Full of Eastern Promise

The date is now set for “IndyRef2”: October 19th next year. Since that was announced, the airwaves have been fair buzzing. Those in favour of “Yes” argue Scotland must control all its own resources to combat Brexit, Covid and the cost of living combined. Those in favour of “No” claim this is not the time to ask. Despite years of discussion, many still sit on the “mebbes aye/mebbes naw” fence.

But the real issue is whether enough Scots trust the present Scottish Government to make a better fist of running the country than Westminster. They may have brought in social benefits, free prescriptions, scrapped university fees, etc., but it is not just heir opponents who see these as buying votes. The largely unionist middle class regard actual performance on Health, Education, etc. to be unimpressive and remain sceptical what independence might achieve.

With a ministerial track record of moderate competence, with little by way of standout achievements or vision, fifteen years of SNP government appears to have marked time since 2014— laudable Covid handling and electoral success notwithstanding. A recent example is Ms Jenny Gilruth’s rocky road through her first six months as Scotland’s Transport Minister. Between the rail strike, cancelled flights at overcrowded airports, delayed ferries and keeping her Green colleagues on-side as post-Covid traffic jams return, she has not had her troubles to seek.

For her, good news and photo ops have been thin on the ground, despite a new station at Reston, the Edinburgh trams creeping towards Newhaven and councils allowed to run their own bus services.

Now that Nicola Sturgeon is putting the indy jalopy back on the road, the usual Cabinet girnfest how little can be done with the limited powers they have cuts little ice with the uncommitted middle ground they must convert to “Yes” to win any second referendum. Such people react badly to girning, nor are they moved by generous social programmes that the SNP has favoured to date. The middle ground needs more than this; they need visionary inspiration what an independent Scotland could provide them that is unavailable in this union.

Ms Gilruth could provide this by ditching the “don’t-make-waves” passivity that her seven predecessors suffered from. Her post offers possibilities to break the mould and inspire a dubious public. To use a homespun American phrase: “I would rather light a candle than curse her darkness”.

For a start, two pieces of “low-hanging fruit” spring to mind, each offering a boost to public transport use, demonstrate innovation, please the Greens and could take effect before the October 2023 window. They are:

  1. Oyster-style card (a.k.a. “Integrated Ticketing—already touted for two decades) for use across Scotland. Not only would this encourage locals onto all forms of public transport but it would assist tourism, especially Europeans familiar with such schemes..
  2. Timetable co-ordination at transfer points. This involves persuading all operators in a region to synchronise, with local bus services feeding trains. Buses parallel to train/tram are an inefficient waste of precious

Getting both up and running over the next 16 months will challenge officials at Transport Scotland and awake desire for something more ambitious that can be conceived and launched—if not completed—in time to inspire votes in  the referendum.

It will require public commitment from the minister to challenge Transport Scotland to seek projects more imaginative than dualling the A9 or returning train service to Leven. One such possibility is an Eastern Hub for the capital.

Edinburgh suffers increasingly sclerotic traffic, glacial bus service and absence of any suburban rail net. ECC favours Lothian Buses, because its 91% ownership augments their income. While alternatives get short shrift, its role as a regional transport hub is ignored. Unlike Glasgow’s SPT, there IS no system.

The East Coast Main Line (ECML) is a public transport success, as is its revamped terminus at Waverley. But for arriving passengers, Edinburgh’s buses may as well be on the moon. Scattered across a dozen or more stops, there is no guidance to a myriad city centre buses, all an uphill slog out of five exits.

As well as many ScotRail routes, there are six long-distance carriers at Waverley serving England through Berwick. But al these bring congestion onto the ECML. Transport Scotland and Network Rail have a solution: to quadruple the line the 35 km between Portobello and Drem. Since shifting just 1 km of ECML away from mine workings cost £57 million, such a project would cost over £2 billion, no cost/benefit analysis justification.

At a fraction of that cost, an “Eastern Hub” would provide a much more effective easing of ECML congestion while integrating all transport modes on the eastern approaches to Edinburgh, ease road congestion both in the City and the A720 bypass and future-proof the services into the bargain.

What was once Portobello goods yard and Freightliner Terminal provides a large brownfield site adjacent to the A1 at Milton Link. West of Portobello East junction a four-track station would split the Borders line from the ECML to provide a Parkway, such as GNER once proposed for Musselburgh..

Building a large park-and-ride between here and Harry Lauder Road would attract a major amount of car traffic heading into the city. These would be lured by a four-trains-an-hour service to Waverley ad beyond by the Borders, North Berwick and a new hourly ScotRail Dunbar/Berwick service calling here. Having the long-distance services use it as a parkway would remove the need of anyone transferring to them having to go to Waverley. By providing a bus station and having a fan of Lothian routes serve it, along with the East Coast X5 and X7 long distance services, this would be a true multi-mode hub and a model for elsewhere.

Though the station itself would cause, not ease, ECML congestion, if the 5 km of line between Waverley and there were quadrupled, all ECML traffic could be kept separate from Borders traffic ad empty movements to/from Craigentinny carriage sidings.

The quadrupling would achieved by reinstating double tracks in both Calton tunnels, relaying track on the Abbeyhill/Piershill loop, and re-using the second (western) underbridge on Portobello road. Because this involves only existing rights-of-way and no new overbridges. Total cost for station and quadrupling should be of the order of Waverley’s £130 million revamp a decade ago. This is much cheaper and offers far more benefits than simply quadrupling the ECML to Drem.

By providing more slots a future South Subutban service to Newington and Morningside could increase train frequency to the city centre to six an hour, each of which could be made more useful by running through Waverley to either Edinburgh Gateway (for the airport) or Kirknewton/Livingston. This later would ease A720 bypass traffic.

So, in summary, for one tenth the cost of Edinburgh’s trams or a quarter the cost of Borders rail, this revolutionary Eastern Hub would solve a growing traffic chaos in Edinburgh’s fast-growing commuter hinterland and thereby provide a flagship project for the Transport Minister to present as an example of what might be achieved with independence.

#1029, 1,176 words

About davidsberry

Local ex-councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Retired in 2017.
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