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Inside Holyrood: The Scottish Government taking the Abellio Scotrail franchise into public ownership is a 'huge cause of concern' because the same government failed to build two new ferries on time and on budget

By Scott Maclennan

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MSP Edward Mountain speaking in the Scottish Parliament.
MSP Edward Mountain speaking in the Scottish Parliament.

MSP Edward Mountain says the Scottish Government's track record on delivering major projects is a worry as the Scotrail franchise enters public ownership next year

Back in March, just days before the Scottish Parliament went into recess, the SNP Government announced that it was taking ScotRail into public ownership next year.

Now with less than 12 months to go before the current Abellio franchise ends, we are still waiting for the SNP Government to set out how much this decision will cost the taxpayer and to lay out the benefits it will bring to passengers.

This should be a huge cause of concern. Let’s not forget this is the same Government that has failed to connect our Islands let alone to build two new ferries on time and on budget. Frankly this hardly instils confidence that they will be able to run a rail service effectively.

ScotRail, which currently costs in excess of £1.3 billion to run, will also be brought into public ownership at an extremely challenging time. The impact of the pandemic has seen passenger numbers drop to around 15 per cent of what they were pre-Covid-19.

Therefore, tough decisions will need to be made and innovative solutions will be required to encourage people to use these services again and to make our railways work for us.

One way is to make sure our railways go to the destinations that users need and ensure they also integrate seamlessly with our bus and air services too.

This is what I had hoped for with the creation of the new £15m Inverness Airport Railway station. For that price it is vital that the new station fully meets the needs of Highlanders from day one.

However, the new station will be situated over a mile away from the Airport terminal building and therefore raises questions about how the two will be connected? Buses or covered walkways have been suggested but who will pay for these? Have we learnt nothing from Aberdeen Airport and Dyce Railway Station?

I understand that some politicians are satisfied with these current proposals, probably because they will not be using them on wet or windy nights but for those who will, we need to see this project reworked to allow it to reach its full potential.

We need to make travelling between the station and airport as seamless as possible and so they must be co-located. This would deliver the integrated transport hub that Highlanders and the tourists visiting our region really want.

As proposals for the new railway station progress, I will continue to press for the final project to be as accessible as possible for both rail and air passengers.

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