North East journey time and Formartine rail improvements "hit the buffers"

The SNP’s new transport minister has been challenged over North East rail developments “hitting the buffers” following a statement on the rail network’s imminent nationalisation.

By Dawn Renton
Tuesday, 15th February 2022, 4:55 pm
Updated Tuesday, 15th February 2022, 4:55 pm
MSP Douglas Lumsden warned improvements to the East Coast main line “may now never happen”
MSP Douglas Lumsden warned improvements to the East Coast main line “may now never happen”

Dutch firm Abellio will stop running the ScotRail franchise at the end of March and an "arms-length" Scottish government company will take over.

Local MSP Douglas Lumsden warned improvements to the East Coast main line “may now never happen” after Jenny Gilruth said passenger numbers are in decline nationally.

The Scottish Conservative pointed to previous commitments to reduce travel times between Aberdeen and the Central Belt by 20 minutes, formerly part of the Strategic Transport Projects Review process.

And the renewal of the Buchan rail link to Formartine was part of the SNP/Green “Bute House agreement” formalising their Scottish Government coalition.

It was previously the subject of an SNP conference motion backed by Aberdeenshire East SNP MSP Gillian Martin, and was promised during Alex Salmond’s campaign in the 2017 General Election.

At Holyrood last week Mr Lumsden raised the lack of movement on either promise.

The North East MSP said: “There were no rail improvements mentioned today for the North East of Scotland.

“No mention of relaying the Formartine to Buchan line and no mention of the promised 20-minute reduction in journey times between Aberdeen and the Central belt.

“Minister, have these projects hit the buffers?”

Ms Gilruth responded: “The reason that ScotRail services of course had to be decreased was, first of all over the Christmas period because of the Omicron variant.

“But secondly, because passengers are not using the trains in the same way that they were before…

“I set out the examples of tourism and leisure and why people might not be using the train.

“Some of the other challenges we face as a government right now is making sure people feel safe and I hope that gives him reassurance that we are taking these issues really seriously.”

Mr Lumsden said later: “This really didn’t give me any hope that the SNP-Green coalition will deliver on any of the promises that have been made to North East commuters and other train users over the years.

“We’ve been waiting to see this 20-minute reduction in journey times for 14 years, and between this and the STPR2 neglecting to make any update, it’s depressing that this may now never happen.

“The clear commitment to exploring how we reconnect North East communities like the Broch and Peterhead has also been ignored.

“Of course numbers went down during the pandemic – they are hardly going to go up when this government slash the services before people come back to using the train more regularly.”

Campaign group Campaign for North East Rail (CNER) have also spoken out about the rail developments.

Taking to social media, the group highlighted new lines in the north east would go a long way to meeting the Scottish Government’s goal of reducing car kms by 20%.

You can find out more about the group at www.campaignfornortheastrail.org