Alastair Dalton: Bridging the gap can rebuild confidence

SCOTTISH transport chiefs love comparing the current railwaymania of new lines being built north of the Border with the virtual standstill down south.

Scotland's construction programme appears impressive, with new routes between Edinburgh and Glasgow, and to Glasgow Airport and the Borders, under way.

However, the record so far has been distinctly patchy. There have been major cost over-runs, delays and ongoing faults on the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine line – the most recently opened – as The Scotsman has revealed. The Glasgow Airport rail link, crucial for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and the Borders line, are also running late and costs have increased. In stark contrast, work on another new line appears to be still on time and on budget, although there is much to be done to meet the completion schedule at the end of next year, including laying new track.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Airdrie-Bathgate project will reinstate a 15-mile rail gap to provide a new Edinburgh-Glasgow link. It is aimed at attracting city commuters living close to the adjacent M8, and easing pressure on the main east-west rail link, via Falkirk.

It has been so far so good, but all eyes in the industry are on Network Rail, which is responsible for completing the project on behalf of the Scottish Government's Transport Scotland agency.

The company has been anxious to distance itself from problems with other lines, such as the current remedial work on the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine route, which it did not build.

It is also privately dismissive of ministers' plans for the Borders line to be built and run separately from the rest of the rail network.

But with Airdrie-Bathgate, Network Rail will be unable to dodge the flak if things do go wrong.

Managers are only too aware of that, and The Scotsman can reveal they have been telling others in the industry that success is vital because the 300 million project is the firm's biggest new line scheme in Britain.

They want to impress not just Scottish but also UK ministers they can cut it on such a project, which is seen as essential at a time of renewed government interest in building new high-speed lines.

So Airdrie-Bathgate could prove crucial to Network Rail's reputation, and if it pulls it off, also provide a much-needed confidence boost to Scotland's ability to successfully build new railways.