A record audience of over 90 people turned out on 12 November in Edinburgh to hear a talk to ILT's Scottish Section about the Strategy for Rail in Scotland by Chris Austin, SRA Executive Director, External Relations.
Chris Austin addressing the meeting.
© John G. Fender 2001
Noting that prior to the Hatfield accident Britain's railways had achieved their highest passenger-km since 1946, Chris said that SRA's duties were to secure development and promote use of the network and to contribute to delivery of an integrated transport system. Things worked better in Scotland, where the financial control which had gone south in 1923 was repatriated in 2001 with the transfer of funding responsibilities for the ScotRail franchise to the Scottish Executive. People talked to each other more north of the border, but the consensus was that even in Scotland there was no easy way towards vertical integration with the operator taking responsibility for the infrastructure.
Strategic issues included network capacity, restoring performance, achieving integration with other modes, new stations (like Beauly or the Edinburgh Crossrail ones) and electrification. On the last-mentioned, BR never achieved a programme of network electrification, and the case for it could not be made today, when passengers now found it hard to tell if they were in say a Virgin Voyager or an electric train, and all of the freight companies had bought new diesels.
Influences on SRA's Strategic Plan included Railtrack in railway administration, revised Directions and Guidance, revised franchising policy, the Uff-Cullen recommendations on train protection, the European Union's interoperability directive and the cost:benefit implications of the Disability Discrimination Act.
Members and guests at the November meeting.
© John G. Fender 2001
Specifically Scottish strategic developments were the Central Belt capacity study, rail links to Glasgow and Edinburgh Airports, the East Coast Main Line upgrade and possible network extension (Hamilton-Larkhall and Stirling-Kincardine) but Chris explained that he had excluded the proposed Borders rail link since a through route to Carlisle with its steep gradients would not be attractive to cross-border operators, while he was unsure to what extent relieving unemployment by linking the Borders to the economic growth area around Edinburgh could justify the 30-mile reinstatement to Galashiels. SRA had been too small to fragment by relocating any staff to Scotland, but the RPC office in Glasgow provided them with a Scottish presence. The year since Hatfield had set back prospects for growth, but he was optimistic that the external drivers for growth such as parking constraints were still there.
Thanking Chris for rounding off a very long day which had begun with the annual Scottish Rail Summit for MSPs, Steve Lockley of the ILT Scottish Committee hoped that the SRA could resist any excessive orientation towards conditions in SE England since opportunities in Scotland could allow the Government's targets for passenger and freight transfer to be exceeded. He saw as a tribute to the speaker and his subject the record attendance which had been greater than at any such meeting in several years.
Report by John Fender.
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