Posts Tagged ‘airport’
You may have read a wee while back about the Scottish Government’s consultation on rail services in Scotland beyond 2014.
When launched, it made a few headlines because of eye-catching questions like whether alcohol should be banned from trains or whether the sleeper service and daytime cross-border journeys between the north of Scotland and England should continue. Instantly, campaigns began to “save” the sleeper services to the three northern destinations of Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William – those services to Glasgow and Edinburgh remaining safe because, so the suggestion went, as with most daytime services you could easily change trains in the central belt. Which, of course, is an argument for passengers changing at every station on their journey because it’s seemingly so easy, and trains only ever shunting backwards and forwards between two adjacent stops.
To be fair, it was only a consultation – and that’s the idea of consultations, to generate debate and get people’s views. But the recent announcement from George Osborne that he wants to put money towards preserving the sleepers (a clever piece of politics to catch out the Scottish Government, to which we can doubtless attribute the input of his right-hand man, the LibDem MP for Inverness, Danny Alexander) clearly shows up the SNP’s poor handling of the issue. And the fact that I admit the Tories have made the SNP look silly on an issue demonstrates my strength of feeling.
But despite only being a consultation, the document gave out poor messages by asking the questions the wrong way round – frequently it ponders whether things are still justifiable, when really the questions should be about what can be done to improve and expand the rail network in Scotland. And as a regular rail traveller in Scotland, boy is there much that can be done.
To give just one example, it asks whether the sleeper from Fort William should run from Oban instead. Instead? Where’s the ambition? Why not both?
But rather than go through the consultation document with an angry toothcomb, here instead are four broad areas that I reckon they should have asked questions about.
A quick glance at the effects of the Beeching Report shows that a huge number of lines in Scotland were scrapped. Many communities that were dependent on these lines never really recovered economically. Of course, Beeching was not the only time lines were cut, and many lines closed before and, I think, after. By reopening many of these lines, great cultural and economic benefit will be derived.
The Scottish Government gets this to a degree, as can be seen in the long-running efforts to get the Borders line reopened, but why not other ones too? What were the Moray Coast Railway (which forms the spectacular viaducts at Cullen), the Deeside Line and the Invergarry and Fort Augustus line are all spectacularly beautiful and would probably be as famous and as marketable in tourist terms if reopened as our other beautiful and well-known lines like those to Fort William or Kyle of Lochalsh. Meanwhile, other closed lines such as the Edinburgh suburban line or some of those lost in Glasgow could revolutionise transport in our two biggest cities.
I’ve blogged before about how Inverness could be better served by its lines, while it is astonishing that the cities of Aberdeen and Dundee only have one station each when both, particularly Aberdeen, are crying out for suburban halts to alleviate serious traffic congestion.
By adding stations, upgrading lines and improving services, the existing rail network can work much better, increasing its patronage and economic benefit.
3. Building new lines
There are plenty parts of the country where lines need building, and in most of the cases I can think of it is about connecting to other transport forms. The airport rail links are well-known: the SNP have ditched (or, to be slightly kinder, been forced to ditch by either parliamentary arithmetic or economic conditions) rail links to Glasgow and Edinburgh airports, but Inverness, Dundee and Aberdeen airports (and for that matter Wick airport) are all a hair’s breadth away from railway lines and just small adjustments could connect them to the rail network. This will increase their use, encourage tourism, and benefit the local and national economies.
But let’s not forget other vital interchanges, such as those between ferries and rail. The southwest of Scotland has many, such as Gourock or Stranraer, but the north does not. Ullapool, for instance, is the ferry port for Stornoway and is only 30 miles from the Kyle line. Imagine getting off the ferry from Stornoway and being able to hop on a train to Inverness, Aberdeen, Glasgow or Edinburgh without having to change from a bus. Or take Scrabster – the main port for sailings to Orkney, just a couple of miles or so outside rail-served Thurso.
I could go on, but I’ll not labour the point: integrated transport, where all the different forms connect seamlessly, is what makes a good economy and provides convenience for both locals and tourists. Other countries do it easily. We, for some reason, fail depressingly. The consultation should address this.
4. Starting HSR from the north
We’ve heard a great deal in the high-speed rail debate about how it is important to extend the UK’s tiny network (currently just London to the channel tunnel) northwards. The UK government plans a line north to Birmingham which, it is proposed, will fork there and go on to Manchester and Leeds. Talk – but no more than that – is of the lines continuing to Glasgow and Edinburgh, but for me that’s the barest minimum acceptable for connecting the big cities of this island.
The high-speed network needs to go further than that and the Scottish Government should be consulting on whether it should start building high-speed rail from the north, and if so from what locations. They say Edinburgh would be just two and a half hours from London by high-speed rail, and so on that logic Aberdeen, Scotland’s third city and Europe’s oil capital, might be about an hour and a half to Edinburgh. Imagine, therefore, a four hour rail journey from Aberdeen to that great transport hub of London, or – with through trains that stop in London – overnight trips from Scotland to mainland European locations like Brussels, Paris or Amsterdam. This is the sort of vision that the Scottish Government should be inspiring us with.
So there you go – four areas of questioning that the rail consultation should have been exploring, four key areas of potential development for our rail network, and none hopefully particularly difficult to envisage or see the benefits in. That nobody – least of all our government – seems to be talking about them particularly loudly is depressing when connectivity within our country and with the rest of Europe is ever more important.
Of course, there’s the issue of money. All of the above would be several billions of pounds the Scottish Government simply does not have. Other spending priorities exist. But I’m not proposing that all of these are committed to – just perhaps some of them. A consultation doesn’t need to present fixed ideas (that’s the whole idea, isn’t it?) but to put ideas out for debate and consideration so that priorities can be shaped.
For all the SNP’s admirable talk – and action – of raising Scotland’s aspirations, of imagining the best for our country, they never quite seem to extend this vision to the railways.
But then again, no party does.
Apologies for the lack of update lately. I’ve been busy – working, with trips to Aberdeen and Edinburgh, plus a weekend at Nicole’s. She says hi. Note to self: blog more often.
I love Inverness, as I am sure I’ve mentioned before. It’s a great place to live, work and relax – a neat, attractive and compact city with more or less everything you need or want from a city, without too many extremes of the negative sides of city life like crime, congestion and noise, and of course with easy access to some of the most beautiful scenery in the world that lies on its doorstep.
However, it’s certainly not perfect, and because of a number of factors – its rapid development and increasing profile, its distance from the centre of power in Scotland, and its importance to the highlands and wider Scottish tourist industry – there are many things that you hear people suggesting it urgently needs.
A Sainsburys or Asda, or just any competition to Tesco. An end to the seemingly endless streetscaping. Demolition of ugly city centre buildings such as those on either side of Bridge Street or the Ramada Jarvis hotel. The completion of the bypass. Opening up the castle to more than just those in handcuffs.
Having wandered plenty times around Inverness camera in hand or couchsurfers in tow, and having had a number of conversations with folk on the subject of the city, I’ve had a few ideas emerge in my somewhat cluttered and easily-bored brain. And so I’d like to share some of my own thoughts about what I think Inverness needs, over the course of an as yet indeterminate number of blog posts. I’m not touching on the examples above – they’re “givens”, and have been covered, advocated and campaigned for on numerous occasions over a long period of time.
Instead, I’ll touch on a few more interesting and unusual suggestions I have, though still quite serious.
The first idea was inspired by a glossy brochure that popped through my letterbox a few weeks ago from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, introducing and raising the profile of the proposed new Inverness Campus. This is the proposed new hub for UHI and Inverness College (among others) and is planned for just to the east of the city, a rapidly expanding area of residential and commercial development known as the A96 Corridor (see map below).
The campus (something else that can be added to the list of “givens”) isn’t what I want to write about, though. Its proposed location is Beechwood, in the jaw between the railway line to Perth and the A9. And just over the railway line from Beechwood is Inverness Retail and Business Park, home to numerous shopping outlets, the Vue cinema and several big offices.
A perfect location for a railway station.
In fact, it’s crying out for one – the retail and business park alone is a strong case for a railway station but with the campus being just across the line from it, the case is surely unavoidable and it’s verging on shocking that there’s no mention of it in the campus website.
Imagine being able to hop on a quick train to get out to the campus, to work, to Tesco, or to the cinema without having to take the highly unreliable and not-running-very-late-at-night bus or endure a noisy walk along a busy and unattractive road. Or of course to be able to reach that part of the city from stations to the south, such as Aviemore or Carrbridge, without having to go into the city centre and double back by another means.
A major way to attract potential new students from the south could be to point out that it’s a direct train from Glasgow or Edinburgh to the very doorstep of the campus. And with a railway station would surely come a footbridge, allowing for good flow of pedestrian traffic between the retail and business park and the campus, to the benefit of both.
And if you think about it, further along that line lie the commutervilles of Balloch, Smithton and Culloden. You could almost reach out and touch them as you go by on the train (were it not for the fact that you’re travelling at high speed, it would be highly dangerous and illegal, and there’s a window in the way). Why are there not also rail stops there? They would cut down on traffic, make those otherwise bland and serviceless communities more accessible and attractive, and make “greater Inverness” (you heard that phrase here first) more of a coherent and networked conurbation.
A few weeks ago I was sitting at Inverness airport about to fly to Orkney, and a man with a clipboard approached me, explaining he was a marketing researcher for the airport and asking if he could ask a few questions. Our very interesting conversation quickly turned to the idea of a rail link for the airport – this is another area near Inverness which is predicted to boom, with an emerging airport business park and plans for new towns such as at Tornagrain, all right along to the Aberdeen rail line. Rail stops there have been a matter of some discussion, I believe, but have so far come to nothing. So far.
Now if you’re really clever, ambitious and joined-up in your thinking (yes, I am eternally optimistic about the people in whose hands Inverness rests), why not have a branch running off the Perth line (somewhere after Balloch) that loops round via the likes of Croy and meets up with those new stops on the Aberdeen line? You’d then have a circular line linking Inverness city centre with all the key suburbs, the airport, the campus, and the other proposed major development areas in the A96 corridor.
If you want to attract people, businesses and money to an area, you have to prove that there is the infrastructure to support it. One of the great things about the likes of Glasgow is its excellent suburban rail network. Building good public transport to meet a need only after things have reached capacity and start to slow should not be an option – people should be attracted to the area knowing there is a fully integrated suburban rail network with meaningful stops and services. And with much of the line already there to the east of Inverness, it’s not going to be as massive a cost as it might be.
So there you go. An eastern rail loop in Inverness. The first thing I think Inverness needs.
The second thing I think Inverness needs is (even if I do say so myself) an absolute cracker of an idea. But it will have to wait for another blog post. It’s late at night, and – talking of cities that need major development – I’m off to Dundee tomorrow for work until the end of the week. Wish me luck.
And wave if you see me. I’ll be the one trying to reach out and touch Culloden as I go by on the train.