£200m to cut train times by just 2 min­utes

Ma­jor boost for north-east doesn’t live up to hype – and un­cer­tainty of where money will be spent

The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire) - - FRONT PAGE - BY JON HEBDITCH

A planned £200 mil­lion in­vest­ment in rail links be­tween the north-east and cen­tral belt would shave just two min­utes off travel times it emerged yesterday.

The shock­ing an­nounce­ment may act as a death blow to the city deal plan un­veiled three years ago, which saw then in­fra­struc­ture sec­re­tary Keith Brown pledge to slash 20 min­utes from jour­neys and pro­vide an eco­nomic boost to the re­gion. As lo­cal politi­cians and busi­ness lead­ers grilled Trans­port Scot­land’s head of rail Bill Reeve, he re­vealed that hav­ing stud­ied the pro­posed improvements they would ac­tu­ally of­fer lit­tle or no time ben­e­fits if they were to pro­ceed and in­di­cated that the Gov­ern­ment may go back to the draw­ing board.

A re­port found a £218 mil­lion in­vest­ment would trim just 90 to 150 sec­onds from jour­neys be­tween Aberdeen and Glas­gow and Ed­in­burgh.

Mr Reeve ar­gued there were nonethe­less to be ma­jor in­vest­ments in the rail net­work, claim­ing that “In terms of real improvements be­tween Aberdeen and the cen­tral belt I can’t re­call a big­ger step change than you are about to get over the next 12 months”.

But last night north-east Con­ser­va­tive MSP Liam Kerr said the rev­e­la­tion “beg­gared be­lief ”, adding “This is very far from what the SNP promised.”

And rail and in­fra­struc­ture writer Gor­don Casely said: “This is one tun­nel with no light at the end of it. Trans­port Scot­land re­ally has to do bet­ter.”

Apromised £200 mil­lion rail in­vest­ment be­tween the north­east and cen­tral belt would speed up jour­ney times by just two min­utes.

The rev­e­la­tion from Trans­port Scot­land bosses was made years af­ter the cash was awarded in a 2016 city re­gion deal. At the sign­ing in Jan­uary that year, the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment pledged to in­vest the sum within 10 years to re­duce the travel time by around 20 min­utes.

The then in­fra­struc­ture sec­re­tary Keith Brown said the cash in­jec­tion would in­volve “in­fra­struc­ture improvements, dou­ble track­ing at key pinch points and other op­por­tu­ni­ties to im­prove jour­ney times to the cen­tral belt and on to Lon­don”.

He said that to­gether they would be “pro­vid­ing an eco­nomic boost to the cities and com­mu­ni­ties of the north­east”.

Yesterday, how­ever, Bill Reeve, Trans­port Scot­land’s head of rail, spoke to the city deal com­mit­tee where he re­vealed the much touted improvements around Mon­trose Basin of­fer lit­tle or no time ben­e­fits.

A heavy­weight re­port by the body has found a £218m in­vest­ment would trim just 90 to 150 sec­onds off times be­tween Aberdeen, Glas­gow and Ed­in­burgh.

Mr Reeve said a “rev­o­lu­tion in rail” due next year would re­duce jour­ney times, point­ing to new high speed (re­fur­bished) in­ter­city trains and improvements else­where in the coun­try.

But he could not say ex­actly what the long awaited city deal money would now be used for, nor when it would be spent as he was grilled by the com­mit­tee.

City coun­cil co-leader Jenny Laing said: “We are ac­tu­ally three years into the deal and we want to en­sure we keep the timescale, yet we don’t have a de­fined pack­age of in­ter­ven­tions.”

Pa­trick Machray, a mem­ber of Op­por­tu­nity North East (ONE), said: “We want to see progress and we want to chart that progress but this is the first up­date that we’ve had.”

Aberdeen coun­cil­lor Marie Boulton be­moaned the lack of progress, say­ing: “I think we need time­lines as the years are rolling on and noth­ing ap­pears to be chang­ing the sit­u­a­tion for the bet­ter.”

A dis­sent­ing voice came from Aberdeen­shire SNP coun­cil­lor Richard Thomson, who said they did not ex­pect the sum to be spent on “one big whizz bang pro­ject” and wel­comed the in­vest­ment else­where.

Aberdeen City Coun­cil co-leader Dou­glas Lums­den asked Mr Reeve if by the end of 2026 –the timescale for the city deal – the money would have been spent.

Mr Reeve replied: “I don’t know but I do know that we will look to get the best improvements we can.”

He added: “We are work­ing through this study and mak­ing progress and in the mean­time we are work­ing to­wards this ( jour­ney times) ob­jec­tive any­way.

“In terms of real improvements be­tween Aberdeen and the cen­tral belt, I can’t re­call a big­ger step change than you are about to get over the next 12 months.

“We are de­liv­er­ing a rev­o­lu­tion in rail.”

Last night north-east Con­ser­va­tive MSP Liam Kerr said he would be speak­ing in par­lia­ment on the sub­ject.

He said: “It is look­ing in­creas­ingly like SNP min­is­ters sim­ply plucked this num­ber out of thin air.

“There clearly was lit­tle to no work done on what we would ac­tu­ally get for £200 mil­lion.” A Trans­port Scot­land spokesman said: “This key route con­nect­ing Aberdeen with the Cen­tral Belt is al­ready ben­e­fit­ting from sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment. To­day’s meet­ing was an op­por­tu­nity to brief the Aberdeen City Re­gion Deal Joint Com­mit­tee on the find­ings of the rail re­port com­mis­sioned by the Ref­er­ence Group.

“In ad­di­tion, the con­sen­sus across the group was that fur­ther work is re­quired to iden­tify the max­i­mum pos­si­ble ben­e­fits achiev­able for the £200m avail­able. While it is too early to say what the out­comes of that will be, all within the Ref­er­ence Group re­main com­mit­ted to ded­i­cat­ing the time and re­source nec­es­sary to reach the right so­lu­tion as soon as is prac­ti­ca­ble.”

“Noth­ing is chang­ing for the bet­ter”

OFF TRACK: Trans­port Scot­land’s head of rail Bill Reeve said ‘we are de­liv­er­ing a rev­o­lu­tion in rail’ for the multi-mil­lion-pound in­vest­ment

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