02 June 2007

From A to B

Transport has been a big thing this week, so I'm trying to collect my many thoughts on the matter. I am something of a public transport geek (I used to collect bus timetables when I was a kid) so this is something very dear to me.

Firstly, on the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link. This row has become more acrimonious than it needed to be: Labour and the LibDems argue that the plan developed while they were in government (i.e. to burrow under large tracts of the Capital) is the best. The new government favours an EARL, but not that one, reckons that there are better ways to deliver it, and wants to stop the current plans until it's found. So the two sides actually agree with one another on the basic principle; it's the delivery that is causing the problems.

This should be a chance for the 'new politics' we keep hearing about to come to the fore, and for both sides to sit round a table and work something out (the SNP would have had to do this anyway had there been a coalition, remember). Instead, both sides have retreated into the old way of doing things. I am reminded of Kombat Opera's version of Question Time, in which the Opposition Spokesman sings, "We oppose this Anti-Poverty Bill because it's not our Anti-Poverty Bill... Ours is written in a different font, and more words are underlined!"

Then there are the trams. I do not have sympathy with those people who say that this is a great project for Edinburgh. It's a great project for the North and West of the City. For everyone else, there is no benefit to be reaped, especially with the construction Line Three being tied to a congestion charge that residents rejected. Basically, it doesn't seem right that the trams can be put forward as the solution to Edinburgh's traffic problems when it's only a real alternative to any other means of transport if you're travelling to or from the Airport, or Leith. Yes, it will create another means of getting to the airport, but like the other Public Transport alternatives, only if you live on a direct route between the City Centre and Turnhouse. There'll be a link to a Ingliston Park & Ride, which is fine if you're driving in from Glasgow or West Lothian, but pretty much useless if you're coming from Fife or the Borders. And none of the people who want to improve Edinburgh's Public Transport seem to want to talk about restoring the City's South Suburban Rail Line.

A far more comprehensive project (no doubt more expensive, but of more use to more people, would be Dr. David Low's proposals, which are comparable to the Docklands Light Railway or Manchester's MetroLink. But even this could stand to go further, and in any case, Manchester should serve to be Edinburgh's inspiration.

Manchester has a rail link to the Airport: the line branches off at some point after Heald Green and conveys travellers to somewhere around Terminal 2. The links from the airport are many: in addition to travelling to Manchester it's possible to go Warrington and Liverpool; to Bolton, Preston (and then on to the West Coast Main Line) and then Blackpool, Barrow or the Lake District; to Leeds and then Hull, or York and on to Scarborough, Middlesbrough or Newcastle; to Sheffield, Doncaster and Grimsby. In short, practically the entire North of England is connected to the Airport, and I believe that there are plans ot extend this network to Glasgow and Edinburgh by the end of the year. This has been achieved without the need to burrow underground.

Manchester also has trams, but the scheme is far more ambitious in its current form: it is possible to catch a MetroLink tram in Bury, to the north of the City, and travel all the way to Altrincham some way to the South. By changing at Piccadilly, there is another tram seving Salford Quays and Eccles. The trams benefit not only wider parts of the City but also neighbouring towns, and so it leaves the modest Edinburgh proposal in the shade. If you really want to cut congestion, what is the point of focusing only on the North and West of the City, and linking with only one Park & Ride? People would still have to drive to Ingliston after all, so why not have the trams going from, say, Linlithgow in the West, to Dunbar in the East, and with another line from Waverley out to Penicuik? It would be a far more ambitious project and help to cut congestion not just within one part of the City, but across a wider area of the Capital and its environs.

One more transport thing: the A9. I was amused at David McLetchie accusing the SNP of focusing on its heartland at the expense of Edinburgh. He might want to have a chat with Murdo Fraser, his Party's Deputy Leader, who is at the forefront of the Tories' Dual the A9 campaign. Given that McLetchie is the Tory Chief Whip, is it wise for him to be criticising a proposal that is his Party's policy?


james higham said...

...favours an EARL...

This could pass into common parlance - to "favour an EARL"
- care to come out for an EARL?
I can see it all now.

Will said...

There is nothing like an EARL, nothing in the world...

...and so on.