We have just been given sight of a comprehensive piece of work done by David Spaven and David Prescott via Deltix Transport Consulting. The report, commissioned by the Scottish Green Party, takes a detailed look at what can be done for rail for the whole of Scotland. It is a blueprint for the way forward, recovering from the pandemic and addressing the need to stop using fossil fuels. For up-to-date links see www.fofnl.org.uk/fne82.php. This short extract from the report gives a flavour:
This is not an exhaustive study, and in the case of, for example, recommended station and route re-openings, detailed analysis will be needed on a case-by-case basis to establish feasibility and definitive costs. However the study argues strongly (see Section 3.4) that the Climate Emergency demands a significant move away from road-based transport to rail-based, to reduce both emissions and energy needs - so a streamlining of the currently complex and time-consuming appraisal process for rail projects is required. In the words of the Scottish Association for Public Transport, 'Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (STAG) needs to be amended to reflect climate change and other environmental priorities when assessing transport projects, rather than focusing on car journey time reductions which generate more journeys.
The item which will really make headlines is David Prescott's suggestion to construct a Forth Tunnel from Leith to south of Kirkcaldy!
I t feels especially appropriate and necessary to wish all our readers a Happy New Year. Those who work in the rail industry have had an especially difficult struggle in 2020 - things will get better soon, not least because of pent-up demand for 'normality'.
The financial strain put on governments by the pandemic has been extreme. The signs are good though that the UK Government is not touting 'austerity' as the fix this time around. Concentrating on investment, and thereby providing extra jobs as well as much needed results, is clearly the way forward.
There are encouraging signs that there has been a shift away from automatically assessing all projects on the basis of 'the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people'. Although superficially that has a ring of common sense about it the inevitable result has been under-investment in areas with fewer residents.
The Highlands has very specific transport needs in order to bring about the modal shift required to address climate change and to reduce the energy waste that is endemic in the way we travel. Talking up electric cars, and providing wider roads for more of them to drive on, is simply not the way forward. History will not look kindly on the spending of more than £6bn still planned to dual fast roads, instead of investing the money in the Highland rail routes.
One of the most-used arguments for dualling the A9 and A96 is safety and the avoidance of driver frustration. To us the obvious cure for both is to attract as many people, and as much freight, as possible, to the safety of a fast, reliable, electrified, double-track railway.
At this Autumn's UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow we should be looking to impress the world with our plans. Having to admit to the present regressive road-widening policy would be nothing less than embarrassing.
Our immediate priorities are, as always, working for improvements on the Far North Line. We are hoping to hear very soon that the Lentran Loop plan will emerge from GRIP3, 'Option selection' - please keep an eye on our website for announcements. As mentioned elsewhere in this issue, we have strong feelings about what the choice should be. The lessons which have been learned from the descoping of the Borders railway will undoubtedly be in the minds of the Transport Scotland decision makers. We are in a very different time now and, in the same way as we do as individuals, it is necessary to consider whether some extra spending now might achieve a much better result. Having to undo new work in the foreseeable future would be an avoidable expense. Or, to put it another way, better to put in a long dynamic loop between Clachnaharry and Clunes than a short static one.
There are other loops needed further north both to allow an hourly service to Tain, and to break up the extremely long sections between Helmsdale and Georgemas Junction.
Two more things: a Georgemas Curve to allow direct travel from Thurso to the South (with a station at Halkirk) and a second Sunday service, specified by Transport Scotland, to increase leisure travel the length of the line.