Rail Infrastructure Commission 'Could Transform Network'

24 February 2017, 07:20 | Updated: 24 February 2017, 09:19

train track

A think-tank has urged the Scottish Government to set up a rail infrastructure commission to examine projects which could "transform'' the network.

The commission could look at developments such as a new high-speed line to the Highlands from the central belt, and links to the south and airports, Reform Scotland said.

The think-tank was responding to Transport Scotland's rail infrastructure strategy consultation, which is seeking views on the how rail services should be developed in the future.

Its submission suggests the Government's current programme of improvements "lacks the ambition to deliver long-term transformational change''.

Tom Harris, of Reform Scotland, said: "We are in danger of missing the bigger picture when it comes to discussing rail in Scotland.

"We talk in very narrow terms about ScotRail and its operation, but what we actually need is an injection of some creative, strategic thinking so that we can give the Scottish people a rail system built for the future and one to be proud of.

"Reform Scotland believes that the Scottish Government should 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.''

The think-tank argued the Borders Railway, opened in 2015, was "short-sighted'' because it is not electrified and single-track, with bridges built only to accommodate the width of single-track, and therefore has limited potential for expansion.

"The Borders Railway showed us that there is an appetite for new railways in Scotland but it also showed us that our thinking is too small and our planning too short-term,'' Mr Harris added.

"That ship has now sailed but we must learn the lessons from it, think big, and plan long, and that is why the need for a commission is now critical.''

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We are grateful to Reform Scotland for their comments, as we are to all respondents to our consultation on our future investment strategy for Scotland's railways.

"The think-tank has raised issues about structure and vision.

"Whilst there will be different views on structures to realise the vision for Scotland's railways it is clear that the ambitions for our railway to be a driver of economic growth and a positive, integral part of our social fabric is an ambition that is shared right across Scotland.''

On the Borders Railway, he added: "We were always confident that, in time, it would deliver major economic opportunities and attract new investment, so it is pleasing to see strong evidence that visits and spending are up significantly as a direct result of the new railway.''