Edinburgh South Suburban Railway

– in the Scottish Parliament on 3rd February 2016.

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Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-14678, in the name of Jim Eadie, on the reinstatement of the Edinburgh south suburban railway. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament recognises the ongoing campaign that is being led by the Capital Rail Action Group to reinstate the Edinburgh South Suburban Railway (ESSR) for passenger use; notes that the previous passenger service ran from Waverley station via Haymarket, Gorgie, Craiglockhart, Morningside, Blackford, Newington, Craigmillar and Portobello stations; acknowledges the development of new and innovative methods of transport in other parts of Europe, such as the hybrid tram-train that has been used in parts of Germany since the 1990s, and which, it understands, is soon to be piloted in Sheffield; believes that, given current capacity issues, using existing transport infrastructure through innovative methods of transport might represent the best means of reopening the line; considers ambitious the proposals in the Edinburgh and South East Scotland city deal, which, it understands, outline the need to upgrade existing transport infrastructure to enhance the network of integrated and sustainable transport links across the Lothian region; believes that the reinstatement of the ESSR could bring significant economic and social benefits to the people of Edinburgh, and notes the calls for the City of Edinburgh Council and Transport Scotland to work with all interested stakeholders, including the South East Scotland Transport Partnership, to explore the viability of reopening the line for passenger use to serve the area’s transport needs and enhance journey times in what it sees as Scotland’s increasingly congested capital city.

Photo of Jim Eadie Jim Eadie Scottish National Party

We move from the controversy of the budget debate to what I hope will be the consensus of this debate. I am grateful for the opportunity to bring the debate before Parliament this evening and I thank members from across the chamber for supporting the motion in my name.

I pay tribute to all those people who have been involved in the campaign to reinstate the Edinburgh south suburban railway over many years. I particularly thank Lawrence Marshall of the capital rail action group, or CRAG. He has been a constant and consistent advocate for the reinstatement of the south sub along with Paul Tetlaw and Colin Howden of Transform Scotland. Their commitment and dedication has kept the issue alive.

The south sub route has endless possibilities and potential. Reinstating the south sub could act as a catalyst for an integrated transport plan for Edinburgh that is truly fit for the 21st century. Our capital needs and deserves it. The station at Gorgie could serve Heart of Midlothian Football Club, Craiglockhart could serve Edinburgh Napier University, and Blackford and Newington could serve the University of Edinburgh. A new link to the Edinburgh royal infirmary that stems from the current south sub station at Cameron Toll would vastly improve the transport options for patients and national health service staff, and it would serve the ever-expanding Edinburgh BioQuarter.

Politicians calling for the reinstatement of the south sub have come and gone. I am reminded of the train journey on the south sub line that was organised by Lawrence Marshall in 2000. It included former members of the Scottish Parliament, Margo MacDonald, David McLetchie and Robin Harper. I cannot be alone in thinking what a fantastic journey that must have been, in the company of three of the best politicians that the Parliament has produced. Who knows whether their journey that day was on track or whether it went off the rails? I am pleased that the cross-party consensus that was alive that day has continued to the present day.

I have always been convinced that there has been a good case for reopening the line. After meeting leading officials from Sheffield City Council and the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive last week to learn about the United Kingdom’s first tram-train development, I believe that there has never been a better time to look again at the issue.

Edinburgh is set to experience an exponential growth in its population over the next 20 years, with studies showing that it will increase by almost 30 per cent if current trends continue. Those figures clearly show that we cannot continue with the current transport infrastructure in place and that new plans need to be brought forward. I am reminded of the words of Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá, who has stated:

“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It is where the rich use public transport.”

That is where the south sub can play its part.

The existing infrastructure is already there and is currently used to carry freight through the city. Previous studies have shown that if passenger trains were to be reinstated, the railway could attract more than 10,000 passengers every day. Consistently and without fail, our roads are congested during peak times and the south sub option could help to drastically cut congestion and travel time. Taking more people off the road would undoubtedly help with meeting our carbon emissions targets, too.

Of course, a business case needs to be made before we can start thinking about a functioning south sub. For the proposal to be successful, I believe that it has to be put into the wider context of consideration of what is best for the people, the environment and the economy of our capital city. We know from previous studies that the business case does exist. According to Traveline Scotland, the journey from Haymarket to Cameron Toll takes between 25 and 32 minutes. The south sub could do it in 15 minutes. The Atkins feasibility study of 2004 concluded that the south sub had the potential to have a benefit cost ratio of well over 1; to be precise, 1.64.

I have met a number of key stakeholders, all of whom have expressed an interest in the project. Now is the time to revisit a feasibility study to find out whether the south sub is still viable, as I and countless others firmly believe it to be. I was pleased to have a positive meeting with the leader of the City of Edinburgh Council, Andrew Burns, just before Christmas last year, and I hope that the minister will agree to meet me and the leaders of the council to discuss the potential for a new feasibility study.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, it is necessary to address the logistical and other practical hurdles that would need to be overcome before the railway can become a reality. Reinstating the line using traditional heavy rail may be difficult, given that Waverley is almost at full capacity, as the minister has confirmed in correspondence to me, but using a tram-train, which would use rail lines and the tram network, may—I stress the word “may”—be the best way forward. Tram-trains would be technically feasible; the technology is not new and has a proven track record in Europe, and it will be trialled for the first time in the UK in Sheffield from 2017.

However, there are issues with that solution. As we know, trains use high platforms and trams use low platforms. If the south sub was to run on rail and tram lines, the tram-train would need to be able to lower itself so that vehicles were accessible for disabled people.

Voltage is another issue. Just yesterday, I was emailed by a constituent to remind me of that point. I will not get too technical, but suffice it to say that heavy and light rail run on two different types of voltage—25kV AC and 750V DC—but the tram-trains that are being built for the Sheffield programme are dual voltage and can change at the flick of a switch.

I am also aware of issues surrounding the existing infrastructure, which include signalling capacity, electrification and the need for refurbishment of existing stations for passenger use, in particular to accommodate the needs of disabled passengers. One of those challenges—that of electrification—is set to be addressed, as the south sub line will be future proofed as part of Network Rail’s control period 5 plan, which is currently under way. The other issues are not impossible to resolve, but resolving them would have a cost attached to it. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Germany has used such a model with some success, which shows that a mix of heavy and light rail can utilise a city’s infrastructure in order to make new public transport links available.

What would a reinstated south sub look like? With capacity stretched at Haymarket and Waverley, the south sub could be reinstated fully, serving all the old stations between our two main hubs without having to enter them. We could incorporate the current tram network into the existing south sub and also offer innovative expansion plans for the tram network to enable the two links to meet and create a loop.

A different, phased approach is also possible, with the introduction of a rail link between Waverley and Morningside via Portobello, then moving to tram-trains with the introduction of a new light rail link to the Edinburgh royal infirmary stemming from the opening of the south sub.

After that we could see the south sub take on a number of different forms over the coming decades, utilising the existing tram network or integrating with future tram network extensions. The possibilities are endless if we think creatively.

We have a massive opportunity over the coming months with talks on-going about a city deal for Edinburgh and the wider city region. It is envisaged that the UK and Scottish Governments could commit one billion pounds of investment, unlocking the potential for new and sustainable transport links.

That could be the answer to how to extend the transport network without having to raid the funds needed for other vital services, while ensuring that, as the economic opportunities expand at the Edinburgh BioQuarter and Kings Buildings, there is the light rail infrastructure to match.

In conclusion, in reinstating the south sub we have the opportunity to think big for Edinburgh and for Scotland. Given the challenges facing Edinburgh over the next 20 years, I firmly believe that this is an idea whose time has finally come.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I intimate to colleagues that I have given notice to the Presiding Officer that I will leave the debate early, but I promise to look at the Official Report afterwards, particularly the comments of the minister.

I welcome Jim Eadie’s debate and congratulate him on securing it. I also want to join him in thanking the Capital Rail Action Group for their lobbying, their research, and for keeping alive the flame of the south suburban route. It is potentially a transformative piece of infrastructure.

It is a huge shame that Edinburgh’s suburban railway was closed to passengers in the 1960s. My school driveway used to be part of the south sub, and the fantastic north Edinburgh cycle route was part of our suburban railway network. If we think about the congestion and air-quality problems that we have in the city, and compare ours with other cities, it is a huge missed opportunity.

The lack of access to rail transport is something that we need to think about. As Jim Eadie said, there are issues of adding capacity and connectivity, and the loop that he described to link the university, Hearts football ground in Gorgie and the hospital.

I would like to add the issue of urban regeneration, particularly for Craigmillar, an area that successive Governments have been looking to invest in. There is a real social justice and economic opportunity that would come from adding a new railway station in Craigmillar.

Jim Eadie was right to point to the work that has been done in Germany and Sheffield—the idea of tram-trains. I add the idea of train-bus that Chris Harvie, a former colleague in the Parliament, used to talk about. Opportunities are being looked at: it happens in Germany and it is being looked at in other cities in the UK, but this is a project that needs a champion—or rather, it needs a variety of champions in different organisations and across the parties.

The south sub has never been the top priority; it has never been straightforward, as Jim Eadie outlined. I believe that it could be a game changer if we have a partnership with SEStran, look at the city deal options, bring the rail partners into play and look at the connections between tram, bus, rail and active travel.

It needs all those things to fit together and for us to have that vision, but it needs more than cross-party support. I was the transport minister in 2000, but I did not know about that historic trip on the south sub. All of us need to work together and, crucially, we need the minister. I will miss his comments tonight, but I hope that he will be looking at bringing people together and that the Scottish Government will play a part.

It needs us all to make this happen, and the benefits would be for the citizens of Edinburgh. In my view, what is good for the citizens of Edinburgh is good for Edinburgh’s economy, the Lothian economy and the Scottish economy. For all those reasons, and for green transport, this is a project whose time has come. It will not be easy and therefore we need everybody’s support—crucially, that of the minister.

Photo of Cameron Buchanan Cameron Buchanan Conservative

It is certainly welcome that we have the chance to discuss a motion that was lodged by my friend Jim Eadie on reinstatement of the Edinburgh south suburban railway. An upgraded transport infrastructure in the region that I represent would be most welcome. The service could bring many benefits not just to south Edinburgh, but across the Lothian region and even further afield. Furthermore, the reinstatement could come at a cost that is eminently affordable compared with the costs of other transport alternatives.

That said, it is important that we do more than just talk about the Edinburgh south suburban railway. If we are to establish the facts and make genuine progress, we need to aim towards concrete measures that represent a step forward. With that in mind, we should focus our effort on securing funding for a much-needed feasibility study for the railway.

The reinstatement of the railway could bring a whole range of economic, social and environmental benefits; fellow MSPs have already touched on them. They could include a boost to employment, reduced journey times when people are travelling across the city and, of course, environmental benefits from decreased car use—not to mention the welcome implications of reduced traffic levels in our city and less dependence on expensive city-centre parking spaces.

I want to touch on a possible benefit of which my Conservative colleague Miles Briggs has been raising awareness; there is the potential for an Edinburgh south suburban railway to serve as a university line. As we have already heard, a fast link between the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University would be a great boost for our city’s students, staff, businesses and the wider higher education sector. To date, that has not been mentioned in cost-benefit debates around the ESSR, so we should certainly continue to raise awareness of that positive aspect in partnership with the relevant stakeholders. As we have heard, that is a rather new line to take.

The most recent study suggested that reinstatement of passenger services could cost in the region of £18 million to £30 million. That is a large amount of money in itself, but we must remember to consider it in the context of the wide range of direct and indirect benefits that the railway would bring, and with an understanding of the scale of budgets for recent transport projects. Given the scale of the reinstatement, I reiterate my point that we must be crystal clear on the facts of the situation, which means that we need a new and comprehensive feasibility study.

It is useful to debate the ESSR in Parliament, but we have talked about it for long enough: we must make real cross-party progress on funding for a new feasibility study. If only the Scottish ministers would allocate funding for a study, we would gain a fuller understanding of the services that could be gained, who would benefit, how they would benefit, and how much it would all cost.

It is welcome that we have cross-party agreement—for the moment, anyway—on the railway’s potential, but let us take our agreement and use it to make genuine progress. If the Scottish Government could commit to funding a study, that would be a genuine step forward towards reinstatement of the railway. I sincerely hope that the minister will step up to the plate.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

I, too, congratulate Jim Eadie on securing the debate, and I thank the capital rail action group and Transform Scotland. Colleagues have been right to point out the tremendous contribution that Lawrence Marshall, in particular, has made, as well as the contributions of Colin Howden and Paul Tetlaw. I sincerely hope that they are involved as we progress the important issue of the Edinburgh south suburban railway.

The subject is very close to my heart, and the reinstatement has been the policy of Edinburgh Greens for as long as I can remember. I have looked back at the archives. If members have a quiet moment, they can look at the Edinburgh Greens website. On 11 April 2007, we announced “Re-opening South Suburban Line Priority for Local Greens”. However, it is not just a priority for local Greens. The project attracted massive input from business, and its support. Back in 2007, almost half the then £15 million expected cost was pledged from local businesses, including the University of Edinburgh. There is real support for the proposal, and I do not think that it would be difficult at all to garner it again because, as we have heard, reopening the south sub would have multiple benefits for local people, local businesses and the environment. It would help us to tackle congestion, and it is a convenient alternative to cars and taking buses.

The route of the south sub included Waverley, Haymarket, Gorgie, Craiglockhart, Morningside, Blackford Hill, Cameron Toll, Craigmillar, Niddrie and Portobello. Currently, we take buses into the centre of Edinburgh and then out again, in many instances.

Reopening the south sub would add another dimension to Edinburgh’s transport offering—a really important dimension, as Jim Eadie highlighted, given the locations in question and the impact that reopening the line would have on people travelling to see Hearts and on students at Edinburgh Napier University. I am therefore not terribly surprised that the Atkins feasibility study pointed to a 1:6 cost benefit ratio.

The scheme is an idea whose time has come; it is well worth another look. If the city continues to grow at its current pace, the scheme will become essential. I am Edinburgh born and bred—I have spent my life in the city—and there is no doubt in my mind that it is becoming increasingly gridlocked, so we must look at opportunities and alternatives. We must also consider issues including climate change, which affects us daily.

There are other benefits in considering the scheme. The line already exists, so we would not begin from a standing start. As we have heard, Robin Harper, Margo MacDonald and David McLetchie all used the train not that long ago. I have visited the Morningside station myself in the not-too-distant past. The reason for my visit was somewhat sad. People had been using land beside what would have been the platform as an allotment. They had been doing so for some months and were producing quite a lot of food, but Network Rail was concerned about the health and safety implications, so that scheme came to a halt. However, it is important to suggest that that would be a far better use if the station was to reopen.

Jim Eadie, who represents Edinburgh Southern, will be only too aware of what the traffic is like on Morningside Road. We are talking about nose-to-tail vehicles crawling along, with people trying to reach various destinations from that neck of the woods.

Jim Eadie also spoke about the developments in Sheffield. Technology is moving on all the time, and it is fair to suggest that, in the 21st century, it is not beyond the wit of any progressive nation to make the most of such an opportunity and to reopen the south sub. I will be very pleased to work with anyone who is looking into the issue in the weeks, months and years ahead.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

I draw members’ attention to the fact that I am the honorary president of the Scottish Association for Public Transport and honorary vice-president of Railfuture UK. In the light of that, it will be no surprise to members that I would always wish to engage in efforts to increase the availability and use of public transport.

Like other members, I congratulate Jim Eadie on giving us the opportunity to debate this important subject for Edinburgh. When I was Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change, I responded to Gavin Brown’s members’ business debate on the subject on 3 December 2008. At that time, I encouraged the City of Edinburgh Council to meet me as minister to discuss the issues around what were—and are—largely freight lines that were used less for passenger traffic. I do not recall that meeting happening, so I very much welcome hearing from Jim Eadie that the council is engaged on the issue.

Jim Eadie referred, properly, to capacity and technical issues at our major stations. In particular, we ought to think about the issues for those stations that would result from our connecting them to a high-speed rail network, which may have different technical standards and will certainly present issues with platform length and capacity. We need to work hand in glove so that, if we do something on the suburban railway, we do not compromise our ability to connect to high-speed rail in the future.

Would the south suburban railway line be of value? Yes, of course it would. Can it be done easily? No, it cannot, for many of the reasons to which Jim Eadie referred. The platforms issue is perhaps not as great as has been suggested; in most cases, it would simply be a question of putting in a low platform at the end of the heavy-rail high platform, which is a solution that has been adopted elsewhere. However, that depends on there being land available at the stations concerned.

The motion states that we should

“explore the viability of reopening the line for passenger use”,

and I absolutely agree. There has always been a need in Edinburgh for an inner—or perhaps a middle—circle round Edinburgh so that, precisely as Alison Johnson mentioned, people do not have to come into the middle of the city and then get on another bus to go back to the outside. That has always been the missing link, and in many ways it is why we were uncomfortable, as a political party, with the trams proposal that was ultimately implemented. It was not because trams are a bad idea. They are a very good idea, but the route was perhaps not the one that was most urgently needed. Perhaps the route of the south suburban railway is the one that we need most urgently.

We know that, when we put rails down and run trains on them, people come and use them. There has not been a single development in the past couple of decades in which passenger usage has not significantly exceeded the estimates. Of course, that is in part because the Great Britain network model for estimating passenger usage is not a good one. We need to deal with that issue.

In my time as minister, I was delighted to be photographed down in the Borders with Madge Elliot, who saw both the last train that ran when the line was previously in operation and the recent reopening of the Borders railway.

I cannot talk about railways in Edinburgh without making the point that none of the communities in my constituency is anything less than a 1.5 hour bus ride from a railhead. My support for the proposal is entirely conditional on our also thinking about the Buchan rail link.

My enthusiasm for railways is substantial. My wife’s Christmas present to me this year was David Spaven’s “The Railway Atlas of Scotland: Two Hundred Years of History in Maps”, which I commend to members. It shows what railways used to be like. Let us try to get some of the way back to where we were. Not all of the old railways are worth restoring, but many of them are, including the Edinburgh south suburban railway and, even more important, the Buchan rail link.

Photo of David Stewart David Stewart Labour

As other members have done, I congratulate Jim Eadie on his initiative in securing the debate and thank the capital rail action group and Transform Scotland for their on-going campaign to reinstate the Edinburgh south suburban railway, which I strongly support. In thinking about this debate, it seemed to me that what we have here is really a Beeching cut in reverse, and some members have hinted that it was Beeching who was responsible for closing the line.

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at the first of Transform Scotland’s hustings, and I talked about the importance of reinstating previous lines. I flagged up the obvious example of the Borders railway, which has been a great initiative.

The timing of the debate is apt given the publication two weeks ago of the “National Transport Strategy”. It revealed that use of public transport in Scotland has gone down by 6 per cent since 2006 while traffic on our roads has increased by 2 per cent, although I note that use of rail has increased by 29 per cent, which is positive. I will be speaking to some of the rail operators about that tonight.

In Edinburgh, the capital rail action group cites data from the TomTom traffic index, which is a new index to me. It measures the impact of congestion in a city on travel times by road, and it shows Edinburgh to be the world’s fifth most congested small city—the index defines small cities as those with populations under 800,000. When we take into account cities of all sizes, Edinburgh is the third most congested in the UK—only London and Belfast have worse levels of congestion—and the 12th most congested city in Europe.

Edinburgh must be one of the only capital cities in Europe that does not have the model of suburban rail system that we are talking about. It is clear that such a system would have a big effect on congestion. I do not have time to talk about low-emission zones, but I can see how they are a related issue, given that the proceeds can go to local authorities to help them to look at sustainable transport.

The most recent feasibility study of reinstating a passenger service on the ESSR suggested that, if trains were to run every 15 minutes—the infrastructure remains and allows for up to 60 freight trains per day—the line could attract up to 13,500 people a day. I strongly agree with Jim Eadie’s estimation that a reinstated south sub would dramatically cut congestion and travel times in Edinburgh while helping us to meet our carbon emission ambitions.

Transport Scotland has stated that it must wait for an official business case and structured proposal before it can take the project forward. However, I do not think that it can deny the success of the hybrid tram-train models in other European countries, and most members have mentioned the great practice across the world on those models.

I have touched on the reopening of the Borders railway. It has already reached the target of 650,000 annual passengers, which is fantastic. We must praise that success. Stewart Stevenson talked about looking at the methodology for predicting passenger numbers. We must look at that matter in the longer term.

Germany has some of the best examples of tram-train operations. There has been a tremendous increase in patronage. Before the tram-train, there were about 2,000 daily trips; now 18,000 trips are being monitored along the same corridor.

Best practice is available. The Edinburgh south suburban railway is a great initiative, which I whole-heartedly support in order to relieve congestion in Edinburgh and to tackle our climate change issues that we must address.

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

I, too, congratulate Jim Eadie on securing the debate. It raises issues that are important to communities in and around Edinburgh.

Jim Eadie’s fundamental ask, apart from the total reinstatement of the Edinburgh south suburban rail connections, was for a meeting. I am happily minded to agree to that request and to put a date in my diary to progress the issue by way of a discussion, but I stress that it would be important to bring the council leader to the meeting, as it is important to have that local engagement.

I detect in the chamber cross-party consensus that the idea is worth progressing but, frankly, there must be clear evidence and support locally, as well as a willingness to see where it would go next. It would not be worth while to have a feasibility study for its own sake, but—

Photo of Jim Eadie Jim Eadie Scottish National Party

I understand that the Scottish Government must operate within feasibility and affordability constraints, but it has been ambitious with other transport infrastructure projects. All that the Lothians MSPs are asking is for the Government to keep an open mind on the issue, to think outside the box and to be prepared to look at innovative ideas that will contribute to the success of not only Edinburgh but Scotland.

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

In agreeing to have a meeting, I am showing that I am open-minded. Although we have no plans to fund the project—I will return to that point—it is certainly worth considering the information that is there. In order to progress the matter, if there is, indeed, any willingness from the transport partnership and the council, I will need to hear that from those organisations.

Jim Eadie is passionate about the project—it is probably the number 1 issue that he raises with me regularly. He has explained that it is about the opportunity from the economic and environmental connections that could be made. In fairness, he also identified some of the challenges and how people might be able to think creatively about how those could be overcome.

Sarah Boyack is not here to hear that I have agreed to a meeting, although she said that she would check the Official Report. She said that the initiative has the potential to be transformative and that it would require a variety of champions. She said that the matter would then be over to me as the minister. I like the plurality of the position—indeed, it will need a number of people to support it if it is to go any further.

Cameron Buchanan talked about the affordable nature of the project, but the cost that he has identified is different to the figures that I have. That immediately raises questions, hence, I suppose, the request for a feasibility study.

Alison Johnstone spoke about the Edinburgh Greens website. That is not a website that I am on regularly, but I am happy to have a look to understand more about the local support for an issue that has been expressed by members from across the political spectrum. I agree that there are issues around land use and localism. I do not want to be prejudiced against the initiative, but even if it were not to be progressed with any speed, at least there is protection for the land and the halts to ensure that the option is there for the future.

Stewart Stevenson spoke about his ministerial experience and the importance of council engagement—or, in a way, the lack of it, because the local authority did not deem the initiative to be its number 1 priority. All that I can say is that, in the discussions that have been had around transport strategies and, potentially, a city deal or a deal for this part of the country, the initiative has not been raised as a priority for the local authority. It if is a priority, it will certainly have to say so, and perhaps the meeting with be of assistance in that regard.

Many members touched on the popularity of rail, not least Stewart Stevenson, as well as David Stewart, who spoke about the success story that is rail right now. That is accurate; patronage has increased and Borders rail is one of many investment success stories. Curiously, this is the first time that David Stewart has not mentioned the Highland main line when it comes to investment in rail, which just goes to show that everyone has their own interests and can put them to one side—apart from Stewart Stevenson, who of course managed to get in a mention of the Buchan rail connection.

I know that there are demands from across the country to invest in rail. That is because of its popularity, because it is more sustainable and because it delivers the modal shift that we all want, which can indeed be affordable. It comes at a cost and there are huge subsidies to rail, but work is on-going to look at the potential for electrification—a form of transport that we absolutely support and have invested in to the tune of £5 billion, with more to come—on the route, although at the moment it is potentially for freight only. Jim Eadie’s interest in freight is well established through his committee work, and we are aware of freight use on the line.

All members have spoken highly of rail, and I agree with that as the Minister for Transport and Islands. There are other investments that will benefit Edinburgh, such as the Edinburgh to Glasgow improvement project, which is a substantial investment that will enhance rail provision for the city and for the central belt.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

The minister may recall the ingenious engineering solution that was associated with electrification on the Paisley Canal railway line, where the price was brought down to about a third of the original budget by putting in a dead section that was unpowered. Does he agree that there is a lot of great engineering out there waiting to be applied to getting the price of some of our infrastructure developments down to affordable levels, although it is not in and of itself a magic wand?

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

Stewart Stevenson is absolutely right, although, in the 42 seconds that I have left, I do not think that I can cover that and do it justice.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Take as long as you want, minister.

Photo of Derek Mackay Derek Mackay Scottish National Party

Thank you for that, Presiding Officer, but I do not think that you really want me to go on at great length.

What I will say is that there are on-going reviews of the operation of Network Rail, how it does its business, engineering costs and potential further devolution of rail to Scotland. In all of that, including the costs of Network Rail and the alliance that we have in Scotland, there is certainly much more that I would like us to do to challenge costs and to roll out the good work that was established in the Paisley Canal connection, as we roll out further investment in rail infrastructure in Scotland.

I return to rolling stock. When we have the new Hitachi electric trains in Scotland and further use of high-speed rail in Scotland on routes that are already established, we will have more trains in Scotland than ever before. That is a great investment, and the biggest ever investment in new rolling stock is being delivered at the same time, so there is massive investment in rail and it is a success story.

There is also on-going work at the moment on cross-boundary transport studies of current and projected future travel demand in the south-east of Scotland, including Edinburgh, and that could help to inform some of the work. It will require the local authority and the transport partnership to reflect on the consensus that I have heard in the chamber today. They have to see it as a priority for them if there is to be any realistic prospect of moving on beyond a feasibility study for its own sake, but I have committed to discussing that in detail with partners in the spirit in which the issue has been raised in the chamber.

We are actively looking at our investment options for rail beyond 2019 and this control period. I have talked in the Parliament about the planning process and the electrification options that we are considering for the country’s rail infrastructure, and the location in question is a potential one for electrification, although currently the route is for freight use.

We can have further discussions about passenger use. Although we have no immediate plans in that regard, there is scope to have a more detailed conversation on the matter in view of the variety of transport conversations and dialogues that are going on—whether those are about city deal aspirations, the wider transport study that has been proposed, or the next control period.

I want to be as constructive as I can be. I am happy to meet and to take the issue further, but I give a strong message that I want to see clear evidence from the south east of Scotland transport partnership and City of Edinburgh Council that the issue is a priority for them, so that it can be taken seriously, rather than being regarded just as a nice thing to do that is on people’s wish list.

From what Jim Eadie said, my sense is that the matter is a priority for him and his constituents, and that other parties have joined in, so I will give the matter further attention, within the limitations on which all members fairly reflected in the debate.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you all for taking part in this important debate.

Meeting closed at 17:45.