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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 29 May 2019

Agenda: Next Steps in Scotland’s Future, Portfolio Question Time, Wind Turbine Construction (Fife), Business Motion, Decision Time, Expanding Scotland’s Railways


Expanding Scotland’s Railways

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-17353, in the name of Mark Ruskell, on expanding Scotland’s railways. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises what it sees as the key role that the expansion and improvement of railway infrastructure will play in the decarbonisation of Scotland’s transport sector and addressing the climate emergency; considers the Local Rail Development Fund to have been a success and congratulates the nine projects that were awarded funding from the first round of applications, including StARLink in St Andrews and the Newburgh Train Station Group; believes that new railway lines and reopened stations will help to increase passenger numbers, connect rural communities and reduce emissions; understands that a number of groups submitted applications for viable and credible projects, which were unsuccessful in receiving funding; notes the calls for these groups to re-apply to the second round; understands that the Donovan review of train performance highlighted issues, including punctuality on the Milngavie-Westerton line, which are in need of further Scottish Government investment; notes the belief that an expanded rail network is a priority for Scotland, and sends its best wishes to the groups that are applying to the second round of the Local Rail Development Fund.


Mark Ruskell (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Green)

I am delighted to lead the debate, and I thank members from across the chamber for supporting the motion.

I remember that when I first stood for election to Holyrood all those years ago, back in 1999, I fought my way through the undergrowth at the abandoned railway station at Alloa, holding a huge map of the Mid Scotland and Fife region that displayed all the rail lines that had been closed in the Beeching era. It took a leap of imagination to believe that the Stirling to Alloa line could reopen, but it did—successfully—in 2009, through strong leadership from Clackmannanshire Council and the vision of the community.

A decade on from that reopening, it is time to look at the map again and to support communities that have been left to the mercy of deregulated bus companies and the inequality of private car ownership to meet their transport needs. We could be at the beginning of a new golden age for rail in Scotland. I am sure that the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands will wish to talk about the longer, greener, faster trains that are bringing welcome improvements through electrification, but for communities in Fife that were rubbed off the rail map decades ago, such improvements will not deliver the transformational changes that they need to access work and educational opportunities.

After the opening of the Forth road bridge back in 1964, we had a string of rail closures that isolated communities and brought into sharp relief the transport inequalities of those who have no choice beyond public transport. Now that the Queensferry crossing is open, it is important that new investment in rail can reach directly into the Fife communities that have been left behind. Sadly, however, no rail reinstatement schemes have been commissioned since the current Holyrood Government took charge more than a decade ago. I hope that that will change and that, through the new pipeline approach, we will see robust business cases for stations and new lines being made, matched by capital budgets that can prioritise low-carbon rail.

Over the past couple of years, my team has brought together active rail campaigns, from Kincardine to St Andrews, Newburgh and Levenmouth, to share knowledge and support each other. That work resulted in a report that we published in 2017, which examined how reinstated stations could feed into the Fife circle rather than compete with each other. Communities told us that they were stuck on first base, that the Scottish transport appraisal guidance—STAG—process was very difficult to work through without professional support, and that there were no dedicated funds to lever such support in. In the case of Newburgh, the community had even attempted, unsuccessfully, to squeeze money out of the national lottery fund.

We found that a dedicated stream of funding was needed to support communities in building business cases for rail solutions and testing them to destruction. The idea of a local rail development fund was born out of those discussions. I was very pleased that, following last year’s budget talks between the Greens and the Scottish National Party, £2 million was allocated, of which more than £1 million is still to be disbursed in the next round of funding, which closes at the end of June.

In my region, a number of projects were funded, including Newburgh station campaign, which I have already mentioned, and StARLink—the St Andrews rail link campaign. Funding was also granted to the Tayside and central Scotland regional transport partnership—Tactran—for two projects: one to examine the possibility of putting in a station at Bridge of Earn and another on improving rail accessibility in Stirling. Fife Council was also successful in getting funding to complete a study into completing the cross-Forth rail connections. For Newburgh, such funding has reignited the campaign in a community that watches trains pass through the heart of the village every hour, but whose people have to travel 10 miles to their nearest station. It could reconnect the wider area around Newburgh to employment and education opportunities in Fife and Perth.

In St Andrews, the campaign group, which has been working since 1989 to reconnect the town, can finally take its work to the next level, which is to look at how a branch line and station could alleviate congestion, tackle housing pressures and provide a direct rail link to St Andrews’ world-class university and international sporting events.

The Levenmouth rail campaign has also played a central role in supporting the wider development of the rail network in Fife. The interim STAG for the area was published on 17 May. Although it includes a rail link as one of six possible improvements, it still focuses very heavily on buses. Bus services have already been tweaked, but they have not delivered the transformational links that can come with a railway line, nor the clean, fast connections to cities that the local community so desperately desires.

We urgently need that study to progress to the next stage. I would welcome it if the minister could confirm today a timescale for the next STAG stages and the subsequent governance for railway investment projects—GRIP—reports for the Levenmouth line, because the community is getting tired of waiting. I am sure that a number of members who represent Fife will want to talk about that during the debate.

With the forthcoming strategic transport projects review, it is important that community voices around Scotland are heard. In recent weeks, I held workshops in Kincardine and Alloa, which drew in over 150 people, to explore local transport challenges and how a rail reinstatement from Alloa to Dunfermline could provide a solution. I am pleased that Talgo, the electric train manufacturer that has advanced plans to establish a base at Longannet, attended and supported both of those meetings. We hoped that Diageo would provide that kind of commitment over 10 years ago to spur the development of the Levenmouth railway, but so far that has failed to materialise.

The strong messages from those meetings were that access is needed to the east of Scotland, that bus services are poor or non-existent and that communities, especially Clackmannan, felt left behind when the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine line was opened for freight. There were strong feelings of dislocation in the west Fife villages and a concern that, while Talgo’s plans may open up an electrified line from Alloa to Longannet, there is an urgent need to consider the needs of west Fife villages at the outset.

We could be seeing a rail renaissance in Scotland—and just in time, as the climate emergency bites and the need for economic regeneration and a just transition is greater than ever. The local rail development fund has helped to spur the early thinking, but it is now time for the Scottish Government to respond and help to get our communities back on the rail map.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I have 10 members wishing to speak, so I am afraid that I have to be pretty strict—that is not like me—and keep you to four-minute speeches, please.


David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

I congratulate Mark Ruskell on securing this important debate on expanding Scotland’s railways.

This morning, I travelled to Parliament by train. It took 45 minutes to reach Edinburgh from my constituency of Kirkcaldy, and during that time I checked my emails and my social media, wished my constituents a happy birthday on Facebook and chatted with other commuters. By making the journey by rail, I was responsible for the emission of 2.2kg of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. If I had driven, I would have been responsible for four times that amount.

The Scottish Government has set a world-leading target to achieve net zero emissions by 2045—that is, to have the same volume of greenhouse gases being emitted that is absorbed through offsetting techniques such as forestry. There are a number of ways in which Scotland will achieve that. We will improve energy efficiency in homes, buildings and industrial processes and we will champion the renewable energy potential by creating new jobs and supply chain opportunities, but we will also encourage individuals to adopt greener modes of transport, be it by switching to electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles or by making better use of public transport.

However, individuals cannot make better use of public transport if it does not exist. As many will know, the mass closures of train stations and removal of track infrastructure in the 1960s, which is commonly known as the Beeching axe, led to the closure of 200 stations across Scotland and left some areas entirely isolated from the rail network. Regardless of whether that was the correct decision to preserve the rail network at the time, the closures had a profound effect on areas such as Levenmouth, which sits both in my constituency and in Jenny Gilruth’s.

Levenmouth is one of the most deprived areas of Scotland. Historically, coal mining guaranteed high employment and relative prosperity in the area until the decline in the 1970s. First, people lost their railway and then they lost their industry. Now, it is an area of multiple deprivation, with 44 per cent of Levenmouth residents living in one of the 20 per cent most deprived areas in Scotland and one in four children living in poverty. The area also has a low level of car ownership and many residents rely on public transport to do basic things such as travel to work, do their shopping and attend medical appointments.

Today, the Levenmouth rail campaign is fighting for the lost rail line to be reclaimed. The community-run campaign, which was launched in 2014, has been working tirelessly to keep the case for the area’s railway to be reinstated on the front burner. The campaign believes strongly that the area’s isolation from the rail network is holding it back by limiting employment and education opportunities for locals, which is costing the local economy greatly.

Its most recent breakthrough was the commissioning of a second STAG feasibility study with Transport Scotland, which was released earlier this month. It states that reopening the existing line to passengers and freight would provide direct and quicker access to a range of opportunities and services such as education, culture, leisure, health and employment, and could improve the potential for businesses to locate in the area and for those businesses as well as current employers to attract people with the necessary job skills and experience to work in the area.

Not only is the reopening of the line beneficial to the area, but the overwhelming success of the reopening of the Borders railway only strengthens the case for the reopening of the Levenmouth line. Since the Borders railway opened, the line has opened up employment opportunities, reduced congestion, increased tourism and increased relocation to the area. Given the same opportunity of the reinstatement of its rail line, all those benefits could be replicated in the Levenmouth area.

The benefits of expanding our rail network—or, more accurately, reinstating pre-existing lines—are outstandingly clear. As Scotland works to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2045, we must put in place the infrastructure to help our citizens to do their part. More railways mean more passengers and freight, which means fewer vehicles on our roads, creating fewer emissions and causing less congestion.

A railway line is more than a mode of transport. It is a lifeline that connects communities, creates economic opportunities and expands the horizons of those it serves. It can be the difference between someone taking a job or not, starting a business or not, or visiting an attraction or not. In order for them to say yes, we must say yes to creating a public transport network that this country can be proud of.


Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

I add my thanks for the previous speech, because it was an excellent summary of why rail is so important. It is good to hear phrases such as “rail renaissance in Scotland” but, in my few minutes, I want to address some of the issues that rail faces.

We know that domestic transportation accounts for 32 per cent of our emissions and that excludes aviation, so getting more people on to our trains is key to meeting our climate change ambitions. I am sure that members will have a long list of stations and lines that they wish to open, reopen or build new, and I look forward to hearing some of those suggestions. However, as Mark Ruskell pointed out, making a business case for such projects is difficult and complex, and it can even be expensive.

Taking rail enthusiasts and local campaigners up a level to produce robust business cases for large-scale infrastructure projects is no mean feat. Many local authorities are doing so. East Lothian, Fife and South Lanarkshire are using the money to carry out appraisals and STAG reviews, and to assess their transport needs. I hope that that will lead to improvements in infrastructure.

We will no doubt hear that we are moving away from old diesel trains towards new electric trains with new carriages and new lines. Good and welcome progress has been made on that, but electrification is an expensive game to play.

Technology might play a huge part in addressing some of the problems. For example, how do we use electric trains on non-electric lines? I have met stakeholders who sing the praises of using batteries that bolt on underneath carriages and allow trains to go off-grid and reach those vital final few miles of a journey on a non-electrified line. That is not a panacea, but I am keen to hear from the minister what conversations the Government is having with manufacturers of such technology.

Like many members of the Scottish Parliament, we have identified that connecting rural Scotland is important to our growth. Research shows that having a rail station in a rural area means exponentially higher average growth in such areas than is brought about by building stations in urban areas. There is a clear link, but the future will not be easy for us.

The motion refers to the Donovan report. The report is a comprehensive list of recommendations that ScotRail should take on board, but they are the low-hanging fruit and short-term fixes. It is a depressing read, because it is a list of failures on the part of our operator. Progress has been made, but ScotRail admits that reaching all its performance targets is nigh on impossible within the lifetime of the current franchise.

Like many in the industry, I await the Williams review, which deserves a mention today. The review is setting the scene for wider structural changes in how UK rail will operate. That could include structural changes to Network Rail and the essence of the franchise model itself, which is not serving everyone perfectly. I quote Keith Williams, who is performing the review, because what he says sums up the complexity of the task that we face:

“There needs to be a much stronger focus on passengers ... Passengers must be at the heart of the future of the railway.

And not just the passengers of today, but also the passengers of tomorrow, who will look at rail differently than we do today and hopefully, if we do our job right, as part of a more integrated transport network.”

The expansion of our railways will take many years—indeed decades—and will involve new trains, stations and lines, on top of maintaining our existing infrastructure.

Rail is expensive, and requires huge long-term commitment. Its expansion is a noble ambition, but ambition alone will build not a mile of a track or a brick of a station. The old adage rings truer than ever today: money makes the wheels go round.


Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

There is only one railway station in my constituency; it is in Inverurie, which is just on the edge of the constituency. There is no other rail infrastructure across the whole of my constituency. Further up, Stewart Stevenson’s Banff and Buchan constituency does not boast a railway station at all, or one bit of railway track.

The people in the north-east of the north-east are really left behind when it comes to public transport options. We have our bus service, which is very radial, with all routes feeding into Aberdeen city. For the people of my constituency, and Stewart Stevenson’s, that means that we are largely reliant on our cars. It will not have escaped the notice of anyone in the chamber that we now have a climate emergency. Living in my part of the north-east, I feel that I am very limited in how I can play my part in the reduction of carbon emissions.

We are looking at increased infrastructure for the electrification of cars and the associated charging points, but for a large part of our population, owning a car—particularly a new car—will be forever out of their reach. Those people are consigned to using a bus service that is not particularly fit for purpose.

I thank Mark Ruskell for bringing the debate to the chamber. I will use the opportunity that it creates to ask the Government to consider almost ignoring the surveys that have been done around rail in the north-east; although they rightly look at improving the existing infrastructure and making journeys faster, they never seem to be able to make the business case for reopening the Formartine to Buchan line, even just as far as Ellon. Obviously, it would be better for the line to go as far as Peterhead, but I realise that that would need to be an incremental step.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

The Government undertook to review all its policies as a result of declaring a climate emergency. In the member’s opinion, could one such review revisit the benefit of spending £3 billion on dualling the A96?

Gillian Martin

John Finnie makes an interesting point, because the various routes that go round Inverurie would be looked at for the dualling of the A96. My constituents are exercised about that in a very serious way.

Doing that work was a manifesto commitment, but, as the First Minister has said, she is looking at all policy areas to explore how we can reduce our carbon emissions. I imagine that nothing would be off the table. I will not nail my colours to the mast on what I think that she should do in that particular regard, but as we look at what we should do with our transport infrastructure in the future, I will make the point that rail has to be part of that. It should not just be a case of improving the current rail infrastructure across Scotland; we need to look at areas that are completely left behind and in which people do not have the option of using rail at all.

I want to make one further point. We have 11,000 people in Ellon, and 31 per cent of them work in Aberdeen city. Some people will always use their cars, but I think that if we seriously reach out again to the people of the north-east who do not have the option of rail, and ask them, as we have done before, whether they would use the train, a higher proportion of people would say yes. Tomorrow, I am publishing a survey that will ask that question of people all along the proposed route for the Formartine to Buchan railway, to find out how many people would use it. I hope to take the results of that survey to the Government and to get more evidence that the people of Aberdeenshire would relish the opportunity of taking the train rather than their cars.


Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which states that I am the volunteer chair of the campaign for the reopening of Eastriggs railway station.

I thank Mark Ruskell for lodging his motion and enabling us to have this debate on rail, which is a subject that the Parliament does not discuss often enough. The day-to-day issues around rail performance are often highlighted during question times, not least because that performance is not good enough, but the issues of our long-term vision for rail, how we grow rail and how we meet demand for rail are rarely if ever debated in the chamber, and certainly not in Government time. That is despite the real need to increase the pace of growth.

The motion highlights the role of the local rail development fund in helping to achieve that growth. I support the fund, although it might be a bit premature to describe it as a success at this point, given that only £700,000 of the £2 million has been allocated so far, and given that it is part of a new and untested pipeline process. The real test will be whether that fund and the new pipeline process, which I support in principle, are enough to tackle the current underinvestment in our rail infrastructure and, crucially, ensure that the investment is inclusive of all of Scotland. If the Government is serious about delivering inclusive economic growth, it needs to ensure that there is an equitable share of infrastructure investment. It needs to recognise that making a business case for investment through the STAG process is hugely challenging for rural areas such as my South Scotland region, given their low population catchment.

However, that does not mean that there is no need for new investment in the rail network in south-west Scotland. The current line to the south-west from Glasgow, which runs between Glasgow and Kilmarnock before branching off in two directions—to Stranraer in the west and Carlisle in the east—has lacked investment in the past. That was exposed when the west coast main line was closed due to storm damage and the Nith valley line was used as the diversion. Trains that normally travel at more than 100mph on the west coast main line crawled their way along the diversion route. There is a real need to upgrade that line from a rural to a main line. That includes electrification not just from Glasgow to Kilmarnock, but along the full length of the line.

There are strong cases for new stations along the Nith valley line. Reopening Eastriggs station would give the growing number of people from that area who travel to Annan, Dumfries and Carlisle for work, education and healthcare a positive public transport alternative to the car. The 28 mile stretch between Dumfries and Sanquhar is the longest part of the line with no station, which highlights the need to reopen Thornhill station, which would improve links between mid-Nithsdale and Dumfries and beyond, as well as to the central belt.

In Ayrshire, communities in Cumnock and Mauchline are making a powerful case, which I fully support, for the reopening of local stations there. Experts show that that could attract hundreds of thousands of passengers a year, boosting the economies in communities with some of the highest levels of unemployment in Scotland.

There are also smaller improvements that can be made. It remains a scandal that there is no disabled access on the southbound platform 2 at Kirkconnel station. In the west of the region, the poor infrastructure linking Stranraer and the ferry port at Cairnryan with the rest of Scotland and the UK is well documented. However, the current railway station in Stranraer sits some distance from the town centre on the pier of the now closed ferry terminal. Exploring the relocation of that station—possibly in the town centre, as part of a wider transport hub—is entirely the type of project that I hope will secure funding from the local rail development fund.

There is a campaign to reopen Beattock station on the west coast main line, which highlights the demand for commuter services to Carlisle and Glasgow and Edinburgh from the area. There are plenty of passenger trains that travel along the west coast main line—the issue is that more trains pass through Lockerbie without stopping than actually stop there.

I have highlighted just a few cases from my South Scotland region in which investment in the rail network would make a huge difference to communities, to the economy and to our environment. I hope that those projects, and others, will receive Government support in the years ahead so that we have a genuinely inclusive rail network that covers all of Scotland.


Ross Greer (West Scotland) (Green)

I thank Mark Ruskell for giving those of us who spend a comical amount of our time dealing with the rail lines in our region a chance to either celebrate recent progress or use the debate as a form of group therapy if such progress is not happening.

Improving our rail network—passenger and freight—is key to tackling the climate emergency. However, it is also key to tackling issues of public health such as air pollution and road safety, and to the social justice agenda, which says that the ability to travel, to reach the wider community and access services should not depend on the ability to run a car. That is certainly an issue across the west of Scotland. The minister might be familiar with my campaign to redual the Westerton to Milngavie line. Twin-tracked until 1990, it has been a single-track line ever since and is now the only single-track terminating line in the country to run four trains an hour. The line is at maximum capacity, and even slight delays cannot be made up for. That has translated into the Milngavie line consistently being the worst-performing line in Scotland. In 2018, just one in four trains ran on time. The latest figures for this month show essentially the same, with 28 per cent running on time.

Positive changes have happened. For example, trains arriving into Milngavie no longer head straight back out, making use of the second platform for turnover time, and the extension of platform 1 at Westerton station means that a train that is sitting at that platform no longer blocks the junction, preventing other trains from moving on or off the Milngavie line. However, those improvements have not translated into transformed performance—we are still sitting at about one in four trains being on time.

I advocate redualling the line not because it is the only thing that we could think of. I commissioned rail expert and former Network Rail officer, David Prescott, to conduct a technical study of the line. His conclusion was that the Milngavie line is almost unique in seeing passenger numbers fall while usage of the whole network grows. It is so unreliable that local residents are simply giving up. However, they are not getting the bus—we are dealing with cuts to local bus services as well, including the Citybus 15 that travels from Milngavie into Glasgow city centre.

One effect is that those who can afford to are getting into their cars again, which has a knock-on effect of its own. Drymen Road in Bearsden has an acute air pollution issue. It is a designated air quality management area, with a primary school playground at its centre. Our chronically unreliable rail service and cuts to local bus services are making that air pollution worse—pollution that affects the oldest and the youngest in our community the most.

I appreciate that the cabinet secretary met me to discuss the issue, and that he received the report that I commissioned. I also recognise that the Donovan review identified the Milngavie line as needing specific improvements. However, I am utterly unconvinced that anything short of redualling will have the desired effect. A second track would also allow for the construction of the long-mooted Allander station—-which we need now more than ever, as another housing development in the area has just been completed.

Delays in Milngavie affect the whole network across west and central Scotland—indeed, as far as here in Edinburgh. However, they have a particular affect on the lines to Dalmuir, Dumbarton, Balloch and Helensburgh. Only 43 per cent of the trains that travel through Dalmuir are running on time. For the trains that terminate there, the figure drops to just 29 per cent, which is almost as bad as at Milngavie.

Moving further south, neither Paisley Canal nor Largs are mentioned in the remedial plan or the Donovan review, yet both have performance stats that are similarly as poor as those of Milngavie. Although Largs has improved by almost 10 per cent, it is still sitting at under 40 per cent. Paisley Canal has gone in the opposite direction, with performance dropping by 10 per cent over the past two years, with fewer than one in three trains on time. Largs has a second track as far as Hunterston, which was used only for freight—it is not electrified and it is not used now. In addition, given that Ardrossan Harbour’s performance is worse than that of Largs, it is likely that the issues are occurring further up the line anyway. Nonetheless, I would suggest that a study into local improvements there would be a strong candidate for the next round of local rail development fund funding. Although Paisley Canal is a little more complicated, given the steep decline there, something clearly needs to be done.

If the minister does not have to hand the details to address the issues on those specific lines, I would appreciate it if he or the cabinet secretary could write to me with further information on what is currently planned or being considered.

The Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands (Paul Wheelhouse)

Will the member give way?

Ross Greer


The Deputy Presiding Officer

There is not time—sorry.

Ross Greer

I look forward to hearing from the minister in his closing remarks.

I realise that this sounds like a shopping list—because it is. My constituents have some of the worst rail lines in the country. Usage is falling when it should be doing the opposite, and we are in the midst of a climate emergency. These are exactly the kind of ambitious capital projects that are required to tackle that emergency head on, and to give Scotland the world-class public transport network that we deserve.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I thank members for keeping to their time so far, which is excellent. Let us continue that.


Mark McDonald (Aberdeen Donside) (Ind)

Thank you very much, Deputy Presiding Officer—message received and understood.

I congratulate Mark Ruskell on securing this important debate and bringing the issue to the chamber. At the very beginning of his speech, he rightly mentioned the shadow of the Beeching report, which hangs over much of the rail infrastructure—or lack of rail infrastructure—in parts of Scotland, not just in rural areas but in many urban communities that lost rail stations during the Beeching era.

My constituency has the rail station of Dyce. Although it is one of the busiest small stations in Scotland, it was one of the stations that were closed as a result of the Beeching report, and it was not reopened until 1984. My office manager—who lives in Lumphanan—asked me whether I would also mention the loss of the Deeside line. I said that there might be a local member who would be willing to mention it, but I do not see any of the local members in the chamber. Therefore, I put the loss of the Deeside line in the north-east on the record as well.

Gillian Martin mentioned the Formartine to Buchan line, which she and I have spoken about in the past, where we agreed on the need for proper appraisal and investment to consider bringing it back into use. I looked at the most recent appraisal and it is true to say that, if one considers it simply as a cold cost-benefit calculation, it does not necessarily make sense on paper for the route to be reopened. However, I believe that there are wider considerations. Indeed, in transport appraisal terms, a positive case is made in the report for the route to be brought back into use. It would have an integral part to play in a wider rail strategy for the north-east. Obviously, there are technical considerations, but the report concludes that it is technically feasible for the route to be brought back into use. It would connect into my constituency through Dyce station and on to Aberdeen if it were simply to follow the previous route used.

Gillian Martin

Does Mark McDonald agree that any proposed rail line should include a station at Newmachar so that people in the surrounding area—perhaps people coming off the A947—might be able to park and ride?

Mark McDonald

Indeed. I believe that all three options that were assessed included the option of a station at Newmachar. I will make a point about urban expansion shortly. That would be a sensible step to take with the expansion that is taking place in Newmachar and other areas in the A947 corridor. I am sure that, in raising the particular issue of a station in Newmachar, Gillian Martin does not have an interest as a resident of Newmachar.

I want to highlight the need to look at urban stations. In my constituency, communities such as Bucksburn and Woodside could benefit from an urban station. If we look at the likely development patterns in the city of Aberdeen, we see that Bucksburn in particular is likely to see a significant housing expansion and a significant expansion with the soon-to-be-completed exhibition and conference centre and hotel infrastructure. The opportunity for an urban station perhaps in the area of Stoneywood, Bucksburn or Woodside could have a significant effect in reducing congestion.

We have already seen the Aberdeen western peripheral route take a significant amount of congestion away from the Haudagain roundabout and routes into the city. An opportunity to increase urban rail through the dualling of the line, which has taken place, and the provision of new urban stations may add to that.

A final issue needs to be highlighted. The question of how exactly the £200 million that is identified in the city region deal for the north-east will be spent to reduce rail journey times and improve infrastructure continues to be asked, particularly by Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce. There are concerns that the money might not be spent in the north-east, which might not be entirely in keeping with the letter of what was agreed when the city region deal was signed. I would be more than happy to meet the minister to discuss that further. Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce has repeatedly raised the issue with me and other local members.

I will stop there, Presiding Officer, in order to avoid incurring your wrath.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you very much.


Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I am pleased to be able to speak in this important debate, and I thank Mark Ruskell for securing it. I will focus on the absolute need for greater investment in the rail network across the south-west of Scotland, which many constituents have contacted me about.

Scotland’s railway network is vital in allowing people the freedom to travel accessibly and with ease around our country. The railway does not discriminate on the basis of disability—although I acknowledge that there are access issues at Kirkconnel—and rail travel does not require people to have a driver’s licence. As David Torrance rightly highlighted, rail travel reduces emissions, and rail promotes active travel by, for example, allowing people with bicycles who choose cycling holidays to get from A to B hassle free.

The Galloway and west Dumfries area of the South Scotland region, which I represent, has three key train routes: the Stranraer to Glasgow route, the Dumfries to Carlisle route, and the Dumfries to Glasgow route. All those routes are well used and are relied on by many people who live and work in the area, as well as by those who travel to and from the area every day for work, leisure or study. However, all too often, constituents tell me that they are put off using those routes because the trains are too irregular and outdated, and because the journey times are too lengthy. Attracting people to live, work and study in, and to visit, rural areas such as Dumfries and Galloway is crucial if we are to keep them populated and if they are to flourish. Good transport links and connectivity are essential.

In recent years, we have seen a steady decline in the working-age population across Dumfries and Galloway, with young people leaving the region for employment and education. That has left the area with a skills shortage and recruitment problems, particularly in the recruitment of general practitioners, radiologists and other healthcare professionals. Indeed, in meetings with local businesses, GP practices and NHS Dumfries and Galloway to discuss how we can attract people to live and work in the region, action on the railway network—or on the lack of it—is often described as a top priority on the wish lists of local folk.

At a recent meeting with a local general practice in Dumfries, the GPs told me that they are aware of colleagues who live in the central belt who would be more than happy to work in Dumfries, as well as across bonnie Galloway, if they were not put off by the current state of the rail services and by the underdeveloped road network. The GPs and staff told me that, if the journey time between Dumfries and Glasgow, for example, which is currently almost an hour and 50 minutes, could be reduced with the introduction of faster trains, more highly skilled professionals such as GPs would come to work in our region. That would, of course, be welcome. The same is true for Stranraer. I ask the cabinet secretary to explore options for the electrification of such rail routes in order to reduce travel times. I have also written to Network Rail, which owns the lines, to ask what support it is providing to the Scottish Government to assist with the needed upgrades.

I have been contacted by local action groups about the possible reopening of the Dumfries to Stranraer line, and other groups are lobbying for the opening of Beattock station and even for moving Stranraer station closer to the town centre. The increased volume of traffic on the A75, which is partly a result of the ferries leaving from Cairnryan, has caused much concern, and people are justifiably frustrated about the road now being so busy. The reopening of the east-west line would also allow people who do not have cars to travel across the region.

I stress to the people of the south of Scotland, who often say that they feel forgotten, that I have not forgotten about them. I will continue to lobby in Parliament for improvements to our region’s transport infrastructure.


Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

I thank Mark Ruskell for securing such an important and topical debate. It is refreshing to speak about new railways, given the immense opportunities that they present in connecting communities, as the motion says—particularly in rural Scotland, including in my constituency.

Although the debate is not focusing on the efficiency and service of our railways, I want to make it clear from the outset that, if we are to build confidence in, and improve customer satisfaction with, Scotland’s railways, ScotRail will need to clean up its act. It is all well and good to have brand new railways such as the Borders railway, but, if the trains do not arrive on time—or even at all—we will not see the benefits in relation to tackling climate change and unlocking business growth.

The debate is timely, because Murdo Fraser lookalike Michael Portillo travelled on the Borders railway during yesterday’s episode of his BBC Two documentary series “Great British Railway Journeys”. The Borders railway, which serves many of my constituents, albeit that it is outside my constituency, is a fantastic example of how a rural region can be opened up to the central belt and beyond. The railway is the longest domestic railway to be built in the United Kingdom for more than 100 years. The Waverley line, as it is also known, takes passengers through some of the most beautiful countryside in the Borders—it also goes through the Deputy Presiding Officer’s constituency.

The original Edinburgh to Hawick line opened in 1849, with the extension to Carlisle opening in 1862. It was known as the Waverley route—it was named after the first published novel of celebrated Scottish Borders resident Sir Walter Scott—and it provided direct rail services between Edinburgh, the Scottish Borders, Yorkshire and London for 107 years.

Ahead of the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections, the First Minister promised that a feasibility study would be undertaken on extending the railway, and I am glad that the UK Government has announced that it would back a full feasibility study into extending the Borders railway from Hawick, through Newcastleton and on to Carlisle, as part of the £345 million Borderlands growth deal. Of course, all of that would not have been possible without Campaign for Borders Rail, which has been determined and hard working from the start.

Colin Smyth—rose.

Rachael Hamilton

I will give way to Colin Smyth.

Colin Smyth

Does the member—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call Colin Smith—I would like to keep my job going.

Colin Smyth

I am sorry, Presiding Officer. I was just trying to avoid using up too much time.

Does Rachael Hamilton agree that it is important to keep an open mind on where an extension to the Borders railway should go? For example, a route through the town of Langholm would boost the economy in that area.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

You will get your time back, Ms Hamilton.

Rachael Hamilton

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

Colin Smyth, of course, champions the railway going through Langholm, but I am championing the railway going through Newcastleton, and I support Campaign for Borders Rail in order for that to happen.

We are so pleased that that manifesto commitment has been delivered, as the extension will bring transformational change to a region that faces significant challenges but that also has massive potential. After all, 14 million people live within two hours’ drive of the Borderlands region, but to tap into that potential we need more cross-border connectivity and collaboration. As the deal is jointly financed by the UK and Scottish Governments, progress of the study now depends on Scottish ministers giving permission to proceed. I ask the minister to update us on that, if he can, in his closing speech.

Moving away from the Borders railway to Berwickshire, I am glad that, following a successful campaign by the Rail Action Group East of Scotland—RAGES—the Scottish Government has committed to reinstating Reston station, because, at times, Berwickshire has felt left out. I look forward to that happening in control period 6—between now and 2024. Again, it has been the result of hard work by local authorities. The trains that stop there will then go down the east coast main line, and the whole project will be crucial in connecting the Borders with Newcastle, York and London.

As we know, new railways are important for our future. Although the Borders has not yet been a recipient of the local rail development fund, it could be in the future, to create further connectivity in what is a very rural area.

I will leave it there, Presiding Officer, as I can see that time is running short.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Due to the number of members who wish to speak in the debate, I am minded to accept a motion without notice, under rule 8.14.3, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes. I invite Mark Ruskell to move the motion.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Mark Ruskell]

Motion agreed to.


Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab)

I thank Mark Ruskell for bringing the motion on a future rail revolution to the chamber for debate, and I declare an interest as a member of the Campaign for Borders Rail.

Expansion of Scotland’s railways is a vital step that needs to be taken—after all, passenger use of trains has effectively doubled in the past 20 years. It is clear that people want to use the train, and many Scottish communities are trying to get their services back. However, they are continually being thwarted—partly by the SNP Administration and partly by the challenging and expensive process that is involved.

I recently attended a STAG appraisal consultation meeting on the reopening of Beattock station in my South Scotland region. I saw at the meeting the local rail action group’s determination, and its vision in respect of the opportunities that might arise, from tourism to commuting to the contribution that it could make to reducing carbon. There was also a presentation from Moffat high school students that set in stark relief the challenges of not having a station nearby. As they pointed out, if the station were to be reopened, they could travel every day to college or university in Glasgow, Edinburgh or Carlisle. They were also keen to stress that they could go out clubbing and get home again.

I hope that the optimism about people remaining in their own communities will not be crushed by a negative result from the STAG process. Constituents from the area and other parts of South Scotland have stressed the STAG process’s ineffectiveness in facilitating reopening of lines and stations, with local authorities often being forced to waste their scarce funding on repeated STAG applications.

The Scottish Government has now declared a climate emergency—and rightly so—but without robust actions on rail, and despite other actions that have been taken, the declaration rings somewhat hollow. We know that transport, particularly the ever-expanding amount of road traffic, is the main source of climate-changing emissions in Scotland. The answer, therefore, is clear: part of it, which I will focus on, is to give communities back their rail services. There are places—for example, Levenmouth—where tracks still exist but lines remain closed.

The big rail reopenings that were initiated under previous Administrations, including Larkhall station, the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine rail link, the Airdrie to Bathgate line and the Borders railway, have been hugely successful—beyond all projections—but never again must we fail to future proof new lines, as has happened with the Borders railway. At this point, I should say that Scottish Labour is fully supportive of the proposal to extend the Borders railway to Carlisle.

The Scottish Government should continue to reopen lines and stations on our rail network. It is scandalous that millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money are being used to subsidise private companies while they cherry pick for profit, cut lines and services and leave communities isolated and alienated.

Scotland needs an integrated publicly owned, and therefore properly accountable, rail network, on which trains run on time and are not cancelled. It also needs a properly regulated bus service, which we will look at for the Transport (Scotland) Bill. We need a network in which people in rural villages can get a bus that connects with a train that will take them onward. Carstairs, for example, now has a vibrant station, although it needs more trains to stop there and a Sunday service. However, the lack of bus connections is an embarrassment.

We need a network on which people can travel between towns and villages with ease for work, to see family and for leisure, and one on which disabled access at stations is a priority and not a vain hope.

We need a network on which there is space and time for rail freight, and on which the profits of the busy routes no longer line the purses of absentee shareholders and foreign Governments, but are used to fund the less profitable but equally important rural routes.

I look forward to hearing the minister’s response on how we can have a future rail service that is fit for purpose for Scotland.


Jenny Gilruth (Mid Fife and Glenrothes) (SNP)

I congratulate Mark Ruskell on bringing forward the debate.

It will come as no surprise to members that I wish to highlight the best and the most obvious opportunity to expand Scotland’s railways—the opportunity to re-establish Leven’s railway. The line first opened on 3 July 1854, 165 years ago this summer. Although passenger services stopped in 1969, the line remained open for freight right up until 2001. Today, with the permission of Network Rail, it is still possible to walk the line. Two weeks ago, my colleague David Torrance and I did just that, and were joined by Claire Baker MSP and local councillors Ken Caldwell and Alistair Suttie. The walk was organised by the fantastic Levenmouth rail campaign. Last year, the focus was on the year of young people, so this year the walk has included different primary schools and facts about the history of the railway.

Leven railway is the only proposed new line that I know of that has been through two formal STAG appraisals—in 2008 and 2015. Following my members’ business debate on the issue in 2017, the then transport secretary committed to a further options appraisal. The limited options were published two weeks ago, and the final report is to be published by the end of this week. In the preliminary options appraisal, Transport Scotland said that the project would bring “major benefits” for the economy and would provide

“access to key destinations for employment, further education, healthcare and social activities”.

The railway would be hugely important for the Fife economy. We have just had a debate about future sustainability of jobs in Methil. The coal industry, which dominated much of the Fife skyline for generations, is long gone. The need for a joined-up transport system has, arguably, never been greater. Levenmouth is the largest urban area in Scotland that has no direct access to rail. Members should think about that. If they do not know Fife, they should look at a map. Levenmouth is isolated and cut off from much of the investment and wealth that drives the capital city, but that need not be the case.

Up the road from Leven is St Andrews—a town that is brimming with investment. From the university to golf, St Andrews has considerable wealth, compared with other parts of my constituency. The motion explicitly mentions the St Andrews proposals for a railway. I offer my support to the town on that journey. However, for me, the case for Levenmouth is far more compelling because a rail link for Leven could transform that part of Fife: it could transform the life chances of young people growing up there, bring investment and open the doors for employers.

Mark Ruskell

As a regional MSP, I support many of the rail reopening campaigns, but is it not a question of phasing? The Levenmouth project is pretty much ready to go and could be brought forward, perhaps into the current control period, whereas St Andrews might come in a later control period with later investment, because it would be a much bigger project.

Jenny Gilruth

I agree with that.

Mark Ruskell’s motion also specifically mentions the local rail development fund that the Scottish Government has made available. The fund is certainly welcome, but I was disappointed that the Levenmouth rail campaign was not able to benefit from it because—as the group was advised—the project is too far on. I understand that other campaigns are at different stages, as we have just heard, but I do not want my constituency to miss out on that vital funding, so I would be grateful if the minister could mention how that could be avoided.

Fife is the third most populous council area after Glasgow and Edinburgh, but unlike the cities, its population is geographically spread out, and many Fifers have to commute for work. In my constituency, we also continue to face the real problems that are associated with austerity, with one in three children living in poverty. There is a need for hope for an area that has been cut off from transport links for so long. The situation has been exacerbated since Stagecoach decided to cut the direct Leven to Glasgow bus service with absolutely no consultation of MSPs.

In 2016, the population of Levenmouth was just more than 35,000—it is the fourth-largest settlement in Fife and the 25th largest in Scotland. As we heard from David Torrance, there is lower than average car ownership, which makes the case for public transport that much stronger.

Time is short, but I commend the efforts of the Levenmouth rail campaign for its consistent work to ensure that the line’s reinstatement is never off the local political agenda. I see that I have gone slightly over my time, so I will close.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I thank all members for keeping to their time.


The Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands (Paul Wheelhouse)

I add my thanks to Mark Ruskell for lodging the motion for debate; it shines a light on our rail industry and its significance to our economy, communities and climate. Early in the debate, David Torrance gave some very good examples of how local rail projects can help to support the local economy and that point was supported by Jamie Greene and other members in their contributions.

Rail contributes around £1.3 billion annually to Scotland’s economy and that is why we have invested an unprecedented £8 billion plus in rail across Scotland since 2007. I acknowledge that there are still challenges, as other members have mentioned, but I do not want to spend time talking about those when there is clearly a focus on many local projects, which I will respond to if possible.

Our investment has resulted in the building of Scotland’s longest domestic railway in 100 years, the Borders railway, which I know is close to the heart of the Deputy Presiding Officer because of the work that she did in bringing it into being. It has also been used to add 76 kilometres of new track and five direct routes between our two main cities with 13 trains per hour in each direction, and opened 14 new stations since 2007, many of which have been highly successful, as members have alluded to. I spoke to officials before the debate and I believe that Laurencekirk has been singled out as a particular success and has exceeded expectations.

Unlike other parts of the United Kingdom, and despite the financial pressures that have been imposed on us by the UK Government, we have not cancelled or deferred any rail projects. There can be no clearer signal to our communities, passengers, freight customers, the rail industry and its supply chain of the confidence that we as a Government have in the future of rail, and the importance of its expansion and improvement to the people and communities of Scotland. As Gillian Martin pointed out, it is also important to the decarbonisation of Scotland’s transport sector.

Mark Ruskell

I acknowledge the success of the projects that have been constructed during the lifetime of the Government, but does the minister share my concern that none has been commissioned during the lifetime of the Government, and that we now need to accelerate the pipeline of projects, otherwise we will run out of projects to build?

Paul Wheelhouse

I stand to be corrected, but I do not believe that Mr Ruskell’s assessment is correct. There is work on-going in Robroyston and other locations across the country, but I am not the lead minister for the portfolio, as Mr Ruskell will appreciate, so I will check the position. A number of projects are coming through in control period 6—I am about to discuss the projects that we have committed to doing in CP6—and a number of investments have been made through CP5 as well.

There is no ring-fenced fund in CP6 and the Scottish strategic rail freight fund is the only fund that we have for that purpose, but new stations are scheduled for delivery during CP6, including Robroyston, Dalcross, Kintore, Reston and East Linton and the others that were mentioned by Rachael Hamilton in her speech. Improvements are being planned through the Department for Transport’s access for all scheme at Anniesland, Croy, Dumfries, Johnstone, Port Glasgow and Uddingston. Therefore, a significant number of projects are happening, but perhaps we have to improve their visibility, given Mr Ruskell’s comments. I am sure that Mr Matheson would be keen to engage with him on specific projects.

In relation to CP6 more generally, there have been significant changes in the funding mechanisms, the approach and the project management. We are not only building on the significant investment of CP5, and progressing identified programmes in the next five years that aim to support longer-term capacity needs, we are also taking the industry with us—we hope—as we implement the new pipeline-based approach to rail project development and delivery. Central to that is what is intended to be an integrated, cross-organisational partnership approach.

I will respond to some of the points that have been raised by members, including the interesting remarks about Levenmouth. Clearly, there is still work to progress, but I recognise the strong interest from the members for Fife and from Mr Ruskell with regard to the region.

Transport Scotland is progressing transport appraisal work for the study in line with STAG, and in close collaboration with Fife Council. The study is therefore separate from the local rail development fund. The transport appraisal work will determine whether there is a rationale for progressing the Levenmouth rail link. I have heard about the importance of that link to communities and I take on board Jenny Gilruth’s point about the size of the community that it would potentially serve.

I should declare an interest that is not in my entry in the register of members’ interests. My sister lives in that area, but, given that I am not involved in the decision, I hope that that will not be a relevant factor.

Transport Scotland officials and Fife Council officers meet, on a monthly basis, Peter Brett Associates, the consultant providing support to Transport Scotland on the study to discuss progress. I assure members who raised that matter that work is on-going on Levenmouth.

On Reston and East Linton, I assure Rachael Hamilton that the commitment made by the Scottish ministers to the delivery of Reston and East Linton stations as early as practicable within control period 6 is unwavering. Detailed design and timetable analysis is on-going. Until both are completed, no firm date for construction or opening can be given. Rachael Hamilton might know that the east coast line capacity study is due to be published soon; it will inform the construction window that can be used for development of the stations.

Rachael Hamilton also mentioned the Borderlands growth deal. Transport Scotland is working with the team progressing the deal regarding how the work undertaken to date feeds into the transport ask, which includes a feasibility study into a potential extension of the Borders railway. Discussions are on-going regarding the wording of further transport appraisal work in the heads of terms agreement. Transport Scotland is clear, though, that it will continue to work with the Borderlands growth deal team to investigate how the transport ask can be addressed.

Jamie Greene mentioned the Williams rail review, an important piece of work that is being undertaken. Transport Scotland is closely engaged with the review and we pressed for full devolution of Network Rail and full accountability. We accept that if that accountability comes to the Scottish ministers we will be held accountable for decisions, but we are willing to take that political risk, if you like, because we believe that it will significantly help us to have a more co-ordinated approach to rail investment in Scotland.

Gillian Martin raised a point about Ellon in Aberdeenshire and touched on issues that Mark MacDonald also raised about Newmachar and the Formartine to Buchan route. STPR 2 will focus on national and regional issues to deliver national priorities, with a clear alignment with our climate change plan. Regional transport working groups are being established, and I hope that we can keep members informed of that work and, indeed, engage with them.

Ross Greer mentioned Milngavie. I tried to intervene to say that Mr Matheson is meeting East Dunbartonshire Council today to discuss the very scheme that Ross Greer mentioned, which is why he is not here in person. Milngavie is now delivering consistently high right-time departure figures. I appreciate the point that he made about the backlog of perhaps previous problems that arose on the route. I hope that he is beginning to see improvements resulting from the extension of the platform, which he referenced.

There are now more lines in Scotland that are single lines with four trains per hour. That includes routes around Larkhall and Tweedbank. Using single track lines there has worked effectively.

I will finish up, because I am conscious of time and people need to get away.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I am not asking you to do this, but if you wish a little more time to answer questions, I will give you it. However, if you have to be away, that is fine.

Paul Wheelhouse

Thank you, that is great.

I certainly recognise the common-sense points that members have made about looking at new opportunities such as in relation to the Aberdeen exhibition and conference centre and the Newmachar point that Gillian Martin made. Decisions on those things will be taken by my colleague Mr Matheson. I assure members that we will take away and study all the points that have been made in the debate about potential projects and we will make sure that colleagues in the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland look at them as best they can.

I recognise that Mr Smyth mentioned Eastriggs and other local campaigns and Emma Harper talked about the east-west connections in Dumfries and Galloway and the benefits that rail can bring to south-west Scotland. We certainly recognise the aspirations of communities in all those areas and we would be keen to try to take forward projects through the STPR where we can do so.

The local rail development fund, which has been the subject of discussion, is currently funding 10 transport appraisals from Haddington to Newburgh and Clydesdale to St Andrews. The £2 million fund enables communities to appraise and potentially bring forward proposals aimed at tackling local rail connectivity issues. We recognise that transport appraisal costs can be very significant for local stakeholders and communities and the fund responds to that directly by providing an opportunity to apply for assistance with those costs. It is really pleasing to note the progress that is being made by successful organisations across Scotland. It is a great opportunity. We worked with the Greens in delivering that fund and I am pleased to see that it is beginning to have the effect that was sought.

Given the significant interest in the first phase of the fund, it was relaunched at the end of February, with a remaining balance of up to £1.3 million. There is still time for local stakeholders and community groups—perhaps some of the organisations that were mentioned today—to apply, as applications are welcome until 28 June.

We look forward to seeing the outputs of those transport appraisals, as they will help to inform our future rail investment choices and, importantly, ensure that we do not lose sight of the transport issues that affect our communities throughout Scotland.

Meeting closed at 18:05.