This section begins with a landmark answer from the First Minister. After her statement about the agreement, Emma Roddick MSP asked the specific question which exercises FoFNL and other rail campaign groups. The FM's answer was unequivocal and homes in on the major difference between the Highlands & Islands and most of the rest of Scotland.
Emma Roddick (Highlands and Islands) (SNP):
There is a lot to look forward to in the new agreement, particularly in terms of addressing the climate emergency that we all face and in securing a more sustainable future for Scotland. However, it is understandable that many people outwith the central belt and city centres are eagerly waiting to hear how a greater focus on active travel and public transport can benefit them. As a region that is currently widely dependent on car travel, can the Highlands and Islands expect improvements in rail infrastructure, perhaps including doubling the Highland main line and the Inverness to Aberdeen line and improvements to the far north and west Highland lines, as a result of the deal?
The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon: That is a fair question, and the answer to it has to be yes. We have to develop public transport and active travel options across the Highlands and Islands, not only as much as in the rest of the country but more so, given the geographical challenges and the over reliance - for understandable reasons - on car use.
As members will be aware, rail improvements are being considered as part of the STPR2 process. The Rail Decarbonisation Action Plan, which was published last year, is aligned to that. For example, the action plan commits to developing potential options to serve the West Highland Line by hydrogen or battery trains, as well as considering the partial or full electrification of the Highland Main Line. Those are longer-term projects that will contribute to our commitment to decarbonise passenger services by 2035.
At the core of the question is the inescapable fact that, if we are to meet the targets around reducing reliance on car use for all of the country and some parts of the country in particular, it will depend on developing the alternatives. There is a seriousness of intent to do that around the Highlands and Islands.
Question S6W-00264: Liam Kerr, North East Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. Answered: 7 June 2021
To ask the Scottish Government, further to the First Minister's statement on 26 May 2021, how public ownership of ScotRail will contribute to the decarbonisation of Scotland's railways.
Graeme Dey, Minister for Transport: The Scottish Government's Rail Decarbonisation Action Plan, published in July 2020, sets out how domestic passenger services in Scotland will be decarbonised by 2035.
Public control of ScotRail will facilitate the integration of rolling stock and train service plans with infrastructure works and thus improve the efficient whole system delivery of the Rail Decarbonisation Action Plan.
Question S6W-00546: Graham Simpson, Central Scotland, Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, answered: 16 June 2021
To ask the Scottish Government whether Transport Scotland's growth target for rail freight will be achieved by 2024.
Graeme Dey: Network Rail is on track to meet our innovative growth target for rail freight. Despite the health pandemic, rail freight demand has held up well and 216 new freight trains ran on the network in Scotland in the past 12 months. Supported by Scottish Government and third party investment more new freight services in Scotland are planned in the next 18 months, in addition to new cross border express logistics services. Modal shift to rail will play a key part in decarbonising the overall transport network to meet our ambitious climate change targets.
Question S6W-00852: Liam Kerr, answered: 1 July 2021
To ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on progress with its hydrogen train project, and what the expected completion date is.
Graeme Dey: The Zero Emission Train (ZET) project is currently on target to run during COP26 in November at Bo'ness. It is managed by world-leading hydrogen-technology company Arcola Energy and the £3.5 million project will fully test Hydrogen powered traction options, which will be required where electrification is not appropriate.
Rail Industry partners are working to test the integration of alternative traction power supply equipment within a live train environment through this Hydrogen Accelerator initiative overseen by St Andrews University. As a result, issues associated with creating, approving and then enabling a hydrogen-fuelled train will be addressed as well as growing the local supply chain for future decarbonisation fleet requirements in Scotland.
Question S6W-00322: Richard Leonard, Central Scotland, Scottish Labour, answered: 16 June 2021
To ask the Scottish Government whether Abellio ScotRail requires ministerial permission to agree a rest-day working enhancement for ticket examiner and conductor grades.
Graeme Dey: The Scottish Government has already spent around £1bn to support Scottish rail services - including an increase of more than £400m over normal rail support payments for ScotRail. As well as maintaining essential railway services this funding has secured full railway staff employment throughout the pandemic period.
Abellio ScotRail is authorised to negotiate increases in pay from within the available railway Emergency Measures Agreement funding where the cost of these increases can be fully covered by mutually agreed efficiencies negotiated through the existing collective bargaining arrangements.