Commenting on the Scottish Transport Minister’s statement on the future of Scotland’s rail network, Liz Cameron, Chief Executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said:
“The Scottish Government has set out an encouraging vision for the future of Scotland’s rail infrastructure and services that responds positively to many of the proposals put forward by Scottish Chambers of Commerce in our response to Transport Scotland’s Rail 2014 consultation. That said, the Minister’s statement does raise a number of questions, not least of which is the nature of the ‘potential break’ in the ScotRail franchise after just five years.
“On the positive side, the Minister has set out a path of strong investment in Scotland’s rail network, including a focus on infrastructure enhancement on both the Highland line and the Inverness-Aberdeen corridor, which begin to address the issue of the current rail network north of Perth being essentially unfit for purpose.
“We also welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to a separate Caledonian Sleeper franchise with a term of up to 15 years, though it is a little disappointing that the £100 million earmarked by the UK and Scottish Governments to upgrade the current sleeper rolling stock will not be invested until the commencement of the new franchise. Nevertheless we believe that the sleeper franchise represents a fantastic opportunity to deliver a unique service and we hope that this move will secure its long term future.
“It is welcome that the planned investment in upgrading the ScotRail network will deliver full compatibility with a future High Speed Rail network and that an enhanced travel information system will provide up to the minute and accurate information about services. Less ambitious are the plans to roll out WiFi throughout the ScotRail fleet by 2019 and the proposal to introduce smart ticketing by 2024. Both of these technologies are being piloted right now and we would hope that roll-out of the finished products could be accelerated significantly.
“The setting of a ten year franchise is at the lower end of the scale in terms of our hopes for a period that would allow the franchisee to invest in improving passenger services and experiences and is further complicated by the Minister’s announcement that there will be a ‘potential break’ in the franchise after five years. We have already queried this issue with the Minister and we look forward to receiving more information as to how this clause will operate in practice.
“Much of the Ministerial Statement and the comments of the other parties in the Scottish Government focused on the possibilities of opening new stations, which is welcome where customer demand exists and where new community partnerships can be formed to make this a reality. However in a network the size of ScotRail, each and every station must serve a demonstrable purpose and the arrangements for the new franchise will have missed a golden opportunity if they did not allow for the franchisee to evaluate the current network and tailor services more effectively to meet customer demands and expectations.
“Scotland’s rail network is of key importance to business and our economy. Its infrastructure creates accessibility to a large part of the country, it connects Scotland both internally and externally, it facilitates access to employment and training opportunities and it services Scotland’s vital leisure and tourism market. Scottish Chambers of Commerce will work with the Scottish Government, Transport Scotland and the ScotRail franchise holder in order to ensure that Scotland has a rail network that meets our economic needs.”