scotland. Through the scheme, volunteers or start-ups commit to sprucing up their local train station, often with flowers or artwork, but also with more ambitious landscaping and outdoor projects. There are more examples of communities successfully adopting stations than I could possibly name this afternoon, but I will draw particular attention to South Lanarkshire College, Crosshouse primary school in East Kilbride, Hamilton grammar and the staff and patients of NHS Lanarkshire’s Beckford lodge. Although the efforts of volunteers are welcome, our rail stations have a strategic importance that could be developed further.
By growing the tourism trade, promoting active travel and regenerating town centres, good stations can support Government priorities at local and national levels. Every train station is a gateway to a community and a crucial transport link—not just part of the rail network but part of a bus route, local road or cycle trail. We should use our stations and rail services to sell Scotland and destinations in Scotland to businesses, tourists and our own people.
I stress the benefits to the economy of sustained capital investment in infrastructure. In my area, improvements to the greater Glasgow suburban network would not only reduce journey times but create opportunities for people to work and to train, all of which helps to support growth.
We have waited for some time for the electrification of the East Kilbride line. I am concerned that the knock-on effect of last year’s cuts to EGIP is that we will wait even longer. Scotland’s towns need reliable connections to Scotland’s cities, which is why I emphasise to members the importance of upgrading the rail network in such areas.
I will focus on the needs and the experiences of passengers, which Passenger Focus, Transport Scotland and others set out in evidence to the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee over several months. Passenger Focus’s report “Designing the Future—Rolling Stock Design” looked at the design of rail carriages and found that Scottish passengers’ requirements include safety, ease of access, comfort, luggage space and general cleanliness. Peak-time travellers emphasised their concerns about overcrowding and the capacity of our trains to cope during busy periods.
Looking beyond rolling stock and design issues, I am sure that we all understand the importance of accessibility, multimodal transport links, reduced journey times and good wi-fi coverage. I hope that all those who bid for the ScotRail franchise will understand the breadth of the passenger’s experience. It is not just about getting on or off a train; it is about booking tickets, planning a journey and spending time in a station. Increasingly, it is about comparing trains with cars.
I do not doubt that good work is happening on our railways—I have seen plenty of examples of it—but we have to raise our game to ensure that our entire rail network improves and will one day rank among the best in the world.
Regardless of who deserves the credit, rail is a success story in Scotland, as the minister said. The passenger numbers on ScotRail, which manages 95 per cent of train services in Scotland—more than 750,000 journeys—continue to rise, with a 33 per cent increase in nine years. In 2013, journeys were up 2.6 per cent on 2012. Whether it be to get to work or education or for leisure purposes, more and more Scots are, as the old slogan said, letting the train take the strain.
Just as the number of services being provided is rising, so are passenger satisfaction levels high. We must build on that. I will look to the future. I welcome the Government’s commitment, through phase 1 of the high-level output specification, to deliver extra commuter services through a programme that runs until 2019.
From a perhaps more parochial perspective, I welcome even more warmly proposals that are being looked at for control period 5, which is 2014 to 2019, and control period 6, which is 2019 to 2024, which would have a direct impact on my constituency. I understand that a number of track and signalling works are being considered for control period 5 that would improve capacity between Aberdeen and the central belt. I look forward to the outcome of the feasibility study into that, which I believe is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
In control period 6, and the Aberdeen to central belt rail enhancement scheme, we have the prospect of further enhanced signalling and, more significantly, doubling the track section at Usan. That move would have a significant price tag, but rail experts tell us that it could greatly enhance rail provision down the east coast and, of course, through Angus.
There has already been welcome investment in rail provision through my constituency. With more to come over the next decade, we are very much on the right track to get more and more Angus residents out of their cars and on to trains. However, we will fully realise the potential of that only with a change in emphasis, which I will come to in a moment.
The recently delivered additional weekend services that are benefiting Arbroath and Carnoustie are good news for commuters, as is the fact that Carnoustie now has facilities from which prepaid tickets can be collected. That affords locals the opportunity to make advance, money-saving purchases. I will return to that later.
In the past few months, Carnoustie has installed new platform seating. Although the station is in good nick, despite the ravages that sea air can inflict on metalwork, it is in line for the provision of signage, paint works and rebranding later this year.
I further welcome the fact that wi-fi will shortly be available on many of the trains serving the Angus route, although, as the minister knows, I have raised with him the issue of Carnoustie being omitted from the first tranche of in-station wi-fi provision. None of the Angus stations may tick the boxes for footfall and time spent in the location, which were criteria for the initial deployment of the provision, but Carnoustie is hosting a Commonwealth games event, which was another criterion.
Achieving a transformational change is not just about infrastructure and service delivery. We as service users also have to change how we approach utilising and accessing our railways if we are to derive the full benefit from them. For example, it is surprising that in this day and age, 75 per cent of ScotRail’s custom remains walk up. We buy our food and our white goods and we book our holidays to far-flung places online yet, when it comes to purchasing a ticket for a train, we still wander up to the station and pay top dollar. If we go online, there are not just savings to be made; we can also reserve a seat on many services with a click of a mouse, which ensures that there is no need to make the journey standing up.
On seat reservations, does the member accept that one of the confusing things for passengers, especially on First ScotRail trains, is that they are not terribly sure which carriage they are going to? Better signage on carriages would enable passengers who have reserved their seats to go to the right carriage.
That is a valid point. The savings can be significant. I know from experience that booking online can save up to 13 per cent on the cost of a standard return from Angus to Parliament. A recent journey to and from Parliament that involved a detour via Glasgow—interestingly, for a meeting with a rail service provider—cost 25 per cent less than I would have paid on the day. Unlike Stewart Stevenson, I do not possess a senior citizen railcard.
According to ScotRail, by booking a specified Aberdeen to Edinburgh train—on or off-peak—in advance, people can save up to £36.90 on the walk-up-and-go fare. Of course, not everyone has access to the internet, but most do, so why would we not act in a way that is beneficial to the pocket and helps rail providers to better gauge just how many carriages might be required on particularly popular services?
More important, we need to strike a balance in what we demand of our rail services. We are all guilty of casting our eyes down the timetable to see just how long it will take us to get from our starting point to our intended destination. As we as a society strive to behave in an increasingly environmentally responsible manner, what is rail transportation meant to deliver? Is it only to get us from point A to point B as quickly as possible, or is it to get as many people on board as possible and so reduce the use of private vehicles? If it is the latter, fitting in as many stops as possible along the route or linking in more services—without creating havoc with the timetable—must surely be an increasingly important consideration.
I accept that there is a balance to be struck. However, outwith the central belt, we will get more people on the trains only if the trains stop locally or if the connections are in place to take passengers into central points for city-to-city transfers. To be fair, that seems to be the direction of travel that we are on.
People who live in Arbroath or Carnoustie in my constituency have good access to rail services. However, just two trains a day stop in Monifieth—and only on weekdays. I hope that the positive dialogue that I have been involved in with ScotRail will lead, before long, to an improvement in that situation, and I commend all those who are engaged in the process for the solution-seeking approach that has been adopted. However, the Monifieth case highlights the need to transform our thinking about rail—to tolerate sometimes slightly extended journey times because there is more traffic on the rails, linking in small towns, or because more stops are being made to ensure that more of our fellow citizens can get on the train and in so doing reduce Scotland’s carbon footprint.
The debate has been interesting although, rather like Elaine Murray, I regret the rather self-congratulatory tone of the Government motion, because the reality for many people in Scotland is somewhat different. I am sure that the transport minister has seen the popular film franchise, “Back to the Future”. That is exactly what some passengers experience on Scotland’s railways today. If I was travelling between Perth and Edinburgh in 1913, I would arrive sooner than a passenger who was making that same journey today. If I was standing on the platform at Edinburgh Waverley in 1895 to get a train to Dundee, I would arrive in Dundee at least 5 minutes quicker than I would if I made that same journey this afternoon.
This is 21st century Scotland and we need 21st century rail links. There is a good case to be made for high-speed rail, but it would be a start to have rail travel that matched the standards of the Victorians. The Scottish Government should bridge the gap between the standard of rail links that are offered in the central belt, which can be very good, and the rail links that serve much of the rest of Scotland.
If the country is open for business, efficient rail services are critical in ensuring that we make the most of our economic opportunities. For example, Aberdeen is emerging as the employment capital of Britain, with two jobs to every jobseeker but, as we have heard, travel between Edinburgh and Aberdeen takes 50 minutes longer than the journey between Edinburgh and Newcastle, which is 6 miles longer in distance.
No, because we have had a long discussion on that point. I want to develop other issues.
Increasing the connectivity between our major cities will encourage businesses to relocate from the central belt into the more peripheral areas—Perth, Aberdeen, Dundee and Inverness. I therefore make no apology for concentrating my remarks on the Perth to Edinburgh rail service.
I find myself in the unusual position of agreeing with much of what Patrick Harvie said. However, I do not agree with him on the nationalisation of the railways. I am old enough to remember British Rail; I am even old enough to remember the British Rail sandwich. I have had a few of those in my time and I do not think that we should go back to those days. Those who travel on the railways have seen dramatic improvements in the intervening period.
I agree with Patrick Harvie that better connectivity is needed between our cities and that applies to Perth, too—Scotland’s newest city. Whether it is through digital infrastructure or speedier rail links, we should make Perth a better place in which to do business. As the gateway to the Highlands, Perth is perfectly situated to take full advantage of a variety of economic opportunities but, as I have said, railway journeys between Perth and Edinburgh are slower today than they were before the first world war. By no stretch of the imagination can that be called progress.
I agree entirely. I thank Mr Crawford for that helpful introduction, because I am about to come to my solution to that very problem.
A direct rail link between Perth and Inverkeithing was mooted in the 2008 strategic transport projects review. However, significant financial and engineering hurdles were in the way of that. As Patrick Harvie said, an amended plan put forward by Transform Scotland for an intercity express to link Perth to Halbeath would have the potential to reduce journey times to Edinburgh by 35 minutes, and it would be less costly than the originally proposed plan because it would avoid the need for expensive tunnelling between Halbeath and Inverkeithing. That would have a knock-on reduction in journey times to Inverness and the north. Indeed, trains up the east coast to Aberdeen could be rerouted via Perth rather than taking the journey through Fife, with a consequent time saving.
Clearly, there would be a capital cost to that plan but, as with any large-scale infrastructure project, economies of scale could reduce the costs. Utilising the expertise used to construct the new Borders railway, to which John Mason referred, could also decrease costs substantially. I would like to see that project being considered for the Scottish Government’s third national performance framework.
I do not suggest that we should start doing that work tomorrow, or even next year—such forward plans are for the long term. However, in planning Scotland’s infrastructure for 10 or 20 years’ time, we should be looking at and seriously costing that project to see whether it is viable, given its advantages.
I turn my attention further north. I am not surprised that the Greens oppose dualling the A9 in their amendment, but I am disappointed that we have Highland MSPs who appear to be doing that. I do not think that dualling the A9 or improving the Highland main line rail service is an either/or question.
Back in 2008, the First Minister stood up at the SNP conference in Inverness and committed his Government to improving by 2012 the journey time between Inverness and Edinburgh by 35 minutes. That has not happened. It is 2013 and the line is still single track, it is still not electrified and the journey still takes longer than he promised. When will the SNP honour the pledges that it made to the people of the Highlands and improve the Highland main line service? Scotland deserves a first-class rail network, not the second-class ticket that is offered by the SNP.
The aim of any railway industry must be to place the railway at the centre of a transport system that helps to drive economic growth. That is easy to say, but the challenges of providing the capacity to drive that economic growth while at the same time improving safety, reducing carbon emissions, delivering better value for money for the passenger and cutting the level of public subsidy in a very complex industry should not be underestimated. The challenge means all those involved in the rail industry in Scotland—the Government, Transport Scotland, Network Rail and contractors—exploring new ways in which to deliver greater efficiencies and generate more revenue.
That challenge is exemplified by the fact that Scottish towns and cities have changed significantly since the regrettable public transport policies of Richard Beeching in the 1960s, and that how people use public transport and the distances that they travel and what they expect from their journey are also very different. Rail passenger numbers, as members have noted, are at record levels on a network that is half the size that it was pre-Beeching. That is to be celebrated, but I think that it is true to say that overcrowded trains, peak-time congestion and little spare capacity on the network are evidence that the railway system is perhaps a victim of its own success.
That is why I am delighted that the Government is committed to the Edinburgh to Glasgow improvement programme, and I will tell members why. The programme represents one of the most significant investments ever made in Scotland’s rail infrastructure and its aim is to address the capacity issue that I mentioned. Wholesale electrification, extending right across central Scotland, is the key to unlocking additional capacity, reducing congestion and ensuring longer trains with more seats for passengers.
Some of us live in the Holyrood bubble and some us live in the real world of what is actually going on in the economy, with the impact of the reduction in public services brought about by the UK Government. I wish that the Tories would reflect on that in some of their comments. Programmes inevitably have to be adjusted to take the real world into consideration, but significant work is going on in the EGIP programme; I will come on to that. We sit here in the Holyrood bubble, but real things are happening out there on EGIP.
Getting the central belt work right will provide the solid foundation for improvements to the line to Perth, Inverness, Fife and the north-east. Stirling, which is in my constituency, will also benefit, with the prospect of faster journey times to both Edinburgh and Glasgow and more reliable and resilient train services on quieter, greener trains.
Unfortunately, projects on that scale do not come without some disruption. I will give an example of that from the Stirling area. Faced with the significant constraints of a Victorian infrastructure, Network Rail has embarked, as part of EGIP, on a programme of clearance works to ensure that bridges are high enough above the rails to run electric cables. All that is to help facilitate the electrification of the line through Stirling and on to Dunblane and Alloa.
In 2012, Network Rail invested £26 million, as part of EGIP, in clearing bridges to prepare for electrification, including upgrading the Carseview bridge near Cowie, which cost £2.3 million and involved the original 1848 structure being replaced by a modern structure, through partnership working with Stirling Council. That work delivered improved approaches and a safer road alignment at the same time. Preparing for and delivering electrification between Larbert and Dunblane will represent an investment of almost £90 million. A further £15 million will be invested in modernising track works and signalling in and around Stirling station.
That volume of activity during the construction phase will bring immediate benefits to the city of Stirling through providing contractors with food and accommodation, and providing opportunities for local businesses to sell their services. At a time when we need investment, those programmes of work and infrastructure improvements will be of significant importance and will provide a welcome economic boost for the area. The work that will start soon in Stirling will see the replacement of the Seaforth Place bridge, the main access point to Riverside and Forthside. That will be a huge undertaking that will involve closing a road and bridge from June this year to February 2014. It is not as if nothing is happening on EGIP, because real work in a real part of Scotland is going on right now to deliver those changes.
Obviously, the work will create unfortunate disruption for the people who live in Riverside in going about their daily business. However, I have been impressed by the work that has been done not only by Network Rail but by Stirling Council to seek to minimise disruption for all and to provide additional assistance for those who need it during the bridge closure. I am aware that Network Rail has provided detailed information to the communities and businesses affected.
In my experience of all levels, from Government down through Network Rail to community councils and local businesses, both the vision and the delivery plans have been well laid out. That has led to a general acceptance that while there is disruption in the short term, the long-term benefits are there to be achieved by the local people and Scotland as a whole. EGIP is already progressing on the ground for real in Scotland, and that is how to do business in modern Scotland. I support the Government’s motion.
Since 2004—I give credit to previous Administrations—there have been many improvements to Scotland’s rail network. It is, therefore, no surprise that those improvements have led to a significant increase—of about 30 per cent—in the number of passengers who use Scotland’s railways.
In my constituency, a good number of improvements have already been delivered. In December 2012, the new timetable was launched, which added two extra services a day between Inverness and the central belt, which is to be welcomed. The Beauly station is now a mandatory stop and has gained a couple of stops—one in each direction—between Monday and Saturday.
Earlier this year, I was delighted to be present at the reopening of the Conon Bridge station, which is an excellent improvement to the transport links with Inverness, the west and Kyle, as well as Nigg and Caithness. The size of the platform there is indicative of a refreshing approach. It is possibly the smallest platform in Scotland, at around 7m—
I bow to Stewart Stevenson’s superior knowledge, but it is very small indeed. In the past, we would have put in great, lengthy platforms at any new station, so we are making progress in terms of how people think and innovate when it comes to improving railways. If we can think a wee bit out of the box, improvements do not always have to cost a fortune. The reopening of that station has helped to alleviate the congestion resulting from the maintenance work that is taking place on the Kessock bridge.
We have made progress in eliminating open level crossings on public roads. Following a campaign that was started by me just over five years ago, Network Rail has started putting barriers on all 23 of Scotland’s open level crossings. Barriers have been installed at the crossing in Ardrossan—that was the pilot project—and at the one in Corpach, and the project is being rolled out across the others, which are mainly in the Highlands. Further, Network Rail will do the same thing to more than 100 open level crossings in England and Wales. I am extremely pleased about that.
Other improvements that are in the pipeline have been spoken about already today. Phase 2 of the Highland main line improvement will increase capacity on the line and decrease journey times in due course between the Highlands and the central belt, with a target of reducing the shortest journey time to 2 hours and 45 minutes.
It has been announced recently that 25 stations around Scotland, including Inverness and Fort William, will have free wi-fi. I am pleased about that. Wi-fi is also being rolled out to all class 170 trains, which run between Inverness and other Scottish cities, and to the class 380 trains. Soon, a third of Scotland’s rolling stock will have free wi-fi.
The planned and delivered improvements are welcome and will significantly improve transport links between the Highlands and the central belt. I was encouraged by what today’s motion says about the use of franchise specifications to better meet the needs of the people of Scotland. I am sure that that will be the case. However, I want to mention a couple of points that I think are important.
As I am sure will be the case, the specifications must improve the rolling stock. As has been said, many of the journeys to the north can take three or four hours, so it is important that we have rolling stock that is equipped with adequate luggage and cycle storage, and comfortable seats. That is important from the point of view of our tourism industry, and from that of the people in Scotland who use these trains.
We must encourage people on to the trains. Time is not the only important factor in that regard; comfort and the ability to take pleasure in the journey are important, too. That includes the ability to get something decent to nibble on as well. Murdo Fraser mentioned the infamous British Rail sandwich. I occasionally take the sandwiches that are offered by ScotRail, but I prefer the bacon rolls on the south coast service. I think that that is a better service. That is what we should aspire too—the old buffets, and a bit of comfort. That will encourage more people back to the trains.
We must continue to improve station facilities in the Highlands. For example, we still have anomalies and problems with stations such as Kingussie, where one of the platforms on the other side from the main station is about a foot lower than the one on the station side, which means that people cannot get disabled access. As we can now have two trains at a time coming in, which is an improvement, that is causing a problem for disabled passengers in getting on the southbound train at the other platform. They have to be taxied to the next station, which could be many miles down the road. We need to look at such things in the long term.
Murdo Fraser mentioned Transform Scotland’s proposal to use the Glenfarg line to run a service directly from Edinburgh to Perth and save up to 35 minutes on the journey. That would be great. We need to look at that in the long term, but it might be better to spend any money that we have on dualling the line up to Inverness as much as possible and on electrifying that line. That might gain almost as many minutes as reopening the Glenfarg line would.
We are doing very well on the railways in a difficult period, and I am sure that we will do even better after we get independence.
This week, we have enjoyed our usual robust debate on Scotland’s future. Much of the discussion in the newspapers and in the chamber has focused on our approach to tax—in particular, on whether our shared vision of a progressive Scotland is compatible with a race to the bottom on corporation tax. I suggest that that is a fairly straightforward question to address, although the First Minister managed to avoid doing so earlier. The answer is clearly no—the two are not compatible.
A more contentious issue is whether we need to become an independent country to pursue progressive policies. I believe that the debate on transforming Scotland’s railways can shed some light on that question. We could bemoan the political settlement and blame the constitution for our inability to reform the way in which we run our railways, or we could set about using the powers that we already have to make a difference now. I understand that the minister and his colleagues were initially quite sympathetic to the idea of establishing a not-for-dividend operation to run the Scottish rail passenger franchise. I am not entirely sure why that sympathy has, so far, not been translated into action.
I appeal to the minister and the SNP to join us in a new approach to rail in Scotland. There is quite strong public support for reform of the overcomplicated, expensive and downright inefficient rail system that we currently have. The recent collapse of the bidding process for the west coast main line franchise, which the minister mentioned, has highlighted just how farcical the franchise structure has become. The Scottish Government’s motion mentions some of the improvements that we have made in recent years, including a welcome increase in passenger numbers through prioritising this form of public transport, but I believe that we could do more.
The previous Labour UK Government commissioned a review of rail from Sir Roy McNulty to establish value for money. His report found that the cost of operating the rail network throughout the UK was around 30 per cent more than the operating costs of its counterparts on the continent. He identified a number of additional costs that account for the discrepancy, such as interest payments on Network Rail debt and the expense of managing the relationship between the train operators and Network Rail. What also emerged were the extra costs of the profit taken by train operators and the dividend payments to shareholders. We can address that issue when the minister puts the current Scottish passenger franchise out to tender by insisting that the successful franchisee operate on a not-for-dividend basis.
The Labour Party has secured legal advice that has confirmed that the legal powers to do that exist. If the minister and his SNP colleagues wished to do so—he would have our political backing—the Scottish Government could insist not just that any tender include various community benefit clauses, which I hope that he is already doing, but that the service be run on a not-for-dividend basis.
Section 26ZA of the 1993 act allows ministers to stipulate that only a not-for-dividend service will be considered by them to be sufficiently economic and efficient. That would not require any expansion of the devolution settlement and the franchise would still go out to tender.
I am genuinely interested in the proposed approach and I do not want to blame constitutional legislation unnecessarily, but can the member tell us where such a not-for-profit bidder would materialise from? We need to achieve not just the possibility but the practical reality. Where would such a bidder materialise from without Government support in establishing such an organisation?
It is absolutely the case that a number of hurdles would need to be overcome in putting together a credible bidder. However, models already exist. For example, the fact is that, in the absence of a successful franchisee, the Government currently takes over the operation of the franchise, as happened with the west coast main line. Such things are possible, but, given the huge bond that is required of the companies, we cannot even get to the stage of putting together a successful bid if the Government will not indicate its political support.
I think that there would be an appetite among various bodies, such as Strathclyde partnership for transport and some private sector organisations, to form a co-operative to operate the franchise on a not-for-dividend basis. However, we need to show political leadership. We should not use the constitution as an excuse for inaction; we need to show what we can do now.
I want to make some progress.
At the moment, rail services in Scotland enjoy around £800 million of public investment. The rail franchise accounts for the lion’s share of that, with last year’s £447 million rising to more than £511 million in the future.
Tackling the issue of the ownership of businesses and services goes to the heart of how we rebuild a successful, sustainable and progressive economy in Scotland. I have talked recently about how we should pursue a community ownership model for wind farms, and I believe that a co-operative rail franchise would be a similar step. The minister would enjoy not only Labour’s political support in this Parliament but the partnership of the Welsh Government in Cardiff. The Welsh franchise is not up until 2018, but the Welsh Government has already indicated in its consultation that it wishes to pursue such a model. We could offer a similar proposal to that put to the people of Wales.
Our proposal offers value for money not just to the devolved Government but to rail passengers and the wider community. The ethos of the new organisation that ran the service could reflect co-operative principles of social responsibility, accountability and equity—
There are many significant benefits, which I clearly do not have time to go into now.
This is a once-in-a-decade opportunity, given that the franchise will be awarded for 10 years, so we cannot wait for the referendum. We certainly do not need to wait for the referendum, so let us act now. Let us not put Scotland on hold, but let us act together to ensure that the franchise operates on a not-for-dividend basis.
I welcome what the Scottish Government has been able to achieve. I will be very parochial in this debate because quite a lot has been achieved in my constituency. I welcome the Government’s continuing investment in stations—I highlight the three at Stonehaven, Laurencekirk and Montrose—and I welcome the fact that we now have more train services and more stops.
I also note that most of my constituents who travel by train go to one of our big cities—Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh or Glasgow—whereas relatively few journey between the other towns. As Stewart Stevenson noted—he was the first to do so, although others have continued the discussion—there are different stopping patterns. I think that we can see that. On my route from Stonehaven or Aberdeen down to Edinburgh, I see two different kinds of train: one stops frequently and the other is essentially a fast train. Without going into all the details, I think that we now have the balance in the timetable about right. We have some fast trains and we have some trains that pick up or drop off passengers at a large number of stops, particularly as they approach their destination first thing in the morning or last thing at night.
One change that no one has yet mentioned is ScotRail’s introduction of rules on the consumption of alcohol. I discussed that issue with ScotRail many years ago, and I did not think that anything would happen, but it has. That change has been appreciated.
The improvements at Stonehaven are significant. We already have automatic doors and a variable-height ticket counter, and new customer information screens are on their way. I agree with Dennis Robertson that Stonehaven would be a good park-and-ride location for Aberdeen; the trouble is that there is not enough parking space. If the minister had a magic wand and could generate more parking space, that would be wonderful. Such a facility would reduce the number of cars on the A90, which would be good for everybody.
Moving down the line to Laurencekirk, we have a new station, which opened in May 2009. I pay tribute to those who campaigned for it before I was elected. It has completely overwhelmed expectations: they were talking originally about 30,000 passengers a year, but in 2010-11 there were 73,000 and a bit. The station has given the town a huge boost, and prospective developers have written it into their plans as it is obviously an enormous advantage.
Further down the line at Montrose, there is a new footbridge, along with the lifts that mean that there is now disabled access to the north-bound platform. That is long overdue and very welcome. I note—as I used to live there—that the view at Montrose is far better than Jenny Marra’s view over the Tay at Dundee. If members come and use the lift at Montrose station, they can look out over Montrose basin. It is a fabulous view and far better than anything on the Tay, to be honest.
If members look the other way—although I would not—they would see a 5kW wind turbine. Montrose is apparently the first station in the network that has its own power generator, which is remarkable and perhaps an indication of things to come.
Margaret McCulloch mentioned tourism, which is really important. At places such as Montrose, people can get off the train with their bike and cycle off into the Mearns and north Angus. That is something that we must develop.
The moment that someone heads south from Montrose they hit a bridge—well, they go over a bridge—that is single track, and go through the Usan section. We are well aware that that short stretch represents a significant timetabling constraint, and it would be good to do something about it. I understand that there are moves to see whether something can be done about it in control period 6, which starts in 2019. I suggest to the minister that some signalling work might be helpful even now. I am sure that such things are being worked on.
I recognise the Government’s work on fairer fares. Although that work has not been finished, it has made a significant difference to folk in my constituency. There was a huge amount of public frustration in that regard. I do not know quite how people feel about 40p between this and that—perhaps most people feel that it is not an unreasonable amount—but significant sums were involved in splitting the journey from Montrose to Glasgow into three tickets. That is now a thing of the past, which is very welcome.
Finally, I will pick up on an issue that concerns the wider system. We are still in a position, as I have picked up from my local constituency base, in which trains and buses do not connect.
Someone cannot get a bus from Brechin—which is all of 10 miles inland from Montrose—that will get them into Aberdeen before a quarter to 9. It is simply not possible for a person to commute by bus and train from Brechin unless they have a 9 o’clock start in the middle of Aberdeen. That needs to be addressed. I have said so on paper to everybody concerned, but I still have not got a result—I suppose that I could be blamed for that. I would like to change such anomalies in my constituency, and I suspect that one or two other members would like to change similar anomalies in their constituencies, too. Over time, we need to do some work on such issues.
The debate has been interesting. The minister mentioned Borders rail, and I think that all members recognise the benefits that are associated with such an expansion. There was mention of the introduction of two additional trains to the north at the tail end of 2011, which was very welcome, but that line is now at capacity, which is an issue to which I will return.
Rail and cycle hubs were mentioned, but—as my colleague Dave Thompson said—we need to get the coach design right for that.
There has been a lot of talk about the Aberdeen to Inverness service and the Highland main line, and it would be helpful to hear some clarification on definitive timescales from the minister in his closing speech. However, enhancements to the Oban service—the Sunday services—are welcome.
A practical example that my colleague Dave Thompson also mentioned is the opening of the Conon rail link. It is a modest construction in which Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Highland Council and the Scottish Government were involved.
Two additional carriages were provided during the significant road works at the Kessock bridge.
The Independent/Green amendment talks about recognising the constraints that are placed on the ScotRail franchise. Those constraints come in the form of section 25 of the Railways Act 1993, which states that the public sector cannot be a franchisee. Of course, as the minister mentioned, there is no corresponding ban on foreign public sector bodies being able to bid for and operate UK franchises. That explains why there is a German state-owned Deutsche Bahn locomotive in Waverley now and again, courtesy of Deutsche Bahn’s involvement with Arriva.
The amendment also talks about the Scottish Government ensuring
“greater transparency in its franchise decisions”.
“The Authority shall provide, or secure the provision of, services”.
Our amendment certainly talks about providing, rather than securing the provision of, services.
There is an obvious way to remove constraints. Our amendment also talks about
“better value for the public investment in Scotland’s railways”.
In 2010, the dividends paid to ScotRail’s shareholders could have paid for a 7 per cent reduction in fares if the service had been under public ownership. I think that that would enjoy widespread public support.
On a number of occasions, I have asked the minister about nationalisation and received the reply that we heard today, and have heard many times, that it is for individual bidders to come forward. Indeed, he has mentioned the Strathclyde partnership for transport previously in that regard.
Like my colleague Patrick Harvie, I am interested in what Ken Macintosh said. I hope that the minister will listen to the proposal and engage in the detail, because we all want to ensure the best possible service, in which, to my mind, there is no room for profit.
The Brown review was also touched on. In a previous reply to me, the minister said that the extent to which it would have an impact was not yet known. Perhaps he could let us know about any lessons that have been learned from that.
In our amendment, we condemn the UK Government’s plan to reprivatise the east coast line. As has been said, the east coast service requires less public subsidy than the 15 privately run franchises in Britain, according to a report from the rail regulator. I commend that report to my colleague Alex Johnstone, who rightly said that it is important that we do not make the same mistakes. It is clear that the UK Government is intent on making a mistake by returning the east coast line to private hands, with a new operator taking over by 2015.
The line has been in the control of the Department for Transport since 2009. My colleague Patrick Harvie has given members the figures: in the past three and a half years, £640 million has been returned to the taxpayer, and it is estimated that the figure will be £800 million by the end of the current year. As has been said, the operator is perfectly capable of providing fine fare for Mr Fraser and others. It was discourteous that reprivatisation was not mentioned to the Scottish Government.
In our amendment, we express concern about the road building programme. It is clear that vast sums for road building are available to take minutes off journeys and that the priority remains the motor car—the motor car is king.
The Scottish Government is committing £3 billion to the dualling of the A9 to reduce journey times, and it is our view that that money could be better spent. Indeed, there are people who believe that it would be better spent on the A82.
More freight being taken off the roads and put on to rail would mean less pressure on the roads.
In the short time that I have left, I will mention a few additional concerns, of which one is the carriage by rail of exotic nuclear fuels from Dounreay. Another is the fragmentation of ScotRail services, with a separate franchise for the Caledonian sleeper, which concerns many people. The clauses in the franchise that allow the reimbursement to private operators of revenue lost as a result of industrial action is also a matter of concern.
“Railways must at least compete with the roads”.
That is certainly not the case. The minister has been asked about the Railways Act 1993, but as yet there are no plans to remove profit from the public service that is Scotland’s rail network. That is not transformation; it is the status quo. The public must be central to the provision of public services.
It has been an interesting debate. Unusually, we have four separate amendments, each ripping large chunks out of the motion, so there are strong views that all is not well. It is disappointing, therefore, that that was not reflected in the contributions from SNP back benchers. Listening to them, you would have thought that everything was hunky-dory.
I do not wish to be too churlish. The Liberal Democrats welcome the fact that Scotland’s railways are currently enjoying record passenger numbers and high levels of passenger satisfaction, and the Government is right to continue working towards achieving better value for money for rail passengers. However, as Elaine Murray and Murdo Fraser noted, it is all too often the case with the Government that limited achievements are accompanied by a large helping of complacency, and in what could have been a more useful debate about the future of our railways, there was no need for such a large dose of self-congratulation.
The truth is that the Government’s plans for our railways show a remarkable lack of ambition. Although I cannot agree with the vast bulk of Patrick Harvie’s amendment, he is correct on one aspect—that, for this Government, railways are all too often the poor relation in transport priorities. In the SNP’s six years in government, decisions on the ScotRail franchise have been taken with little consideration and little vision for the long-term needs of the network. Improvements between Edinburgh and Glasgow—the Government’s flagship rail project—have been scaled back and delayed, the reopening of the Borders railway is behind schedule, and other projects too numerous to count have been handed off, sidelined and left to lag, forever in the dreaded planning stages.
As Tavish Scott’s amendment points out, the north-east is once again bearing the brunt of the Government’s complacency. Trains between Edinburgh and Glasgow and the north-east have become slower, more overcrowded and more expensive.
Aberdeen is Scotland’s third largest city, our energy hub and an international centre of excellence, but instead of rail being the first choice for getting there, it remains a last resort.
I remind Mr Stevenson that what was once the Aberdeen crossrail project lies in tatters. We are left with the Government’s vague Aberdeen to Inverness line improvements, with unquantified benefits to be introduced at unspecified dates.
As I said earlier, I am delighted that, after years of campaigning, the Government has finally backed the building of a new station at Kintore.
I am delighted that we supported the AWPR as part of a package of integrated transport improvements, and it is disappointing that we are still waiting for that to be delivered.
Despite the unprecedented level of local support for the new station at Kintore—96 per cent of local residents backed the station in a comprehensive survey that I recently carried out—even that Government pledge comes with caveats: that it will be delivered by 2019 and that the Government will help partners to deliver it. The Government should open the new station at Kintore sooner than that. It would help to alleviate the traffic congestion at the Haudagain roundabout, which is another transport project that the people of the north-east are just expected to keep on waiting for.
Nestrans is currently being frustrated in its attempts to continue planning work for Kintore while it waits for the GRIP—governance for railway investment projects—3 report to be completed. It is already behind schedule, yet the Government does not seem concerned about encouraging Network Rail to get on with it.
Local services continue to suffer. Anyone who has tried to use the train to commute in Aberdeen will know all too well just how busy the trains are. Evening trains from Dyce into the city are regularly at almost 150 per cent capacity. If the Government was truly serious about transforming Scotland’s railways, it would have made reducing overcrowding a priority in its franchise discussions, rather than leaving it solely up to the franchisee to decide where to direct resources.
I find the Government’s attitude towards our railway services genuinely concerning. The fundamental problem is that passenger numbers are at record levels not because of the Government’s work but despite it. The opening of stations at Alloa and Laurencekirk and on the Bathgate link have shown just how much people want to use the railways. Passengers are flocking to the new stations in numbers that are far in excess of what any projection suggested. People want an alternative to expensive petrol, and to sitting in traffic jams.
The sad thing is that, if the Government was not so concerned with congratulating itself on a job half done, there would be a real opportunity, but that opportunity should be for all. “Mind the gap” is advice that we often hear on trains. The gap between rail services in rural Scotland and those in the central belt is growing ever wider under the SNP Government, and it is time that it decided to redress the balance.
The Scottish Conservatives have today attempted to take a balanced approach to the debate. In our amendment and in our speeches, we have emphasised the positives for rail and for the Scottish Government; we have also touched on some of the negatives and challenges in areas where the Government’s performance has not been up to scratch so far.
On the positives, it is fair to say that the Scottish Government has done some good things, both in its first term and over the past couple of years. It is also fair to say that the previous Scottish Executive did some good things during its time in office. It was not perfect, but it did some good things in relation to rail. Most important, we should congratulate, as Alex Johnstone did, the franchise holders, who have done the bulk of the work in getting many of the positive results that we have heard about from members throughout the chamber.
There are some good-news stories. We went all around Scotland over the course of the afternoon, hearing about good developments all over the country. There has been improved performance by and greater satisfaction with ScotRail, and we heard from a number of members about the record passenger numbers, which are up at 83 million, according to the minister. Everybody should welcome that.
We support the collaborative approach between the industry and the Scottish Government. A number of members have rightly commended the Government on the superior fares structure that we now have, compared with the position a decade or so ago. Although there is clearly work to be done on that—we heard about some specific examples—what we have now is clearly better, and it is set to improve. We heard about new services and stations, too.
I particularly welcome the update that the minister gave us about the four bids that there have been so far for the Caledonian sleeper and about his plan to take that to the next stage—in August, I think he said. We also welcome the minister’s announcement in relation to Whifflet. There is plenty to be satisfied with.
On the other hand—and although I hate to use this term again, which has been overused in the debate—the suggestion that the motion is a little self-congratulatory has been a fair criticism by members from all the Opposition parties in the debate. Where anything has gone wrong, the Government’s position appears to be that it is entirely Westminster’s fault, because we are
“at the mercy of Westminster”,
according to Keith Brown, or it was the fault of the previous Labour and Liberal Democrat Executive. We did not hear a single admission from any Government party member that some of what has gone wrong over the past couple of years is actually down to the Scottish Government. It would have been a better, more objective debate if it took some responsibility for some of the failings.
Murdo Fraser commented that the First Minister made a pledge in 2008 that the journey time between Edinburgh and Inverness would be cut by 35 minutes by 2012. Clearly, that has not happened. We heard specific information from Tavish Scott in that regard, and I have a letter from my colleague Mary Scanlon that gives a similar picture. We have not heard any explanation from the Scottish Government—perhaps the minister can provide one in his closing speech—as to why that pledge from the First Minister has not happened. We would be very grateful for an explanation in that regard.
There was fair criticism of the Scottish Government last September, and there has been again today, over EGIP. Bruce Crawford is right, in that it is not true to say that nothing is happening on the ground—it clearly is—but, compared with what was promised, as I pointed out to Mr Crawford in an intervention, we are not getting what the SNP said it would deliver in its 2011 manifesto. We were told in that manifesto that we would have train journey times from Edinburgh to Glasgow
“of just over half an hour” and that much of central Scotland’s rail network would be electrified. It appears that the size of the project has been scaled back and when it will happen on the ground has been put back.
I do not disagree with that at all, but picking out one area in which there has been an improvement compared with dozens of areas in which the project has been scaled back is small comfort to many of those who will lose out. The minister and Bruce Crawford again blamed Westminster for the fact that the project was scaled back.
When I look at the SNP’s 2011 manifesto, I see time and again that the SNP would deliver “despite” the reduction in Scotland’s capital budgets. That was in 2011, which was the year after the year of the comprehensive spending review, of course. The SNP knew exactly how much money it would get for each year in the comprehensive spending review, so any pledge that it made in 2011 can be held very carefully. The SNP knew exactly what was coming; indeed, in various budgets, it has been given more money than it thought it would receive. It is therefore not acceptable for SNP members to blame anybody for those failings other than themselves.
We have welcomed the chance to debate the future of Scotland’s railways. Many of us have found the Government’s motion to be cloyingly self-congratulatory, but it has been good to debate a substantive issue in Scottish Government time, and none of us has said that there has been no progress on our railways.
Under devolution, we have had the opportunity to bring a new focus to our rail services. Tavish Scott was quite right to say that that started with the first Scottish Executive under the coalition, when we looked at the transport policy that we inherited. There was a greater focus on rail than there previously was; there was not a myopic focus on new road provision. Devolution has a great deal of credit on its side in developing rail policy and some of the benefits that we now see.
Nevertheless, we have voiced concerns about a number of areas of rail policy. We have, for example, voiced concerns about the limitations of the current franchise arrangements—I will return to that issue—but we have welcomed aspects such as the new wi-fi services that First ScotRail provides. A number of members, such as Margaret McCulloch, have referred to the investment in station facilities, and I am sure that we all appreciate the readiness of ScotRail staff to engage with us in the Parliament on issues that we take to them on behalf of our constituents.
It is right to recognise progress where it has been made, but it is also right to acknowledge where concerns exist. We still do not know what the provisions of the next franchise will be. We should be relieved that so much of the “Rail 2014” consultation document was dumped, as it included proposals for closing stations, ending cross-border rail services and introducing longer journey times. It is good that, after the campaigns by trade unions and the concerns that were raised in the chamber, many of those proposals have gone, but the fact that they were even under consideration shows that the Parliament must scrutinise the Government’s plans for the franchise carefully to ensure that we achieve improvements and not a diminution of services.
When we consider the rail infrastructure in Scotland, we see that the Scottish Government’s record is distinctly underwhelming. The Liberal amendment refers to the fact that was reported yesterday by the Aberdeen Evening Express that, over the past six years, journey times between Aberdeen and the central belt have increased. Members have mentioned the commitments on journeys from Inverness to the central belt that have not been fulfilled either.
Will the member acknowledge that, by taking many of the stops in Fife off key connections between Aberdeen and Edinburgh, we have delivered faster journey times and, of course, additional rail services between Edinburgh and Dundee to fill in the gaps thus created? Averages and medians are different things.
Mr Stevenson loves his averages, medians and statistics, but he is being very selective with them. What was highly regrettable was the decision that was made when he was transport minister—he will correct me if I am wrong—to scrap the Aberdeen crossrail project. As Dennis Robertson quite rightly said, we should have an ambition for a much higher frequency of through services from Stonehaven to Inverurie. It was a disgrace that, having campaigned for Aberdeen crossrail for so long when in opposition, and when plans were far advanced, the SNP unceremoniously dumped the project. Given the importance of Aberdeen to our economy, as Mr Scott said, that was a hugely regressive decision.
However, Aberdeen crossrail was not the only victim. There were the Edinburgh and Glasgow airport rail links and, of course, EGIP, which has been cut by a third, which means that gains from that proposal have been lost. We will not realise all the advantages that we could have had, and that, too, was an extremely regrettable decision. That was a shovel-ready project—we keep hearing about shovel-ready projects—that would have been funded through Network Rail borrowing capacity and was not therefore subject to the swingeing cuts in capital investment that we have heard about. That decision was bewildering and it serves Scotland and our economic progress poorly.
The Scottish Government has been keen to blame others for delays. In last week’s debate on its failure to progress work at the Haudagain roundabout in Aberdeen, it had the temerity to blame Opposition parties for delays with the Borders railway when it is the minister’s own failed procurement process that has resulted in the huge delays to that project. That was quite breathtaking stuff, even from this Government.
Everything in the garden is not rosy. All the opportunities for an improved rail service in Scotland have not been secured by ministers. Indeed, the cuts to EGIP will result in longer journey times in some cases. Given the tough targets that the Scottish Government has set itself on CO2 emissions, which it has failed to achieve so far, I am interested to know what assessment was made of the environmental impact of not implementing EGIP in full, because that would have done far more to attract more people on to our rail services.
The award of the new franchise presents the Government with an opportunity to secure improved services. That is why we have said in our amendment that it is vital to look at all the options for how the new franchise will be operated, not least because of the huge sums of public money that the franchise receives—£511 million this year. As Elaine Murray and Ken Macintosh said, it is time for ministers to look seriously at the potential for a mutual option for the ScotRail franchise. We have had warm words from ministers on that but no practical action, and it will not happen on its own. If limitations are being placed on what the Scottish Government can do around a potential mutual bid for the franchise, I hope that ministers will join their counterparts in the Welsh Government, who have already raised with the Department for Transport the issue of a level playing field for all franchisees, whether they be not for dividend or profit seeking.
As Ken Macintosh said, the legal advice on this is not as clear cut as the minister would have us believe. We do not believe that it has been tested in any way by ministers, although we know how reluctant they are to tell us about their legal advice. From the legal advice that we have certainly received, we believe that ministers have a greater capacity than they say they have to explore alternative options for the delivery of rail services in the future. It is our intention to work with our colleagues in the Co-operative Party and the trade union movement to promote such an option and greater accountability in the provision of our rail services in future.
When it comes to the future, we remain in the dark about the Scottish Government’s proposals for our railways under its unpopular plans for separation. Perhaps the minister will enlighten us on those proposals during his closing speech. It is important, because our rail services are crucial to our country and economy, and we believe that there is no cause for ministers to rest on any laurels. They need to get on with the work of delivering the better rail network to which we should all aspire in Scotland.
I thank members who have participated in the debate, which has been interesting and has demonstrated that rail services play a crucial part in connecting people and businesses across Scotland and, therefore, deserve the Parliament’s attention and recognition.
In the motion, I had the temerity to point out one or two things that I think the Government is doing quite well. That was a misjudgment on my part, because I understand from what members of other parties said that if I had only pointed out all the areas in which we still need to make progress, instead of just acknowledging that “further improvements” are needed, the other parties would have said, “Well done. What a great job the Government is doing.” Only my not pointing out all the areas for improvement stopped the other parties recognising the progress that we have made.
As I said, the Government is not doing it alone, but is playing a part in transforming the railways. The benefits have been recognised by passengers, as the high levels of passenger satisfaction show. That is not to say that everyone is getting the service that they should get; of course, we must improve things. However, at a time when public spending is massively constrained by the cuts that the Westminster Government has imposed—there is no question about that; it is a fact—we have managed to increase our commitment.
Suggestions have been made about how we might further enhance the network, reduce fares and provide services and projects. In the context of Murdo Fraser’s comments about the Perth line, I noted that this morning someone said that there is no shortage of money. I am afraid that there is a shortage of money.
Members talked, quite rightly, about the improvements that they would like in their areas—I think that one member referred to wish lists. I understand that; I have done the same thing in the past in my area, when I was on the council.
My wish list includes the journey time between Edinburgh and Inverness. Nicola Sturgeon said that journey times have been reduced by 35 minutes. However, the man who runs the trains, Steve Montgomery, who is the managing director of ScotRail, confirmed in a letter to me that one train’s journey time has been reduced by 11 minutes. Will the minister apologise for misleading Parliament and make the record clear?
I do not believe that I have misled Parliament, so I have no intention of apologising.
Members have wish lists, and in many areas their long-term ambitions have been realised as a result of projects that the Government has undertaken. However, we must acknowledge that there have been decades of underinvestment in the railways. That is also true of the roads network—anyone who wants to disagree should feel free to intervene. We are trying to roll back on that underinvestment.
In the presentation in Parliament from Virgin Trains—I think it was on Tuesday night—we heard that in the early 1980s the Serpell report proposed that the railways in Scotland should comprise the Edinburgh to Glasgow line and should point south, with nothing else. The chap from Virgin said that there was no fanfare of opposition to the proposal to limit the railways in Scotland in such a way. In his view, no one was interested in railways or in expanding the railway network.
Tavish Scott said that we should acknowledge what previous Governments did. I am always happy to do that. In 1999, when I was leader of Clackmannanshire Council, I approached the first transport minister, Sarah Boyack—I do not think that she is in the chamber—about the proposal to reopen the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine line. To her credit, Sarah Boyack allocated the largest-ever sum of money under the public transport fund, as it was then called—around £6 million—to the council, at the second time of asking. By the time Tavish Scott was minister many years later, the cost was £85 million and the line had become a freight line. However, foresight was shown in making money available.
Previous Administrations, particularly since devolution, have advanced the case for rail travel in Scotland, but I think that we are now seeing much greater improvements than we have seen up to now. That might be because, as Tavish Scott hinted, there has been a major shift. There was perhaps a slow start and then a change of direction. We have invested massively in rail and we are seeing the benefits of that.
We are accelerating the investment that is planned for the next control period. I mentioned the Whifflet route electrification, which will take place by summer 2014. Work on that will start next month—years ahead of what was previously proposed. That demonstrates the importance that we accord the rail industry and our confidence in its ability to help us to realise sustainable economic growth. We will not price that growth off the network, but will support and sustain it.
Members expressed views about the state of the railways in Scotland. I did an interview recently for the BBC in Yorkshire, where people say that they are envious of us in Scotland, because we are bearing down on fares in a way that the previous Westminster Labour Government did not and the current Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government has not. The current Westminster Government made changes recently, but we acted much faster. As members have said, people in other places in the UK are envious of what is happening with railways in Scotland.
I have said that there is a transformation going on. I repeat that that is not entirely due to the Government—of course, other partners are involved. However, it would be nice to have that transformation recognised in the chamber, because it has certainly been recognised outwith the chamber.
Industry alliancing and industry regulation are starting to ensure that we get real value for money. The investments that we make in control period 5, from 2014 to 2019, will offer faster and better-connected services on improved infrastructure, and will connect more and better stations.
I spoke earlier about large-scale projects, many of which have been mentioned by other members. The £650 million investment in the Edinburgh to Glasgow improvement project, or EGIP—which should not really be characterised as “Egypt”, as I have no responsibility for Istanbul or Cairo—is a huge investment that will deliver significant benefits for Scotland, plus major refurbishments at Haymarket station. Members who get the train regularly at Haymarket station will have seen how it is being transformed. Queen Street station will, of course, be transformed in the longer term.
We are looking forward to implementing our ambitious plans for high-speed rail, which will ensure resilience and better journey times between our two largest cities. It would have been nice for some of the UK-based parties to have said what they think about the UK Government’s attitudes to high-speed rail coming to Scotland. There was no commitment from the previous UK Government and there is no commitment from the current UK Government. Why not? Why are we not seeing productive work happening between—
I am going to come back to Jenny Marra’s points shortly, but I will make more progress first.
In the shorter term, the recent announcement that I have made of £5 million to fund station improvements will help us to improve stations such as Gleneagles ahead of the Ryder cup in 2014, and to make lasting improvements that will benefit passengers across the network.
Improved integration between rail and buses, in particular, was mentioned. There is a problem that is not easy to solve, in that several operators are involved. However, we have already said that within the franchise agreement, we will oblige bidders to lay out their plans for ensuring proper integration between modes of transport.
On the amendment that was lodged by the Green and Independent group, I was quite surprised to find that there was virtually nothing that I could agree with in John Finnie’s closing speech—I say that not least in relation to the A9. We are committed to upgrading the A9 and will fund that; it should have been done many years ago. We will do it at the same time as we invest in our railways.
I turn to the Liberal Democrat amendment. I think that Alison McInnes basically said that the improvements in our rail services and the 83 million passenger journeys last year had nothing to do with the Government. I do not know how she can reach that conclusion. I am not saying that it is all down to us, but new stations, bearing down on fares, the new lines and the exponential growth in patronage must have had something to do with the Government. We have done things that have encouraged that growth.
We heard essentially the same line from Gavin Brown, who said that it is really all down to the franchise holders. He offered some recognition of some improvements for which the Government is responsible, but he said that it is basically down to the franchise holders.
The Labour Party made a number of points; I will return to Ken Macintosh’s point. I am not talking just now about the not-for-dividend model proposal, but the publicly owned model proposal. The only way we can get that is if Scotland becomes independent. I know that there are people in the Labour Party who prefer the idea of 100 years of Tory rule to the idea of Scotland making its own decisions. On the specific proposal that Ken Macintosh made, I have tried to address that issue before, but I will look into it further because he has asked me to do it. The specific point that I have tried to make to him is that we have always said that we will look favourably on proposals that relate to not-for-profit or mutual-based models.
There are, however, practical strictures—one of which is that the bidder has to show evidence of experience of running railways, which makes things difficult. Also, we are not allowed to favour one form of bid over another and, equally, we cannot accept only one kind of bid. Those are the issues. I have listened to what Ken Macintosh said and will look further into the matter.
Richard Baker in summing up referred to capital works. I do not think that he has the basic understanding of how capital projects are funded.
I am making a point just now.
I do not think that Richard Baker understands that with resource accounting and budgeting there is not just a shelf full of money that we can pull down with no cost. The money has to be paid for; it has to be paid back with interest rates. If Richard Baker wants to propose further spending, he can do that when it comes to the budgets.
Labour has never done that in previous discussions, but it has the chance to do it.
Throughout the period for which we have had control, there has been continuous improvement and major step-change projects.
I realise that I did not come back to Jenny Marra, but I will write to her on the point that she raised.
I believe that this Government has transformed Scotland’s rail system to deliver integrated services that are affordable and responsive to Scottish passengers’ needs. In that light, I ask Parliament to support the motion.