The last couple of months have seen what are effectively the final pieces of the Scottish railway jig-saw puzzle taken out of the box. Fitting them together will take a long time, but at least we can now see all of the components. We know what the Scottish Government wants to buy from the industry: we know what they are prepared to pay. We don't yet know how the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link (EARL) will pan out - will it be quietly buried or, as rumour suggests, superseded by a much less expensive scheme involving the re-siting of the terminal close to the Fife line. We know what our English cousins can expect in the next seven years - a static railway costing a great deal more. We know that if economic growth should falter the cost will be a very great deal more. We know that National Express will take over the GNER franchise in December: we wish them well, believing that the old NEx ScotRail was a better-than-average operation. We earnestly hope that the catering service on The Highland Chieftain will remain sacrosanct - porridge, kippers and all.
This Newsletter contains detailed, if necessarily brief, analyses of the Big Documents upon which all rail decisions will be based in the next several years. Events, however, have their inimitable way of obtruding onto the best laid plans. It will be revealing to see how the sums can be made to add up if the DfT's reckless optimism (do they have to build in an optimism bias, like everybody else?) fails to materialize. Happily, but perhaps not surprisingly, the Scottish spending plans, at least as far as the railway is concerned, seem pretty realistic.
Since the White Paper was published I have had meetings with Transport Scotland, Network Rail and First ScotRail to explore various issues of concern. The main topics have been level crossing safety; track condition and the scope for quick improvements; signalling, especially the difficult question of replacement for the RETB, required by 2014; and fares. Your Committee will continue to press the industry for passenger-friendly solutions to these, and other, problems.
In the meantime we have the first two of the refurbished 158s in service. As many of you have discovered, they are a substantial step in the right direction. But like most things, there is still further to go. Network Rail has offered to fund half of the cost of installing controlled-emission toilets and we await a decision from Transport Scotland and First ScotRail about whether this work will go ahead. My thanks are due to all members who wrote letters in support of our campaign to take this final step in the continuing saga of our 158s.