Thinktank praises Scottish Government reforms on rail but says it needs more powers
REFORM SCOTLAND, a pro-market think tank, has used a new report to call for the company which runs the rail infrastructure across the UK, Network Rail, to have its Scottish operations devolved.
The body also wants a new Scottish Rail Infrastructure Commission (SRIC) set up to improve planning and how Scotland’s cities and regions are connected by rail.
Its report, Track to the Future, follows weeks of political battles over the problems experienced by passengers on some rail lines across Scotland.
“We need fundamental change to the governance of Network Rail.” Tom Harris
The former Labour transport secretary, Tom Harris, who authored the report alongside Reform Scotland’s research director Alison Payne said: “The current debate over whether or not to nationalise Scotrail misses the point. 54 per cent of delays are the fault of Network Rail.
“Nationalising Scotrail won’t make the trains run on time and it is self-defeating for any politician to imply otherwise. Instead, we need fundamental change to the governance of Network Rail.”
The announcement adds weight to demands from the Scottish Green party, which has insisted that Network Rail’s responsibilities in Scotland should be fully devolved for the network to be reformed properly and reach its full potential.
Harris’ report emphasises the importance of rail infrastructure governance, where his former colleagues in Scottish Labour have mainly used the debate over the future of Scotrail to attack transport minister Humza Yousaf, despite both Yousaf and Scottish Labour suggesting the possibility of rail nationalisation.
Harris said: “The Scottish Government is responsible for the strategic direction and funding of the Scottish rail network, but this responsibility cannot be properly exercised while Network Rail remains answerable to the UK Government.
“Reform Scotland believes that Network Rail in Scotland should be fully accountable to the Scottish Government, and that means it must be devolved.
“However, there is also a serious long-term problem. Ongoing improvements are vital and the Scottish Government should be congratulated for investing in this area, but we need to think about the bigger picture and create a bold strategy for the future.”
“We should not tolerate a situation where a resident of Glasgow can get to London faster than she can get to Inverness, because Scotland’s cities are too poorly connected.” Tom Harris
The report refers to the condition of Network Rail modernisation which the report states is lacking. Network Rail, which operates and maintains the rail infrastructure across the UK, controls 4,331 bridges and 80 tunnels, some of which are over 100 years old. Harris stated that this can not be addressed properly without the Scottish Government having full control.
When looking at journey times within Scotland the report said it compared badly with journeys of a similar length in England. For example, a trip from Edinburgh to Aberdeen, a distance of roughly 125 miles, can take at its fastest 2 hours 17 minutes. However, a London to Birmingham train traveling roughly the same distance has a fastest time of 1 hour 22minutes.
Network Rail, which operates and maintains the rail infrastructure across the UK, controls 4,331 bridges and 80 tunnels, some of which are over 100 years old.
Harris continued: “Our rail infrastructure is deficient. We should not tolerate a situation where a resident of Glasgow can get to London faster than she can get to Inverness, because Scotland’s cities are too poorly connected.
“We should demand strategic action. So Reform Scotland is calling on the Scottish Government to create a Scottish Rail Infrastructure Commission to examine what ambitious transformational projects and new railway lines we need to boost the Scottish economy and transform our connectivity as a nation.”
In contrast to the think tank, unions whose members operate the Scotrail service and Network Rail are in favour of nationalisation, arguing that the new powers in the Scotland Act of 2016 mean the public sector can win future contracts for the railways, giving the Scottish Government greater control and the ability to reinvest profits to improve the service.
Picture of courtesy of Reform Scotland
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