Now the Borders Railway is built we need to make it work financially and operationally as best we can. One metric looks good – early passenger numbers against projections.
Unfortunately, while agreeing with your editorial (29 January) that rail forecasting models need serious attention, it is not the case that, on this single consideration, the first four months of this line have proved anything which would justify similar schemes.
The approximate 20 per cent uplift against the Scottish Parliament-approved projections of 1.2 million-1.3 million journeys in year one are not actually material to the long-run calculation of benefit to cost.
The Scottish Parliament approved this line at a cost of £155 million; estimates of the total ultimate cost now range from £360m to £500m, The new projection of 1.5 million passenger journeys in year one will yield a farebox of approximately £6m; but even in 2006 the running costs were estimated to be in excess of £11m.
Likely, therefore, the subsidy will now be greater than the revenue for 2015-16, so it is in the worst half of UK rail lines financially. Operationally, growth in usage to staunch the losses will be problematic, as was warned by rail consultants many years ago, because passengers cluster around a few services but have no use for many others.
With a typical daily capacity of more than 10,000 seats the current overall loading ratios are not impressive – 500,000 passenger journeys have occupied 1.2-1.3 million seats in the opening four-month period. On the most scientific measure (as used in the McNulty Report on the potential for rail in 2011) the loading per passenger kilometre on this straggling line (“bums on seats per km operated”) will still be below the undemanding Scottish average, which includes the low-use strategic Highland lines.
Since punctuality (circa 30 per cent) is among the worst and there is occasional overcrowding and last-minute cancellations (yet many near empty trains ply the Borders stretch) the loss-making project does not even satisfy its proponents.
Facing the music
How often have we heard the hierarchy of the SNP trumpeting their intention to create a free, fair and democratic society in Scotland (your report, 29 January)?
We have 32 councils with councillors elected by their constituents to manage the public services in their council area. At least that’s the way it used to work before the SNP came to power.
Now local authorities have been emasculated to such an extent that they cannot raise the funds necessary to provide services to those who elected them and they are constantly threatened that unless they meet certain tick box targets they will suffer cuts in grants from Holyrood.
And we have the unedifying situation where John Swinney is threatening draconian consequences if the local authorities break the SNP populist council tax freeze because as we all know nothing must be allowed to frighten the horses ahead of the May elections.
Gifford, East Lothian
I have written before about the lunacy of Edinburgh Council spending £2.2million on imposing a 20mph speed limit on the capital, a speed limit which the pilot, itself costing the best part of £250,000, has shown is not observed, not enforced and had a negligible impact on accidents.
Now, to my horror, I read a report today that, in order to satisfy John Swinney’s swingeing budget cuts, Edinburgh Council plans to axe free school music provision in order to save £1.7m. This philistine SNP government must realise that cuts of this level to local authority funding will have a major impact on “peripherals” like music tuition. But I would also criticise Edinburgh Council for having such utterly misplaced priorities.
The 20mph speed limit will have limited impact, whereas axing school music will deprive many children of the opportunity to develop their innate musicianship. Where would society be without music and not just from outstanding performers like Nicola Benedetti but also from the many people who provide music at a lower level, to be enjoyed at local community and family gatherings?
Findhorn Place, Edinburgh
From a foreign policy viewpoint Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again nationalism” is of deep concern (Perspective, 28 January).
Especially so if Mr Trump were not only the Republican candidate but actually won the presidential election.
One wonders what the UK government’s attitude towards the “special relationship” with the US would be.
What has to be kept in mind is America’s enormous nuclear capability and conventional military power.
What for example would be the orientation of a Trump foreign policy towards Russia and China?
It is concerning that a Trump administration would be influential in Nato’s role in Eastern Europe. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that “hard power” rather than “soft power” would predominate?
Arguably, a “Trump Triumph” may end the special relationship and strengthen an independent European foreign policy.
With reference to the Rev Dr John Cameron’s comments on Prime Minister David Cameron’s use of “bunch”, speaking as a former refugee ( fleeing ahead of the Red Army after the Second World War), I would not like the use of any of the synonyms extracted from the thesaurus, as they all deny individuality.
Similarly I did not enjoy being told as a child that DP (displaced person) stood for “Dirty Pig”.
Interestingly though, my parents, until we became naturalised, were never worried at having to register at the Aliens Department, which was grouped with Firearms, for some bizarre reason.
Tantallon Place, Edinburgh
I am not sure why Joyce McMillan thinks it desirable that we meet almost all our energy needs by the mid-century from renewables (“Sea change required in energy policy”, Perspective, 29 January), but, in any case that would be impossible.
Even meeting all our electricity demand, if that’s what she meant, will be impossible. Not even the SNP government expects to meet all electricity consumer demand from renewables.
Apparently it recognises that there will be times when renewables will be off-line and that generation will have to come from reliable sources (it suggests 2.5 GW from thermal generation and then only from plant fitted with carbon capture and storage, which has not yet been demonstrated).
And there is no mention of the prospect that electricity will have to be imported to meet demand at such times.
Relying on expensive and landscape-ruining renewables is both stupid and unnecessary. They will not even reduce greenhouse emissions. Two or three nuclear power plants in Scotland would meet all our electricity demand (two already meet about 35 per cent of it) without damaging either the global climate or Scotland’s environment.
Dovecot Loan, Edinburgh
The happy camp
My farm borders Loch Chon in the Trossach, so I am well placed to comment in response to Dave Morris (Letters, 28 January) who has criticised the decision of the Scottish Government to approve camping by-laws in the Loch Lomond National Park.
This decision is a welcome correction to the wide ranging access rights created by land reform.
Mr Morris mounting a defence of access rights is fine, but it ignores how antisocial behaviour impacts on those living in the park, many of whom work to attract tourism. Mr Morris states that “Going for a walk one day in the park… is no substitute for accurate data and a proper understanding of the basis of… rights of access…’
Of course, the proposed new by-laws have nothing to do with restricting access, they are about responsibility, and as someone who lives in the Park and welcomes visitors on a daily basis, all year round I am provided with ample evidence of destructive antisocial behaviour.
I have lost count of instances where those in a tent (with car/van parked in a Passing Place at the inconvenience of other single track road users) or camper van think “right of access” and “wild camping” are code to allow irresponsible behaviour and permission to dump waste to the detriment of all.
Existing legislation and policies such as Leave No Trace and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code are ineffective in proactively tackling antisocial issues therefore the new by-laws are a measured response towards improved management of park space.
Dave Morris (Letters,28 January) wrongly gives the impression that Dr Aileen McLeod took the decision to introduce additional seasonal camping by-laws in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park based on a walk one day in the park and looking at a few photos.
I am sure in her role as minister of the environment Dr McLeod carefully considered all the representations made to her and in this instance placed considerable weight on the unanimous views of the democratically elected local community councils in particular that cover the new camping management areas and who are sick fed up of irresponsible campers regularly despoiling loch shorelines and depriving many thousands of visitors and local residents from enjoying the peace and tranquillity of what used to be very special places.
Chairman, Friends of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs Balloch
The world must be laughing at us, a country with two aircraft carriers with no suitable warplanes and, a squadron of high-tech destroyers which have engines that keep breaking down.
David Cameron’s defence policy is all at sea, when it comes to the Royal Navy.
Bridlington, East Yorkshire