SNP intent on developing Scottish high-speed rail services

An independent Scotland will have high-speed rail as a key priority, according to the Scottish National Party.

As part of its devolution package, the SNP has pledged high-quality, affordable rail services, and that it will consider options for different ownership models for rail services, investigate electrification, and look at different methods of delivering rolling stock. The referendum for the vote on independence will take place on September 18.

In Scotland’s Future - A Future for Transport, its blueprint for transport published on February 4, the SNP said: “Despite a much stronger business case from a network that includes Scotland, and despite previous calls not just from the Scottish Government but also councils in the north of England and civic and business Scotland, it is only now that the Westminster Government has agreed to plan for high speed to go beyond Manchester and Leeds.

“Meanwhile we continue to plan for a high-speed compatible link between Edinburgh and Glasgow that will act as a ‘launch pad’ for high-speed rail services to the South, as well as releasing capacity on existing lines in the Central Belt.”

The SNP wants to work with councils in the north of England to argue the case for HS2 to be extended north of the border.

It also says it will work on domestic lines within Scotland, stating: “Through substantial investment in the Highland Main Line and the line between Aberdeen and Inverness, along with enhanced inter-city services delivered through the next franchise, we will ensure that high-speed rail brings benefits to all of Scotland.”

Exact levels of funding were not revealed on February 4. The SNP claimed an expected £8 billion of capital investment would be spent over the next two years, supporting 50,000 jobs. Scotland’s Transport Minister Keith Brown spoke of the M8 motorway improvement plan, the £1.5bn Queensferry Crossing and road schemes in Aberdeen. He did not mention rail schemes.

In his foreword to the blueprint, Brown said: “Better trains and improved stations promote economic growth, and the benefits of top-quality rail services are therefore just as important as value for money.”

He continued: “Over the five years to 2019, our spending commitments are, per head of population, over double those made by the UK Government. We are also taking a distinctly different path to ensure that rail travel is affordable by regulating more fares and capping increases at or under core inflation measures.

“We are convinced that high-quality, affordable rail services will provide people across Scotland with an attractive alternative to travelling by car.”

Since 2005, powers to specify and fund work on the Scottish rail network have been devolved, with Transport Scotland in charge. Discussion about the overall structure of the rail industry remains reserved with Westminster, along with safety and standards.

SNP says independence will not mean any immediate change to rail services, but that future Scottish governments will have greater flexibility over budgets available.

  • This news article was published in RAIL 742 on 19 February 2014

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