Rail Passengers Committee Scotland
The Rail Passengers Committee Scotland met with impeccable timing in Falkirk on 14/15 January, the day of the Dunblane derailment blockage. Presentations were given by Peter Cotton, MD of ScotRail and by Ron McAulay the new MD of Network Rail Scotland. Both men impress with their openness and honesty as public speakers.
ScotRail punctuality is improving, although this has been held back by some engine faults on the class 170 Turbostars. ScotRail has now been upgraded into the third rail-division of Network Express so Peter Cotton now sits on their Rail Board. He said that Turbostars on the Highland main line have boosted patronage by 35% while improving services and fares has helped boost usage on the Far North lines by 51%.
ScotRail's response to a question at the Elgin meeting about cheap day returns (CDR) from Inverness and Nairn to Aberdeen was disappointing. The 09.00 watershed will not be waived and only passengers joining the 08.42 train at Forres and onwards may use CDRs. This seems quite illogical. As the next train from Inverness at 10.44 does not arrive until 13.00, passengers are effectively only allowed a "half day" in Aberdeen on their CDR.
Ron McAulay of Network Rail gave some figures to show how the railways have suffered from decades of under-investment and how they are having their budget cut once again having been told to cut their running costs by 31% over the next five years. In 1975, 1,000km of track were laid for Britain's railways, but by 1995 this had shrunk to 200km. Although it had improved again since then, the latest budget cuts will turn the clock back. For example, the annual renewals budget fixed at £17.8bn in the March 2003 plan has been cut to just £10bn in the September plan.
The expected spend in Scotland for 2003/4 is
Scotland has 4140 track kilometres (1241km of this is electrified); 341 stations; 13459 bridges; 217 viaducts; 79 tunnels; 706 level crossings; and 4656 signals.
Mr McAulay questioned the spending £30M on the proposed Inverness-Aberdeen improvements when finance was so tight, even with the downgrading of the proposed Orton loop from dynamic to static (i.e. just one train length long). He was reminded that the Aberdeen Crossrail proposals were dependent on the Inverness line improvements. He was thanked for Network rail's speedy replacement of the damaged bridge at Inverness Harbour and he was asked to help ensure that there would always be a path down the east coast for the sleepers when the west coast was blocked.