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Scottish Parliament Speech: Edinburgh Airport Rail Links (September 2007)

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

I hear some indrawn breaths among my SNP colleagues as I rise. However, they should relax, as I am in a conciliatory mood. The statement is a good thing and I congratulate Stewart Stevenson on it.

Airports are prime tourist links but, like all transport facilities, they are two-edged weapons. They make it easier to come to Scotland but, in the recent past, they have also made it a lot easier to get out of Scotland - far too easy. We used to balance our tourism books, roughly, but, for the past 10 years, we have been getting more and more into the red and, like my great Tübingen predecessor, Sir James Steuart, I am a transport mercantilist - we want people in, not money out.

The complexity of building airport railway stations is considerable. We have several in Germany and I have looked at them close up. They are also, inevitably, delayers of other traffic, as trains have to be loaded with heavy baggage, children, prams, trolleys and so on.

Some of those factors can be overcome, but such stations need high expenditure on terminal platforms, grade-separated crossings, escalators and lifts. The examples of Schiphol, Birmingham, Frankfurt and Köln-Bonn show that building only the station will not give us much change out of £400 million - before money is spent on the signalling, flyover junctions and so on.

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

I will take no points of information from a man who does not realise that Luton airport station is three miles from Luton airport.

We need to steer traffic to Edinburgh from the airport but we have to realise that, since we have retained the plans for the tram system, we will have a valuable link to intermediate stations, which is important for much of the hotel traffic. It is difficult to get more traffic into Waverley station - the current, expensive projects there will increase the number of journeys by only four an hour. The main terminal for a lot of the local services must be Princes Street and, with the tram system in place, it will be. Karlsruhe in Germany uses its main thoroughfare as its main station; it is important that Edinburgh does the same thing.

Costs of transport projects - particularly rail projects - in Scotland are escalating, as was reported in The Scotsman this week. How much of that stems from the accumulation of schemes that were rather haphazardly put together by the previous regime, placing pressure on a very limited railway construction sector? The fact is that the Scottish transport construction sector is so primitive that all it does is flog cars and pour tar.

What is the basis of this bonanza? If we tot up the costs of the current schemes, we find that £1 billion will be spent before anything much has been achieved. As Stewart Stevenson pointed out, petrol could very soon cost $200 a barrel.

I credit Jack McConnell's Government with good intentions, but its financial planning was faulty. In Switzerland and Württemberg, where 470 public transport journeys are undertaken per individual per year - as opposed to 90 in Scotland - such schemes are worked out over a period to ensure that one slots into another with a minimum amount of friction and pressure.

Britain cannot sustain such haphazard rail planning. There was a straw in the wind when, at the end of June, Deutsche Bahn took over most of British Rail's freight services. We have to go to and get help from the big boys; we cannot do this on our own. The noise from the station platform might be: if Deutsche Bahn or the SNCF wants to take over Network Rail, why not? We ought to talk to those people because they know their business.

 
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