Rail authority rejects plan to safeguard Scottish services
A HEAD-ON clash over threatened rail spending cuts loomed closer yesterday after the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) rejected ministers’ demands to have large parts of the Scottish network removed from the target list.
The SRA has confirmed it plans to cut spending on all but a few lines north of the Border, which could reduce train services and extend journeys.
The authority would channel more cash into high- priority routes instead, but the move would sabotage ministers’ plans to expand services under the new ScotRail franchise from next year.
The Scottish Executive said last night it was determined not to be knocked off course, but it is not clear how the impasse will be resolved.
Mike Lunan, the convener of the Rail Passengers Committee Scotland, said the news confirmed his warning last month that the Scottish rail network was "bleeding to death".
He said: "That the Executive’s long-term aspirations for passengers should be stymied by a lack of spending on infrastructure seems to be crazy. It is sad news."
The SRA plans, which have been sent to the rail regulator for approval, confirm that spending would be maintained or enhanced on only the Scottish inter-city routes, such as Edinburgh and Glasgow to Inverness and Aberdeen.
Under the final plans, published yesterday, spending on ScotRail’s flagship Edinburgh-Glasgow Queen Street line would be further increased along with freight routes to Hunterston and Grangemouth ports, and on a diversionary route for the Glasgow-London line via Dumfries while upgrading work was being completed.
However, calls by Nicol Stephen, the transport minister, for other routes to be safeguarded, have been rejected.
They include commuter routes into Edinburgh and Glasgow, the Inverness- Aberdeen line and rail links to ferry ports such as Oban.
An Executive spokeswoman said discussions would continue with the SRA, but it vowed to press on with plans to expand services. However, the SRA said its plans would not affect current service levels.
Meanwhile, cross-Border trains were severely disrupted yesterday after a freight train carrying cars caught fire in the Lake District.
The blaze damaged overhead power lines, closing one of the two lines at Oxenholme, near Kendal. Some Virgin trains were replaced by buses, while the London-Glasgow sleeper arrived nearly four hours late.
ScotRail will today test a new locomotive on the Glasgow-Fort William line that could improve the reliability of the "Deerstalker Express" sleeper, which is currently hauled by breakdown-prone 40-year-old locomotives.
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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