8 February 2007

(S2O-11951) Railways

5. Christine May (Central Fife) (Lab): To ask the Scottish Executive what plans it has to increase the use of rail for passenger and freight traffic. (S2O-11951)

The Minister for Transport (Tavish Scott): We have recently published our rail policy document "Scotland's Railways" as part of the national transport strategy. The document examines the options for building on the improvements that we have already made to rail services to encourage more people to make the shift from private car to the train and to encourage many more businesses to shift from transporting goods by lorry to moving them by train.

Christine May: The minister may be familiar with some of the products of Diageo, which employs 800 people in my constituency, at Cameron Bridge and Leven. Is he aware that Diageo's recent proposal to consider the viability of reopening the Thornton to Methil rail link to bring goods into and export goods from its plants would result in a significant reduction in road miles and in congestion on the Forth road bridge? Will he ask his officials to brief him on the proposal and on how that might link into the reopening of the passenger line to Levenmouth?

Tavish Scott: I have some understanding of Diageo's products, but I will say no more than that.
I take seriously Christine May's point about the company's desire to move more products by rail. It would be welcome if it made that project happen and expanded the use of rail in place of lorry miles. I assure her that I will ask officials to examine the project closely to see whether our freight facilities grant mechanisms could provide assistance, if that is appropriate to the development of the project. We will examine closely what assistance we can provide.

John Scott (Ayr) (Con): As the minister will be aware, there are increasing levels of passenger and freight traffic on the Ayr to Glasgow line and of coal traffic on the line from Hunterston. What plans does he have for those lines in light of the passing of the Glasgow Airport Rail Link Bill, given that GARL will remove freight traffic from the lines in Ayrshire?

Tavish Scott: I will be happy to provide John Scott with further detail on Transport Scotland's current plans for the area. On the development of the part of the rail network to which he referred, he is right to point out that significant advantages will flow from GARL. We hope that GARL will allow better optimisation of the rail track both for passengers and for freight. I will be happy to discuss that further with him.

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): In the modern world, where much freight is multimodal, connecting rail freight and sea freight is a paramount part of the solution. Is the minister aware of discussions that are taking place to establish a highway of the sea linking Iceland, Shetland, Peterhead and Rosyth? What steps will he take to ensure that appropriate rail links are in place to maximise the benefits of such a development if it goes ahead?

Tavish Scott: Stewart Stevenson makes a good point. I believe that last Friday's highways of the sea conference in Kirkwall—which, unfortunately, I could not attend—was useful in developing some of the practicalities behind that project. He also makes a good point about the need to develop railheads at ports. The ports sector perhaps does not always get enough attention in general transport policy, given what we could achieve with our ports and given how important they are in developing the Scottish economy. We need to ensure that ports are used for business development, especially exports, by ensuring that they provide linkages to both the road and rail networks. I look forward to further development of the highway of the sea project not just for sea freight but potentially—dare I say it—for Arctic oil. One proposal that emerged from the earlier consideration was that Arctic oil could be transhipped in the northern isles, where there is a lot of expertise, as it has been done for the past 30 years or so.

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