£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
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