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SNP on the slow train to Aberdeen

Published 15 October 2015 by Colin Howden

Letter as submitted to The Press and Journal in advance of the SNP’s conference in Aberdeen (and published in the P&J on 15 October):


Dear Sir

We hope that many of the SNP delegates travelling to Aberdeen this week for their annual conference have chosen the sustainable option and used the train. Given the slow journey times on the lines approaching Aberdeen, they will at least found time to admire the beautiful scenery afforded by the rail routes converging on the city from Inverness and from Dundee.

Those coming to Aberdeen from Edinburgh could instead have travelled south to Newcastle, an equal distance, in a full hour’s less time. Travellers from Glasgow will be treated to an extended view over Perth during the slow crawl through the city. And those coming from Inverness will journey on a long-neglected single-track railway that would be immediately recognisable to a Victorian rail traveller.

The Scottish Government is planning a range of modest improvements to rail services to and from Aberdeen and Inverness — but the timescale for implementation stretches as far away as 2030. Yet road expenditure of no less than £3bn on A9 dualling by 2025 and another £3bn on A96 dualling by 2030 is proposed. These massive public investments will of course generate increased car and lorry traffic, and undermine rail’s ability to compete unless train journey times are dramatically improved.

Over the course of the next Parliament, the line from the south should be improved by eliminating the single-track bottleneck between Montrose and Usan, and the route immediately south and east of Perth upgraded for higher speeds and greater capacity. From Inverness, there should be substantial extension of key crossing loops on the remaining single-track sections, to allow an hourly service frequency from Inverness to Aberdeen taking two hours or less. Both routes require upgrading to provide capacity for the development of rail freight, and we need to see the start of planning to electrify both routes in order to take advantage of Scotland’s welcome progress in renewable power.

While there are a number of major initiatives to improve the railway’s competitive position in the Central Belt, no similar ambition is being shown for routes to the north of Scotland. We hope that SNP delegates gathering for their conference will at least use their slow train to Aberdeen to contemplate what must be done to transform rail travel between Scotland’s cities.

Yours faithfully
Colin Howden
Director, Transform Scotland