Nicola Sturgeon snubs train travel for limo

NICOLA Sturgeon has never travelled by train on official business since taking charge of Scotland’s transport, while making nearly 600 taxpayer-funded trips by car, government figures show.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Mark MainzDeputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Mark Mainz
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: Mark Mainz

The infrastructure secretary and Deputy First Minister opted for a chauffeur-driven government limo for 590 trips between September 2012 and last December – the latest figures available.

During that time, Sturgeon has launched plans for a high-speed line between Glasgow and Edinburgh, opened a key Commonwealth Games railway station and pledged to “make the train an even more attractive alternative to the car”.

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ScotRail is the Scottish Government’s biggest contract, which has cost taxpayers £2.5 billion in subsidies over the past decade.

A total of 14 other ministers have taken the train on official business since Sturgeon became infrastructure secretary, including First Minister Alex Salmond, who has made six rail journeys.

Finance secretary John Swinney has taken the train ten times, and external affairs minister Humza Yousaf eight times.

However, the top rail traveller was transport minister Keith Brown, who made 70 train trips over the 15 months which the figures cover.

Brown’s track record has significantly improved since he took office in 2010.

Scotland on Sunday revealed two years ago that he made just four rail journeys in his first ten months in the role, far fewer than his predecessor, Stewart Stevenson, and several other ministers.

Sturgeon has taken part in several train promotion events since becoming infrastructure secretary, including posing for photographs in a train driver’s cab as she announced plans for a new high-speed line between Scotland’s two largest cities in November 2012.

Last December, she officially opened a £12 million upgrade to Dalmarnock Station in Glasgow, which served the Emirates Arena, Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome and Celtic Park in the Commonwealth Games.

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Sturgeon both arrived at and left the ceremony by official car.

News of Sturgeon’s preference for cars over trains comes days after Scottish Government figures showed more Scots are taking to the road, with car drivers and passengers increasing their share of all journeys by 3 percentage points last year to 64 per cent.

Sustainable transport campaigners Transform Scotland said ministers should take the lead in the reduction of car use which they preached.

Director Colin Howden said: “In a week where we’ve seen evidence of increased use of the car, it’s disappointing to find the minister with ultimate responsibility for transport hasn’t found even a single opportunity to use our railways. If the [Scottish] Government expects people to switch to public transport. We need to see our leaders set a better example themselves.”

Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: “Ministers have busy schedules but that shouldn’t be an excuse for relying on private cars for transport.

“While there are some parts of Scotland impossible to get to by rail, many ministerial engagements are easily accessible, with mobile working clearly possible.

“Ministers should be leading by example if they’re serious about reducing transport emissions. By spending a bit more time on public transport, maybe we’d see the kind of investment from ministers that has instead been going towards road building schemes that increase traffic and emissions.”

The Scottish Government admitted Sturgeon had made no rail journeys as part of her ministerial travel, but had taken the train at other times.

A spokeswoman said: “Ms Sturgeon regularly travels by train.

“It is accurate that she has not made any government-funded journeys since the date in question.”