Scotland's Expanding Railways or Who's Who on the Scottish Railway Scene
The three day Autumn Technical Visit of the Railway Engineers Forum together with the Railway Division of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers took place recently in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Clive Kessell, Chairman of the Railway Engineers Forum, opened the proceedings, commenting on the REF's objective of bringing railway engineers from all the disciplines together primarily to ensure that a consensus is arrived at on rail engineering issues and to get these views publicised. He then invited the Minister for Transport in the Scottish Parliament, Tavish Scott MSP, to give his keynote address.
The Minister began by stressing the importance of rail to the Scottish economy and said that the soon to be published Scottish National Transport Strategy would spell out the need for rail expansion in Scotland, how to achieve it and its economic importance. He spoke of trade with the Low Countries and elsewhere stressing that railways were crucial due to the geography of Scotland. He emphasised the point by commenting that he was putting £200 million each year into the First ScotRail franchise and £300 million into Network Rail in Scotland, but less was going into the buses. He said that providing co-ordinated bus and rail services in the central belt was easy, but affordability became a problem in rural areas. Illustrating the point he referred to the Scrabster to Inverness route by commenting that by train it took four hours, but only two and a half by road. Having commented on the Edinburgh tram scheme, which is now out to tender, he stated, 'we are going to do EARL' (Edinburgh Airport Rail Link). He referred with approval to haulage contractor Eddie Stobart's recent decision to move into rail freight and his Daventry to Scotland services. He acknowledged that there are over 140 flights each day between central Scotland and London saying that he wanted rail travel to London in less than three hours in future. Returning to the rail expansion projects in Scotland he said the next phase would be the enhancement of existing routes with loops and capacity increases.
Frances Duffy from Transport Scotland reminded the Conference that the Railways Act 2005 had given new powers to Scotland. Transport Strategy in Scotland was now in the hands of the Scottish Parliament whose Ministers were directing strategy, specifications and funding. The Scottish Executive now has £3 billion of initiatives for the country, which are being fed through to seven Regional Partnerships covering the whole of Scotland. She explained that social and environmental, as well as financial and social inclusion considerations were included in the Strategy to be published later this year. She added that freight had not been overlooked and rail freight grant strategy would also be included. It would be up to Transport Scotland to deliver against the plan for the next ten years. For the period 2012 to 2022 recommendations would be put forward during the summer of 2008 resulting in a strategy for the next twenty years.
Bill Reeve is not only Transport Scotland's Director Rail Delivery but also a mechanical engineer. He began with the stark statement 'I buy railways'. He explained that his remit covered both the current franchise for Scotland and major projects. He commented on projects already delivered and that passenger numbers were well above forecasts with a 23% increase over the last three years and already an 8% increase this year. He spoke of the recent re-opening to Larkhall and the current re-instatement of the Stirling/Alloa/Kincardine route north of the Forth to alleviate the tortuous route currently taken by coal trains to reach Scotland's largest coal fired power station. He referred to the congestion problems at the west end of Edinburgh Waverley Station and the current remodelling project there, which together with new escalators and a mezzanine floor to replace the famous 'Waverley Steps' will improve the station known as Scotland's key gateway for tourists.
Referring to the planned re-opening of the Waverley Route from Newcraighall to Tweedbank scheme and the six new stations to connect into the Borders towns, he spoke of the growth of Edinburgh and its labour market. Half of the funding for this scheme is coming from a levy on further residential development in the border towns, which stand to benefit. Moving on to GARL (Glasgow Airport Rail Link) he added to the remarks of the Minister saying that EARL will lead to a re-casting of the Edinburgh to Glasgow shuttle services and the GARL scheme will also benefit Paisley. The Edinburgh to Bathgate line reinstated in 1986 will be extended to Airdrie to provide another link to Glasgow. This will be electrified and equipped with double track to provide a fast alternative to the M8. He concluded by saying that more also needed to be spent on existing railways in Scotland, and that a key strategy for the future must be re-examining electrification proposals.
Head of Projects for Transport Scotland is Ian Mylroi whose background is in rolling stock engineering. Referring to the EARL project he drew attention to the challenge posed by its design gradients of up to 1 in 40. He commented that having bought 29 additional turbo-trains a year ago, he was already looking at buying more! The Class 314s working the Glasgow inner suburban services are the oldest in Scotland and, according to the leasing company these are due to die in 2014, having been built in the 1970s. He posed the question 'do we refurbish or buy new' adding, 'they may be alright for London but aren't up to standard for Scotland!' He reminded us that more trains means more depot facilities at places like Haymarket. With the expanding railway system he anticipated looking for three or four car trains capable of 90-100 mph with better acceleration than the current Class 334s, which whilst performing well now had been unreliable when first delivered. The next generation he said must work as soon as they are taken out of the box. For the future he made it clear he wanted to see electrification of the main Edinburgh to Glasgow route via Falkirk. He referred to the job done by the ROSCOs over the last ten years, commenting that he was buying for twenty-five years and wished to explore the consequent commercial issues with anyone with deep pockets.
The next speaker Ron McAulay, Director Network Rail Scotland, was introduced by Bill Reeve from Transport Scotland as 'the inimitable, some would say inevitable Ron McAulay' which perhaps reflects their close working relationship. The conference was reminded that Network Rail passed its fourth birthday at the beginning of October and we were told that 11% of Network Rail's assets are in Scotland where there has been a 48% growth in passengers over the last ten years. Network Rail is spending £537 million in Scotland this year and has a further £40 million of discretionary spending available. £296 million is being spent on maintenance. We were reminded of the work on the Forth and Tay Bridges including the use of a 25-year life painting system, which it is planned, will reduce the constant painting efforts of the past. He went on to list some of the projects -Glasgow Central re-signalling, speed improvements on the Fife Line, and Grangemouth Junction remodelling. Moving on to his concerns he highlighted resources. Network Rail will need consultants he said. This session was followed by a site visit on foot by delegates to the ongoing work at Edinburgh Waverley, where additional platforms are being provided, plus a look at the new Edinburgh Signalling Centre. As an introduction, Network Rail's Project Manager Roger Querns, who is very conscious of delivering his project in the run up to the Scottish General Elections, gave a brief overview of the entire project.
Graham Taylor gave details on the second day of the re-fitted Class 322 trains now operating between Edinburgh and Glasgow via Carstairs en route. Originally built for the Stanstead Airport service, the trains had migrated to Scotland where the internal layout had recently been completely changed and other work done to make them compliant with current disabled and safety legislation. The work had been done at the Hunslet Barclay premises in Kilmarnock, thus giving employment to that part of Scotland.
Risk must be correctly and fairly apportioned said Gary Bogan, the ScotRail Franchise Manager within Transport Scotland. The present franchise gave opportunities for added value such as CCTV and Information Systems through a Service Quality Incentive Regime (SQUIRE). Bonus payments for beating the targets featured as much as penalty payments for non-performance and so far, things were going well since the new franchise had been awarded. Mary Dickson, the First ScotRail MD, spoke of the continuing efforts to improve the ScotRail operation. The intent is to go from Good to Great by Safety, Integrity, Quality, Accessibility and Professionalism. A Training Academy recently set up aims to give short intensive bursts of learning under the slogan 'Earn as you Learn'. To continually improve train services in Scotland was a big challenge, said David Simpson, Scotland's Route Director for Network Rail and Steve Montgomery from First ScotRail. Concentration of effort was being put into improving working relationships between Infrastructure and Train Company. Initial efforts to do cable renewals, drainage improvements and power supplies were paying off, and the number of temporary speed restrictions had dropped from 44 to 19. Focus groups had been set up to get a discipline instilled for right time despatching of trains, with a hard line taken on not keeping connections if it means adverse impact on the overall timetable.
Richard Lungmuss (Network Rail) and Andy Mellors (ScotRail) explained the tough financial challenge to reduce costs by 8% year on year, whilst at the same time improving the quality of work and safety. New track machinery was having good effect and the track quality was claimed to be the best in the UK. Signalling was now the cause of the greatest number of failures and means of improving this by creating joint S&T/PWay teams were bearing fruit; doubling tail cables, protection for track cable connections, signal bulb replacement, new track circuit testers were all part of this. Improvements to the train fleets of Class 156, 158, 314 and 318 are underway with the equipping of more effective sanding gear to combat the autumn weather.
FoFNL's thanks are extended to the editorial staff of 'the rail engineer' for their permission to print these extracts from Issue 25, November 2006