Transport Scotland official in ‘extraordinary’ outburst at agency halting high-speed rail work

A Transport Scotland official has vented his frustration as it emerged the agency has halted joint work with the UK Government to bring high-speed rail north of the Border despite ministers clamouring for years for faster progress from Westminster.

Alastair Young, TS’s high speed rail project manager, revealed that its involvement had ended in 2019, three years after a deal was finally reached between the two governments to work towards three-hour journeys between Edinburgh, Glasgow and London.

He told a public meeting in Edinburgh: "The UK Government hasn’t stopped working on cross-Border activity.

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"But Transport Scotland, from being in a place of one of the leaders of the agenda, is now not part of what’s going on.”

Train builder Alstom's concept design for HS2. Picture: Alstom

The agency has decided instead to combine the work with a review of other major transport projects which is due to be published this winter.

The then transport minister Keith Brown said the 2016 deal he agreed with UK Government rail minister Robert Goodwill had “concluded a long and tortuous process”.

It followed repeated pressure from the Scottish Government for high-speed rail to be extended north beyond HS2.

Speaking at the event organised by industry lobbyists the High Speed Rail Group (HSRG), Mr Young said: "Work was going well and we started working on our outline business case in early 2019.

"But in March I was instructed to stop, to cease work I was doing on this.

"One of the things about making progress is you make progress and you go forward, or you go backwards.

"Unfortunately, that is what’s happened in this case.

"The only thing that really frustrated me was that ‘headmaster’ Goodwill and ‘headmaster’ Brown didn’t pull the project manager in and give him a dressing down for not meeting their commitment.

"I would love to have been there to explain why.”

An industry observer told Scotland on Sunday: “That’s really quite an extraordinary thing for a civil servant to say in public."

The Transport Scotland website stated that a business case would be presented to UK and Scottish Government ministers “with recommendations for their consideration in the light of the joint commitment they made in 2016. Work on the business case has however been paused.”

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Paul Tetlaw, who has represented sustainable transport campaigners Transform Scotland on Transport Scotland's high speed rail stakeholder group for the last decade, said: ”In the early years of the group, we witnessed real ambition from the Scottish Government to get on with this work, but all that ambition appeared to evaporate around two and half years ago.

"This is hard to understand, but it's clear that without line upgrades, Scotland will be left in the slow lane with its low-carbon ambitions and economy both seriously damaged.”

Jim Steer, a HSRG director, said: “Maximising the use of HS2 requires joined up planning between Westminster and Holyrood.

"If this is on ‘pause’, then a joint attempt at finding the ‘re-start’ button would be helpful.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “It is important that a significant and substantial infrastructure investment decision like this is framed in the context of our national and strategic investment plans.

"Much of the ‘strategic case’ element of the high-speed rail business case will be derived from STPR2 [the latest The Strategic Transport Projects Review], so time isn’t wasted and will be valuable to the high-speed rail business case.”

A spokesperson for the UK Department for Transport said: “We continue to work closely with Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government to maximise the benefits of HS2 for all.”

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