Scathing report leaves future of airport rail link on the line
BATTLE lines were being drawn today over the proposed rail link to Edinburgh airport as MSPs debated a damning report on the project.
Scottish Nationalists said they would scrap the 650 million scheme if they were elected to government.
Former Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie argued for a cheaper option.
And the Greens insisted there was no need for both the rail link and the trams to go to the airport.
But the Scottish Executive was standing by the project, which involves building a new rail line under the airport runway.
The calls for a rethink follow the highly critical report by the specially-appointed committee of MSPs who examined the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link (EARL) proposals.
The report highlighted problems in finding suitable rolling stock, questioned the benefits of the project and voiced concerns about the less than wholehearted support of Network Rail and VisitScotland.
SNP transport spokesman Fergus Ewing said there should be an urgent review of alternative proposals.
"EARL gives every indication of becoming a Holyrood project Mark II, with the real risk of dangerously escalating costs for tunnelling and rolling stock," he said.
"Projected costs have already risen by over 20 per cent, and in our view, that is money that can be better spent on alternative projects.
"EARL is the wrong project for the airport, for Edinburgh and for Scotland."
Mr McLetchie said the Tories were not against the principle of a rail link but described the option of building under the runway as "outrageously expensive" by comparison with the option of building a new station at Turnhouse and having a bus shuttle to the airport terminal.
And he warned if the EARL scheme went ahead, other major transport projects could suffer in the long run.
He said: "Over the last few years the Scottish Executive has been making commitments to one major transport project after another.
"On the face of it, a Turnhouse option would cost the taxpayer some 400m less than the runway tunnel option.
"That could make all the difference as to whether other projects such as the Borders Railway do in fact see the light of day.
"I quite accept that in an ideal world and with money no object that a runway tunnel would be most desirable. However sometimes the best can be the enemy of the good and we need to consider the knock on effects."
Green Lothians MSP Mark Ballard, said: "Clearly we don't need both a new tram and a new rail link.
"The weakness of the case for a station in a tunnel under the airport has now been exposed.
"Rather than spending half a billion pounds on tunnelling under the airport, the money should be invested in upgrading Waverley station, providing a faster train service to London and ensuring the trams are fully funded."
But Transport Minister Tavish Scott defended the EARL scheme and accused the SNP of scaremongering.
"This will not be and cannot be another Holyrood project because it's a different type of project," he said.
"All our capital road and rail projects have a budget. This one is no different from that. There is a budget in place."
But he admitted that the final price may change.
"Like all of our projects, if there's any danger of the budget being exceeded, then the project is fundamentally reviewed," he added.
He added that the Nationalists had previously backed the project in March this year and said their current position was "turning their back" on the environment and Scotland's economy.
Barry Cross, project director for the scheme, said: "EARL is backed by the Scottish business community and it is backed by the overwhelming majority of the Scottish public."
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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