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  • Ian Ritchie : Scottish Business Insider

We’ve missed our connections

Compare it to – well, almost anywhere. Why does Scotland still suffer such poor transport infrastructure?

SOUTH KOREA'S news that its first high-speed rail line has just opened, shrinking the distances from Seoul and attracting passengers away from the airlines, throws into perspective that country’s level of ambition compared to ours.

South Korea’s high-speed rail network, costing about £10bn, will complete a set of key lines by 2010. The next generation of locomotives currently under development are being called ‘G7’, indicating its ambition to join the Group of Seven industrialised nations.

Meanwhile, here in the UK – which our Government likes to claim as the world’s fourth-largest economy – our ambition seems to be limited to patching together our crumbling rail network to regain only the performance that was achieved before the Hatton crash.

Everywhere you look it is a case of penny-pinching, such as the scaling down of plans to restructure Edinburgh ’s Waverley station; the £800m rebuild has been scrapped in favour of a £135m project to build a couple of extra platforms.

Despite the Barnet formula, designed to allocate a higher level of public expenditure to Scotland , and the one-off benefit of North Sea oil revenues over the last 30 years, we still have some of the poorest provision of public transport in Europe.

Meanwhile, the north east of England has built an impressive network of motorways and an urban metro system for Newcastle , and Manchester amongst others has developed its own light rail system.

Sure, Edinburgh is now developing plans for an urban tram system, but only by charging motorists congestion charges to pay for it. And here, perhaps, is the problem. Despite the establishment of a Scottish Parliament there is little ‘joined-up’ thinking about moving people and goods around Scotland as a whole. Projects seem to be planned and executed at a local level only.

The Scottish economy is relatively small and is heavily concentrated in the central belt around Glasgow and Edinburgh.

In fact, the two cities are economically intertwined, with Edinburgh being the centre for finance and government and Glasgow the home of commerce and the media. They’re less than sixty miles apart, but why is the infrastructure between the two so bad?

After more than 18 months of disruption, hold-ups and speed limits, the reconstruction of the A8 between Baillieston and Newhouse has delivered to a grateful and patient population — a two-lane highway. Not the three-lane motorway that was surely justified. Remind me – wasn’t two lanes what we had before?

If ever there was a case for a new high-speed rail link anywhere on the planet, it should surely be between Edinburgh and Glasgow. If the German technology used in the new Shanghai airport link was used, it would link the cities at well over 200 mph.

Imagine it – Edinburgh to Glasgow in around 15 minutes.

The reality is that, after the disaster of our Parliament building, it will be an age before Scottish politicians have any appetite for such an ambitious project.

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