WE were promised so much.
There would be six trains between Edinburgh and Glasgow every hour. On the fastest journeys, travel times would be cut from 50 minutes to 37 minutes. The trains would be longer so there would be less chance of having to stand all the way. But when the details of the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP) were announced yesterday, only one of those three promises had been kept. By any measure, that is not a good result.
This does not mean, however, that the improvements to the Edinburgh-Glasgow line unveiled yesterday should be dismissed as too little too late. The scheme, even though it has been trimmed back, will still see £650m spent on upgrades of what is a vital social, cultural and business artery between our two biggest cities.
But EGIP used to be seen as a flagship scheme for the Scottish Government; there used to be talk of the transformative effect it would have on a rail link that has been in need of improvement for many years. Yet we now know many of these changes will not take place. With £350million cut from its budget, there will be no transformation, only a gradual improvement.
The only one of the three promises that will be met will be the one on longer trains, which should at least help solve one of the most persistent problems on the line: the lack of space at peak times. There will also be some improvement to travel times with the fastest journey being reduced from 50 minutes to 42 rather than the promised 37.
The reality, though, is that the £350m shortfall means improvements to the line will be only slight and this will be particularly disappointing for Scotland's business community. Yesterday, the director of CBI Scotland, Iain McMillan, expressed his regrets at the scaling back of the scheme and business people have also told the trade organisation, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, they would be willing to pay higher fares to win the improvements to the service they see as essential.
But would the wider public be willing to see such increases? Someone commuting every day between Edinburgh and Glasgow at peak hours already pays around £80 a week and the Government appears to have made the judgment that it would be unfair to ask them to pay more to fund the original £1bn scheme.
This decision is perfectly understandable at a time when budgets are tight, but it must not signal the end of the bigger ambitions. The Government says the rest of the improvements to the Edinburgh-Glasgow line could be delivered in future phases and they should abide by that. We may have shunted a little closer to the goal of a fast, efficient, modern service yesterday but that goal must not be forgotten.
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