These three themes are now said to be underpinning Scottish Government actions on spending.
The climate emergency was declared by the First Minister on 5 September 2019.
Safety is always with us. Four lorries being blown over in one December day on the A1 south of Edinburgh and many other overturning incidents in the past few years suggest all may not be well there.
Sustainability was built in to the Scottish Parliament since it opened in July 1999. Everything was supposed to be future proofed.
How well has this been followed? A 20 year review by SPICe (Scottish Parliament Information Centre) has revealed the answer to be not very well, but with more interest being shown in the last few months.
Carbon emissions from transport generally are continuing to rise in Scotland.
Air and sea links are essential for the Scottish islands but both are currently major polluters due to the amount and kind of fuel used and use of the former is continuing to expand. Road usage is not showing many signs of falling either. Congestion and pollution (especially in cities) is increasing.
Rail has been shown to be a much more sustainable mode than air, maritime and road transport.
We need to make sure that railways exist that are fit for purpose to serve most of Scotland. Too many lines, particularly ones that could be used as diversionary routes were closed. Examples are Edinburgh to Perth via Kinross-shire and Perth to Aberdeen via Forfar.
Passengers will hope to learn in the annual Programme for Government Statement during the first week of September how Scottish Ministers will approach the Climate Emergency. With the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change "conference of the parties" COP26 to be held in Glasgow in November we can hope for some good forward thinking. The current Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2) will also feed in to this.
This should include a quick final push to finish the substantial outstanding work to complete the 2008 STPR priorities. These are an hourly passenger service frequency with average journey times of 3 hours (and headline times of 2 hours 45 minutes) between both Edinburgh and Glasgow to Inverness. Similarly completion of an hourly passenger service with average journey times of no more than 2 hours between Aberdeen and Inverness. Both lines were also to get much improved capacity for an expansion of rail freight traffic, and there is a requirement for capacity to enable each to provide a diversionary route for the other if one route is blocked. Freight traffic in particular needs to get through.
The completion of the redoubling of track and modernising of signalling between Aberdeen and Inverurie is the one major part of STPR which has been completed and very impressively too. There is a lot more to do on both lines. Ministers' aspirations were to have the whole of the Scottish inter-city routes electrified by 2030. This might fit in with the further extended life of the ScotRail High Speed diesel Trains. They cannot go on for ever. Ministers aspire to ending diesel traction on most railway lines by 2035.
The prosperity of the Far North and Kyle lines depends on the connections at Inverness with the two feeder lines mentioned above. It is unlikely we could run freight in isolation on the FNL nor attract long distance passengers without good connections through Inverness. The pioneering Far North Review has been a wonderful catalyst for much valuable background work to be done by Transport Scotland, Network Rail and ScotRail on making major improvements to rail services north of Inverness. We look forward to enhancement schemes such as the Lentran Loop and signalling enhancements such as "collapsing" block sections which will be hugely progressive in making the FNL fit for purpose.
We should ditch the "More Bang for the Buck" philosophy espoused by almost every new incumbent, whether he/she be Transport Minister; CEO of Network Rail, CEO of ScotRail or of the ScotRail franchisee. It will only serve to create a two tier railway network with the less populated regions falling further behind the population centres. Yes, it is really good to have five electrified routes between Glasgow and Edinburgh with Stirling now brought in to the club, but should this be at the expense of the continued exclusion of Perth, Inverness, Dundee, and Aberdeen?
In England, the vast amounts being spent on railways in the London area has forced two of the past three Governments to recognise this imbalance and the Northern Powerhouse idea was born, underpinned now by fresh ideas to change the Treasury spending rules which have favoured the rich areas of London and the south east. The idea is to put more focus on overall national economic growth and wellbeing in the North and Midlands. South West England, and Wales, are not mentioned.
The compelling arguments were well set out in a 27 December article in The Times "Treasury to rip up public spending rules in cash boost for North and Midlands". Cambridge and Manchester academics have shown that the present rules have produced a disparity between the least and the most productive regions which is "extreme" by the standards of most developed countries. Critics say that if we do not improve transport links in poorer regions they will never fulfil their potential.
We are already ahead of the game here in Scotland with the new Borders Railway showing the way. This project has helped to show considerable economic growth in the area and a rise in average incomes and productivity. How and when can we see more of this wealth generation in Scotland?
The completion of electrification of lines between the seven Scottish cities should be much more of a priority. The electrification of the Glasgow to Carlisle route via Dumfries would also considerably add to its value as a diversionary route for freight and passengers.
We hope to learn more of the Scottish Government's plans to decarbonise Scotland's passenger railways by 2035 in a Ministerial announcement in March. The UK target for this is 2040.
As in England, the policy here must be made to benefit the north. Routes are longer than from Glasgow to Edinburgh so the line costs will be greater. This has to be faced.
The 2008 STPR priorities were hugely welcomed at the time, as is what has been achieved, but it is still far short of what is required and promised to modernise Priority 3 the Highland Main Line and Priority 4 the Inverness to Aberdeen line.
It is worrying that there have been long periods of silence when very little seems to be happening let alone many progress reports published. The focus is now on "transport corridors" but once again there seems to be a total "hush" about any HML proposals. Is the HML currently stuck in a rut?
The contrast with the numerous press releases, consultations and meetings about the different sections of the A9 dualling project could not be greater. A corridor approach is a sensible idea, but Government policy is declared to be environmentally friendly in encouraging both freight and passenger transport to switch from road to rail. The continuing lack of attention to the railway seems likely to achieve the opposite. Does this approach really square with the now declared Climate Emergency?
Will the March statement lay out how and when electrification of the first section of the routes north from Dunblane to Perth will be achieved and what the policy will be to continue it further north to Inverness and to Dundee and Aberdeen? Journey times averaging three hours between Inverness and Glasgow by 2025 should not be too difficult to achieve, Edinburgh is more of a challenge. This was the revised target published in 2011. There are only five years of these 14 years left now, and still a long way to go!
Fraser Grieve, Highlands Director of the Scottish Council Development and Industry, used his column on page 10 in the Inverness Courier on 24 December to stress the greater urgency now needed to upgrade the Highland lines. He says that the long promised significant journey time improvements seem to have no clear strategy or timetable and need a plan and resources to achieve delivery. In her New Year message Liz Cameron, CEO of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, has said that the Scottish Government "needs to ensure that the signals sent out to investors in infrastructure - including in the transport sector - ring loud and clear that Scotland is truly open for business". She also asks that public investment in infrastructure should be raised to at least 1.4% of GDP, up from the 1.2% recommended by the National Infrastructure Commission.
As reported on in FNE 68 (May 2016) as long ago as April that year, Liz Cameron was saying that "Scotland's northern cities need to be better connected and single track sections linking Inverness, Aberdeen and the Central Belt are unacceptable in the 21st Century." Many would agree with that and, while grateful for the completion of the doubling between Aberdeen and Inverurie, there is a long long way to go yet to finish the task. Stuart Nicol, CEO of the Inverness Chamber, frequently calls on the Government to make the Highland railways fit for purpose. It is only by creating much more double track capacity as well as line speed improvements that the 2025 targets on journey times can be reached. Even with an EGIP scale of project, the other required option of electrification is unlikely to be achieved by 2025.
The front page and editorial of the Inverness Courier for Friday 3 January is full of the number of large developments, particularly hotels, planned for Inverness. More huge housing developments were started in 2019 also. These will all provide more traffic for the railway. The trial for the Norbord wood factory freight train was illustrated on the back cover of the last FNE. The area is booming, the single track lines can't cope, we must act upon the climate emergency and provide more safe and sustainable means of transport to underpin the Highland economy and the Scottish economy.
ACT (Action on Current and Tracks) NOW please!