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Scottish Parliament Speech: Rail Improvements (Central Scotland) (February 2008)

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

Jamie Hepburn's two elements - of modernisation and cost - are closely linked, as I know from my experience in Germany. That is not just an academic experience, as Deutsche Bahn, the state-owned German railways authority, has run most of our rail freight in Britain since the end of June. Deutsche Bahn has also just taken over Chiltern Railways, which was, in some respects, the best-run privatised rail project. I have the feeling that we will have to get into close negotiations with Deutsche Bahn - and we may learn something from that.

We may learn that if a railway is operating efficiently, it is an extremely good means of paying for the rail vehicles. A stopped train, like a stopped bus or tram, is doing nothing and losing money. If the ways are made clear and the speeds are as rapid as possible, fewer vehicles are required to run the system.


See this speech in context on They Work For You.

Had we a magnetic levitation - maglev - link between Edinburgh and Glasgow, it could wheech us to Glasgow in eight minutes, so only a couple of coaches shuttling back and forward would be required for the service. On the other hand, our railways did not have the good fortune of being blown flat between 1939 and 1945. We still have a railway line between Edinburgh and Glasgow that was built in 1840 and, apart from the absence of a rope-worked incline to Glasgow Queen Street station, it has not changed since then.

As Hugh O'Donnell said, the railway is used by passengers and freight. These days, the sort of wear that comes from a freight train is often totally different from the wear that comes from a passenger train, as one notices every weekend when one tries to go down to England and discovers that the first 70 or 80 miles have to be done by bus because the track is being improved. I am afraid that, as a veteran in such matters, I do not altogether believe in that improvement. The workmen are simply putting the track back where it was at the beginning of the previous week. We must think about segregating high-speed passenger traffic from freight traffic, which will increase enormously if Deutsche Bahn does the same thing in this country as it has done in Germany, where rail freight is increasing by about 10 per cent per year.

There is one final thing to consider: the notion of making transportation by all modes available by one ticket with one validation. In most of Germany there is what is called a Verkehrsverbund: the passenger buys a ticket that is available for every means of transport and might not even have to show it - that is, if they try to be a Schwarzfahrer, plain-clothes men are liable to lay hands on them and fine them €40 on the spot. That system means that the speed with which people get on and off trains or buses is remarkably rapid. A halt will last only seconds, so there is again the notion of speed. Recently, I went from Fairmilehead to Princes Street by bus and calculated that one third of the time was spent taking fares as people came on. We must have a much more efficient method of dealing with that.

We should consider the Karlsruhe method of amalgamating the tram that is planned for Edinburgh with interurban running through to Glasgow by, say, the Airdrie to Bathgate line. It is now practically standard on the continent - it is standard in France - to have trams that go right out into the countryside and trains that come right into the town. Our future Waverley station should be Waterloo Place and the interurban trams should come along Princes Street from the airport.

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