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Green members want ‘transformational’ rail travel



Some are unconvinced that the measures proposed by cabinet secretary for net zero Mairi McAllan go far enough to meet that deadline, as they weigh up whether their party should continue with the Bute House Agreement with the SNP.

Scottish Green members will vote on whether to exit the pact or stay in government at an extraordinary general meeting expected to take place at the end of May.

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Ms McAllan’s proposals include the development of a new national integrated ticketing system for public transport, setting up a climate assembly and trebling the number of charging points available for electric vehicles, in a bid to encourage more people to switch away from petrol and diesel cars.

The Rail for All report, published by the Scottish Greens in 2021, called for a 20 year, £22bn investment in Scotland’s railways “to build a modern, zero carbon network that is affordable and accessible to all, making rail a natural choice for commuters and business and leisure travellers”.

It said: “This investment will be a central component of Scotland’s green recovery from Covid, creating at least 16,800 jobs while delivering infrastructure that is essential to tackling the climate emergency, supports our long-term economic prosperity, and will be enjoyed by generations to come.”

The Herald:

The report also called for journey times to “be significantly reduced, particularly between key Scottish cities” to “enable rail to become the dominant mode for long-distance travel”.

It also recommended that “all communities of more than 5,000 people should be connected to the national rail network and where this is not possible at realistic cost they should be provided with an integrated coach route as part of the national strategic rail network.”

The report said there should be a shift in freight being moved from road to rail saying the move would “substantially reduce carbon emissions and ease congestion on the road network”. 

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It stated: “Whilst many European countries have built high-speed lines and long-distance connections that criss-cross the continent and provide an affordable, comfortable and low-carbon option for commuting, business and leisure travel, Scotland and Britain as a whole has systematically under-invested in the rail network in favour of roads. 

“While important improvements have been made to the Anglo-Scottish lines and in and around Glasgow and Edinburgh, the network north of the Central Belt has been largely neglected, leaving passengers dependent on an ageing network that in some cases performs poorly compared to historical performance. 

“In 1895, for example, one could make the trip from the Capital to Dundee in just 57 minutes, compared to today’s 64 minutes.”

The party document also proposed building a tunnel under the Firth of Forth Tunnel to transform east coast transport and cut journey times from Edinburgh to Perth, Dundee, Aberdeen and Inverness.

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Called for communities of over 5,000 people to be connected to the rail network, it said new stations should be developed in Levenmouth, Peterhead, St Andrews, Erskine, Penicuik, Broxburn, Forfar, Hawick, Fraserburgh, Westhill, north west of Aberdeen, and should be explored at Haddington, Banchory, Strathaven, and Newburgh, Fife.

The report also recommended that ScotRail was returned to public ownership – which has since been achieved.

“The measures that have been announced won’t help us get [to the 2045 target,” one Scottish Greens activist told The Herald.

“We were told at the Q and A session with our MSPs last Thursday that the government would be putting its foot on the peddle when it comes to climate action.

“But what has been announced is not that. It doesn’t fill people with confidence. We want something more concrete.”

They added: “If you are looking at that one issue of transport. What would be truly transformational would be if the Scottish Greens had managed to get our Rail for All report implemented.

“It would reconnect more communities with rail, reversing many of the Beecham cuts. It would allow us then to look at reducing fares and get more people out of their cars.

“An integrated ticketing system being explored is not transformational. It is not putting your foot on the pedal.”

A second member told The Herald: “It is radical ideas like the Rail for All report proposes that we would like to see pushed forward by the government and would be really effective.

“We all realise the financial constraints the Scottish Government is operating in, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything.”

“We realise that we are a minority party and the ideas in the Rail for All report may not get the support of the SNP, but it is ideas like this that would be effective in tackling the climate crisis and make people’s lives easier.”

The Rail for All report argued that while building the zero-transport rail network Scotland
needs “is important in its own right” it could also play a central role in rebuilding Scotland’s economy.

It said: “Investment in rail is well documented to have a wider positive economic impact by improving connectivity and productivity….Scottish Government economic models suggest that for every £1bn invested in rail transport, a total output of £1.6bn can be generated through direct, indirect and induced impact and a further 14,000 full-time equivalent jobs can be created throughout the Scottish economy.”

It points to the reopening of the Borders Railway in 2015 with the line exceeding passenger predictions “carrying millions of passengers in both directions and playing a key role in attracting investment into the Borders and supporting tourism growth”.

Meanwhile, two senior figures in the SNP yesterday raised concerns about the impact of the BHA on their party.

MP Joanna Cherry called for SNP members to get a new vote on the deal, while former health secretary Alex Neil called for the two parties to “go their separate ways.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government is stepping up action on climate with a significant package of new measures to help achieve net zero by 2045. This will make Scotland one of the first countries in the world to end our contribution to climate change in a just and fair way. Transport is one of the largest emitting sectors and we will play our part in transitioning to a net zero transport system – guided by scientific evidence and in line with CCC advice on what pace and scale is considered feasible.

“In the two years since ScotRail moved into public sector, ScotRail now employs 400 more people than it did prior to public sector ownership. We have added over 200 additional services each weekday, offering 7 per cent more seats. Passenger numbers have increased by 75% from 46.7 million in 2021/22 to around 82 million in 2023/24.

“This makes ScotRail one of the fastest growing operators, with one of the best passenger satisfaction rates.We’ve opened East Linton railway station, the Borders Railway and completed the electrification of the Glasgow to Barrhead Railway Line. The £116m Levenmouth Rail Link will also open in June 2024 and will reconnect Leven and Cameron Bridge to Scotland’s railway network for the first time in more than half a century.

“We’ve launched the ground-breaking pilot removing peak fares on ScotRail services, which has been extended until June. With new stations being built, existing stations being modernised, lines re-opening, rail decarbonisation continuing and passenger services benefiting from public ownership – we’re seeing a renaissance in rail happening right across Scotland.

“Whether it’s helping people or freight to travel in a way that’s environmentally friendly, or modernised stations being key pillars of improved place-making, Scotland’s Railway is key to delivering on our long-term vision for our transport system which is fairer, greener and supports sustainable economic growth.”

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