Given the huge developments in technology and transport since the Victorian age you would probably assume that transport links between our cities would be faster now than in the age of steam trains. However, you would be wrong. The fastest train between Edinburgh and Perth in 2015 took 71 minutes, 6 minutes slower than in 1895! Most trains take 80 minutes, whereas driving can take under an hour. Transform Scotland, a charity transport network, is convinced that reinstating a direct rail link from Edinburgh to Perth via Kinross would cut ten miles off the distance and up to 35 minutes off the journey time. Any acceleration of this train journey would transform travel north of the capital, not just to Perth but beyond.
Given the Scottish Government's pledge to encourage sustainable transport and improve access beyond the Central Belt, more needs to be done. A faster rail route would start to address the huge discrepancy in house prices north of the Bridges compared to the capital city, and it would be a great step towards improving access to, and unlocking public transport for, the whole of the North of Scotland. Furthermore, improved public transport would boost tourism to the rest of the country and stop the "hemming in" of tourists to the capital.
The potential benefits for Perth go wider than faster travel and its capacity to be a national passenger and freight hub for Scotland. Half an hour's reduction in the train journey from Edinburgh to Perth is also half an hour off the journey from Edinburgh to Inverness. Whilst there are other rail improvements required, this is the first, and most vital step, in better connecting all of Scotland's cities and becoming a primary transport route for the whole of Scotland north of the Central Belt. Furthermore if the railway that used to run from Perth to Forfar was also replaced, it would greatly reduce journey times to Aberdeen too.
It would probably cost less than half of the A9 road-dualling project and do a great deal more for connectivity and sustainability, and create significant economic benefits across a very wide area. Not to mention greatly assisting with the Scottish Government's carbon reduction targets.
I think it is time to test this idea more fully. In November 2016 RSGS convened a meeting with representatives from SCDI, Transform Scotland, the Rail Freight Group, Perth City Development Board, VisitScotland, and rail groups from Inverness and Aberdeen. We found a real enthusiasm to explore this idea further. Like Transform, SCDI and others, RSGS sees Perth's huge potential as a national infrastructure priority for rail, in unlocking economic growth throughout Fife, Tayside, the Highlands and Aberdeenshire.
This national rail hub needs to take its place in Scotland's infrastructure priorities. With such evident long-term knock-on economic merit, here is a great opportunity to see a step change in our railways, benefiting the whole of Scotland, and moving from a 19th century railway to a rail service fit for the 21st century.