By a Newsnet reporter
SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn has condemned Labour’s rail hypocrisy and said investment in the industry is good news – as welcomed by Labour council leaders Gordon Matheson and Lesley Hinds.
The Cumbernauld and Kilsyth SNP MSP said no-one recognised the “picture of doom” the Labour party is painting, after the Scottish Government’s plans were condemned by Labour’s transport spokesperson Elaine Murray.
The Scottish Government recently announced that a £650million investment will electrify the line between Glasgow Queen St and Edinburgh via Falkirk High, reducing journey time between Scotland’s two largest cities by 10 minutes. The new rail service is expected to come into operation before 2016. As part of the improvements, the line between Cumbernauld and Glasgow Queen Street will also be electrified in time for the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
Labour leader of Glasgow Council Gordon Mathieson hailed the plans, saying he expected the improvements to “bring significant benefits to both passengers and to business”.
Lesley Hinds, transport convener on Edinburgh Council, also gave the project a warm welcome, saying:
“We welcome this investment in public transport which will greatly improve the journey from Glasgow to Edinburgh through the provision of a quicker service for passengers and the introduction of cleaner, more efficient, rolling stock.”
However in a debate in Holyrood on Wednesday, Ms Murray complained that the plans fell well short of what was orginally promised, and said that the project was “a shadow of its former self”.
Turning her attention to High Speed Rail, Ms Murray then added:
“If Scotland is an independent country, I don’t think the rest of the UK would be interested in funding [High Speed Rail] up to Glasgow.”
Mr Hepburn intervened in the debate to point out that such connections either exist or are under construction across Europe.
There are High Speed Rail connections between France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany. High speed lines to connect Spain and Italy to the rest of the European network are currently under construction and other international connections are in various stages of planning.
European Union funding has already been approved for the Lyon Turin Ferroviaire, which will connect the French and Italian High Speed networks, and which will also provide a High Speed link to Slovenia. Before the economic crisis, the Spanish and Portuguese governments had advanced plans to construct a high speed railway to connect Madrid and Lisbon.
Mr Hepburn dismissed Ms Murray’s remarks as “staggering narrow-mindedness” and said Labour must come clean on how they would fund the additional £350million it wants invested on rail – as such an investment would hike fares by 20 per cent.
The Cumbernauld and Kilsyth MSP said:
“Labour MSPs would do well to listen to their colleagues Gordon Matheson and Lesley Hinds who have both welcomed this positive announcement.
“Rail improvements in Scotland have taken a huge step forward since funding was devolved in 2006 – including £650 million in improving the Edinburgh to Glasgow line.
“We are investing around £632 per head of population compared to £326 for England and Wales – almost double the amount – and we have opened up £5billion to take Scotland’s railways into the next generation.
“EGIP has great potential for Glasgow and Edinburgh and for my own constituents.
“This is good news and not the picture of doom that is being painted by some members of the Labour party.
“But the Labour party must come clean as to how it proposes to fund the additional £350million it wants invested on rail – as such an investment would hike fares by 20 per cent.”
Mr Hepburn added:
“The staggering narrow-mindedness of Labour on this matter is deeply disappointing – particularly on the issue of high speed rail.
“Elaine Murray’s suggestion that [High Speed Rail] would only benefit Scotland is ridiculous. The people of England want to come to Scotland, as do millions of tourists from around the world.
“Connecting Scottish cities is central, not peripheral, to the business case for high speed rail. It will stimulate jobs and help create growth, and play a crucial role in cutting carbon emissions.”