The Scottish Government’s me-too announcement of another high-speed plan for the Edinburgh to Glasgow link may sound promising, but it’s really a total red herring. Getting up to 140mph on a roughly 50 mile journey is not exactly efficient, the cost will be enormous, and it wouldn’t be operational for at least twelve years. What’s more, the opportunities to make a clearer difference elsewhere in Scotland’s slowly-recovering rail network are plentiful. Ministers should be considering reopening the Buchan line, for example, or getting moving on Aberdeen Crossrail. Reopening the Edinburgh South Sub to passenger travel is still an extraordinarily cheap option, neglected since 1999.
The Glasgow-Edinburgh route is one of the lines I use most, and, all other things being equal, shaving some time off the journey would obviously not be an intrinsically bad thing: however, it’d be an awful lot more use for me if Scotrail put on a few trains after the current 11.30pm closedown. Even just two more would make a difference: say a 12.30am and a 2.30am. I was at a gig in Glasgow on Sunday night and a whole crowd had to leave before the encores, which is absurd.
Glasgow’s got much better music year-round, but conversely Edinburgh has five weeks in the summer when it should be a magnet for Glaswegian fans of the performing arts. A special Festival-only train back at a minute past midnight and a half-past midnight one on Friday and Saturday nights simply isn’t good enough. Plenty of Fringe events don’t even start until midnight.
The same applies to other routes, too. More trains at a wider range of times. Better trains (power, wifi). Those are the less sexy things that could cheaply improve our network. There’ll be no ribbon to cut, no sense of oneupmanship with Westminster.
If the SNP want something more impressive like that, it’s time to do what 75% of the public want (a number which is enough to get them to change policy on NATO, after all, and I suspect most people use the railways more than they use Trident), do what even some Tories have told me in private should be done: bring the system permanently back into public ownership when they have the chance to do so in 2014.
The alternative is for SNP Ministers to renew the existing franchise in the referendum year. Do they really want to tell the Scottish people that they wish to retain every last mistake of Westminster?