THE Scottish Government's announcement of a 30-minute train service between Scotland's two biggest cities simply demonstrates all that is wrong with our approach to railways in Scotland ("New high speed intercity rail vow", The Herald, November 13).
Piecemeal, flavour-of-the month, politically motivated plans are not the way to develop a railway system fit for the 21st century. No amount of fanfares for the announcement made by Nicola Sturgeon will disguise the fact that the plan to which she alludes is the long-awaited upgrade of Carstairs Junction, but it is presented as some futuristic train set with exaggerated graphics and even more over-stated hyperbole.
It is impossible to offer a 30-minute intercity train service without stating not only how much it will cost in terms of hard cash but also how much it would impact on other investment. The Edinburgh-Glasgow Improvement Project (EGIP) plan to upgrade existing connections and provide a 37-minute Glasgow-Edinburgh service was only producing marginal benefits over cost before it was cut back to the £650m scheme. It would be unlikely that EGIP Mark II would produce a positive return if the new Nicola Express came into service. So, given the Scottish Government's "commitment" to high-speed rail, does that mean that EGIP is now truly dead?
Or does it simply mean that yesterday the Scottish Government was sponsoring a two-day conference on high-speed rail and it needed a big story to draw attention to it?
23 Greenlees Park, Cambuslang.
IT is good to see the Cities and Infrastructure Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, thinking ahead about joining both Edinburgh and Glasgow to the proposed high-speed railway to the south. It would be even better if she could more immediately break the paralysis that has hit the faster and more frequent connections promised between the central belt and both Inverness and Aberdeen and between these two cities.
The Glasgow/Edinburgh to Inverness scheme was promised by the First Minister for full completion by December 2011 and the Aberdeen to Inverness scheme was promised by the then Transport Minister for full completion by 2016. These Government "strategic transport priority schemes" have now had their dates extended to 2025 and 2030 respectively. This is a serious blow for the economy and for business leaders who have been campaigning for first city centre arrivals much nearer to 9 am than the present 10 to 10.30 am.
The same issue gave some attention to the pressing transport needs of the A96 corridor between Inverness and Aberdeen ("Yes, there is a road even worse than the A9", The Herald, 13 November), but why did Harry Reid not mention the railway? It is nearly two years since the outline scheme for the line was published on the internet, but ministers still have not publicised their choices. That one train in December's new timetable will have to wait for 13 minutes at Nairn to access the single line speaks volumes for upgrading the whole line and including the much-needed passing loop at Inverness Airport.
Similarly, on the Inverness to Perth and Edinburgh line, ministers have not yet publicised which passing loops are to be reinstated. Some trains are to be speeded up in December and some will be slowed down, but the overall journey time remains much too long. This is all due to the congestion on the single line, which is why the fastest train will now be on a Sunday. Freight operators also require these new loops so that they can run more and longer trains.
These are vital internal Scottish lines used by travellers from the central belt and further south as well as by those in the north. All travellers deserve the choice to avoid both the A96 and the A9 through the provision of fast, hourly train services. Combining the cities brief with the infrastructure one gives one minister the chance to move these projects forward urgently.
R J Ardern,
26A Southside Road, Inverness.
THE foolishness of SNP economics is highlighted by three articles in The Herald of November 13. "North of England needs a Salmond" reveals that to afford Irish levels of business tax, Scottish GDP growth would have to be 7.8% annually, an unprecedented figure. "New high-speed intercity rail vow" pledges a new Glasgow-Edinburgh rail development with no predicted or accounted costs, and this a few months after shelving a previous £1bn commitment on the same line. And "SNP vows universal benefit support" commits the SNP to maintaining the council tax freeze, free prescriptions for all and other universal benefits.
Meanwhile, in the real world, councils are putting together their budgets for the next three years and facing horrendous cuts in services, the only options being which vital lifeline to our voters is to be cut first and deepest. Is it to be social services to the elderly, disabled and under-privileged, or is it to be support services for education and community development? Is it to be schools or care centres or libraries? Or is it to be all of these things and more?
The SNP must wake up to the fact that it supposed to be in government. The job of government is not, as the Nationalists seem to think, to pretend all is rosy in preparation for manipulated referendums. It is to provide the realism and leadership we need and to find the least painful way through the economic problems we face together.
Re-announcing airy-fairy capital projects, copying mangy Celtic tigers and pretending that difficult choices need not be faced is irresponsible and foolish in the extreme. It's time for the SNP to get a grip, face the facts and show some realism. The Scottish people expect no less.
12 Phillips Avenue,
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