MSPs plot hard route for air link
EDINBURGH'S proposed airport rail link still faces a rough ride from MSPs despite the defeat of an SNP attempt to kill the project.
Scott Barrie, the Labour MSP who chairs the committee examining the plans, said it wanted robust answers to the concerns raised in its report on the scheme.
MSPs voted 69-30 to allow the legislation for the 650m Edinburgh Airport Rail Link (Earl) to proceed to the next stage, as recommended by the committee, following a debate yesterday.
The committee's report highlighted problems about timetabling and rolling stock, questioned the economic and tourism benefits of the project and raised fears about funding.
During the debate, SNP MSP Christine Grahame, a member of the committee, said the evidence they had taken made her conclude the promoters should be told to go back and think again.
She said: "This is a bad project, ill-thought out, with funding that is not guaranteed."
SNP transport spokesman Fergus Ewing said the project was so expensive because it involved tunnelling under a live runway.
He asked: "Can the minister give a cast iron guarantee that the risks involved in this project will not give rise to further cost hikes?"
But Transport Minister Tavish Scott accused the SNP of "hypocrisy, U-turn and spin", and quoted Lothians MSP Kenny MacAskill - then the party's transport spokesman - who said in a previous debate that the rail link was "of fundamental importance and must be delivered".
Mr Scott acknowledged serious issues had been raised about rolling stock and timetabling. But he said Transport Scotland planned to introduce new trains.
And he said: "The opening of this rail link provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to review Scotland's rail timetable and ensure it meets the needs right across Scotland for the next ten years." He accused the SNP of turning its back on the Capital by opposing the scheme.
David McLetchie, Tory MSP for Edinburgh Pentlands called for further examination of the option of a new station at Turnhouse on the Edinburgh-Fife line, with buses to the airport terminal.
Tory MSP Jamie McGrigor, who sat on the committee, rejected claims a shuttle bus from a Turnhouse station to the terminal would take 41 minutes because it would have to use public roads. He said there was no reason why a dedicated bus route could not be built round the edge of the airport.
But Mr Barrie said the Turnhouse option had been rejected by the committee because it would have meant reduced patronage, fewer interchange opportunities, less impact on congestion and poorer links to the rail network.
Lib Dem Donald Gorrie said a rail scheme which dropped people half a mile from the terminal would be a big disincentive. "People simply won't use it," he said.
Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald backed the committee and said: "This development... is about Scotland, our future, our ambition and our confidence."
Lib Dem MSP Margaret Smith, whose Edinburgh West constituency includes the airport, said the "challenging project" was good for Edinburgh, Scotland, tourism, the environment and business.
An independent assessor appointed by the committee will now take written and oral evidence on the proposals.
The committee can then decide to take further evidence. But it has already stated its intention to call Network Rail and the minister to provide more detail on timetabling and funding.
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