Analysis: Despite the trend, it’s roads not rail that still get the money

THE data showing rail trips at their highest since the 1920s confirms a rise in rail’s share of travel which was evident both before and after the recession. Unlike car and bus use, rail trips are showing upward trends in both Scotland and England.

Network Rail has conservative forecasts of further 30-60 per cent growth in the coming decade. The Independent Committee on Climate Change expects car traffic to remain stable or show a fall.

The combination of static incomes, bargain off-peak or advance fares and rising car fuel and insurance costs has undoubtedly influenced rail growth, possibly more so in Scotland, where there is less road congestion than south of the Border.

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These trends fit well with the economic and low-carbon policies of the Scottish Government, yet there is a risk of rail growth being held back by a shortage of trains and the use of higher fares to cut overcrowding.

Infrastructure investment is still dominated by major road schemes (the new Forth crossing being the largest), with road – not rail – gaining extra funding in the Scottish Budget. Programmes for Central Belt rail electrification are slipping, as are orders for trains. Extra rail investment to tackle track and station pinch-points is urgent.

•  Tom Hart is vice-president of the Scottish Association for Public Transport.