Jul 11 2012 by Johnathon Menzies, Stirling Observer Wednesday
COUNCIL leaders say they are in the dark as to why the Stirling area has been cut out of a £1 billion railway project.
Last week Scottish transport minister Keith Brown, who is MSP for Clackmannanshire and Dunblane, announced changes to the Edinburgh to Glasgow Improvement Project, now reduced to £650 million.
The cuts mean that only half of central Scotland’s rail network will be electrified as originally intended – with Stirling, Dunblane and Alloa no longer set to benefit from faster electric trains.
But Broomridge residents will be pleased that plans for a train stabling yard there have also been put on hold.
Stirling Council leader Corrie McChord said yesterday (Tuesday) he had written to Mr Brown in a bid to obtain “detailed answers”.
The Labour councillor said: “The Scottish Government did not advise Stirling Council of their plans and we only became aware of this through reports in the press.
“This was either intentional or through incompetence and such poor handling of this matter is an insult to the people of Stirling and Dunblane, who will be rightly concerned.”
Councillor Danny Gibson, the council’s portfolio holder for transport, described last week’s news as “unexpected”.
He added: “Only the day before the announcement council transport officers were in discussions with Network Rail officials to finalise project details for the technical elements of the EGIP scheme here and they indicated no knowledge that this announcement was going to be coming from the transport minister.”
The local authority’s economy portfolio holder, Tory Neil Benny, called for clarity on the issue.
He said: “We need to understand whether this project is merely delayed or cancelled altogether. The uncertainty and surprise announcement is not exactly conducive to working together in partnership.”
Green councillor Mark Ruskell said: “I’m hugely disappointed that Keith Brown is not listening to the needs of his own constituents. The connectivity of Dunblane and Alloa to an electrified rail network fit for the 21st century is vital.
“Many Dunblane and Bridge of Allan rail commuters are sick and tired of what they see as a second-rate service compared to the Edinburgh-Glasgow route. It’s time the Scottish Government raised their ambition for public transport.”
Mr Brown responded to the criticism by saying: “The original plans were altered after an opportunity arose to enable a significantly more affordable phased delivery programme for EGIP which meets passenger demand well into the next decade.
“We are now looking at opportunities to deliver further projects, including electrification of Dunblane/Alloa services, in future phases. The timing and specification of these will be dependent on other considerations, including high-speed rail and wider capacity and affordability issues.”
Mr Brown also said that plans to create a train stabling facility – Pike Road in Broomridge was identified as the preferred site – have been placed on the back burner.
In a statement to the Observer he said: “A stabling facility at Stirling is not required for the current phase.”
Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Murdo Fraser lodged a parliamentary question at Holyrood to establish what benefits the EGIP will bring to the local area.
The Conservative politician said: “I understand that EGIP is a large project and this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to see massive improvements to our rail network.”