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‘Trade-offs’ needed in planned Scottish rail investments, RDG says

Industry leaders have published a major new report that seeks to give a clearer idea of the challenges facing Scotland’s rail industry.

The report, ‘Investing in the Future’, published by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) in partnership with ScotRail and Network Rail, comes following the publication of the Scotland Route Study by Network Rail – which set out a number of options for meeting the growing demands on Scotland’s rail, including more rolling stock and increased capacity.

Today’s report stressed that the rail industry “has to put the current and future needs of its users at the centre of its development” in Scotland and “be a reliable delivery partner to government and wider stakeholders”.

Jo Kaye, chair of the RDG’s planning oversight group and director of network strategy and planning at Network Rail, said: “Rail is increasingly important to the prosperity of both Scotland and Britain, with more people taking the train for work, leisure and to do business.

“Passenger numbers in Scotland have almost doubled in 20 years and rail freight has an important role to play in making businesses more efficient with fast, reliable deliveries, so we must continually plan for the railway the country is going to need in future.

“This document draws on expertise from across the industry, including the ScotRail Alliance, and will support the Scottish Government and other funders in making decisions around the future of the railway. It demonstrates that the industry is working to better understand and meet the needs of its current and future customers.”

The report also said that decisions about how to fund Scottish rail upgrades should “be supported by robust engineering and economic evidence” and supported by different funding mechanisms.

However, the report noted that greater understanding of a number of areas is still needed to support the rail upgrades.

It explained that “where the linkage between outputs and outcomes is unclear there is a risk of not delivering the optimal solution”, particularly regarding planning enhancements.

The report added the industry needs to be able to “present reliable evidence on the condition of its assets” to support investment planning, and identify the “trade-offs” that might need to be made at an early stage in decision-making.

“The economic and social outcomes that the Scottish Government is seeking to achieve depend on specific levels and types of connectivity being provided,” the document said.

“Delivering this in an environment where both capital and current expenditure are likely to be highly constrained will require funders to prioritise and phase the delivery of strategic outcomes.

“The industry needs to be able to provide an evidence base that identifies potential choices at an early stage so that funders are as well-informed as they can possibly be on the decisions they are making.”

These include choices between using fares to manage crowding problems versus providing additional capacity, and reaping the benefits of HS2 versus ensuring sufficient capacity to accommodate freight demand.

The RDG argued the rail industry should make “a continuing commitment to addressing engineering and asset management challenges” and develop “intelligent and pragmatic” maintenance and renewals policies because of the challenging nature of Scotland’s environment and weather.

The report also said the industry should gain a greater understanding of passenger and freight customer priorities and how rail can support government policy and benefit the environment.

Phil Verster, managing director of the ScotRail Alliance, commented: “Scotland’s railway is more popular now than ever before with more than 96million journeys made on our network each year.

“The whole industry is also working together more closely than ever before to make sure we deliver the railway, both now and in the future, that our customers and the wider communities they come from need to prosper.

“We hope this report will help to inform funders about the strong role we see the rail industry playing in the years ahead.”

RTM’s upcoming October/November edition will feature a special section covering the challenges facing rail in Scotland.

(Image c. Danny Lawson from PA Images)

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