As part of our commitment to sustainable travel we are now working in collaboration with Transform Scotland, SCDI and the Rail Freight Group to improve rail services north of the Central Belt and specifically promoting Perth as an inter-city rail hub. You can download the Transform Scotland, Inter-City Express, brochure here and find out more about how the Scottish Government can revolutionise rail in Scotland by visiting the Transform Scotland website here.  Below Mike Robinson, RSGS Chief Executive, has written about why Perth’s rail services need to be updated for the 21st century.

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Perth to Edinburgh by Train – Mike Robinson 

Most of the direct trains from Perth to Edinburgh these days take 1 hour 20 minutes.  In places it is a beautiful route, but could it not be quicker?  Edinburgh is only 43 miles away after all, whereas the Glasgow train takes only an hour and Glasgow is 59 miles away from Perth.

If we are trying to encourage sustainable transport and reasonable access beyond the central belt, we need to do better.  Not only would a faster route increase tourism and jobs, it would start to address the huge discrepancy in house prices north of the Bridge compared to the capital, and it would be a great step towards improving access to all cities north of the Tay, unlocking public transport access for the whole of the North of Scotland.

I first woke up to the state of our plodding rail service on a train journey home from France.  The closer I got to home, the more and more slowly we travelled.  But what I hadn’t realised until recently was that the train service between Perth and Edinburgh takes longer than it did in Victorian times.

Transform Scotland, a charity transport network, discovered a timetable from 1895 which showed that trains made the journey from Perth to Edinburgh six minutes more quickly then than trains do today.  They are convinced that reinstating a direct rail link from Edinburgh to Perth via Kinross would cut ten miles off the distance and up to 35 minutes off the journey time.  Thirty-five minutes!  It would literally transform train travel north of the capital.

The potential benefit to Perth is much more than faster travel – the station has the capacity to be developed as a passenger and freight rail hub for Scotland, and a hub of economic activity capable of injecting significant money and jobs into the Perthshire economy.

But the benefits go much wider still.  Half an hour reduction in the train journey from Edinburgh to Perth is also half an hour off the train journey from Edinburgh to Inverness, so whilst there are other rail improvements required, this is the most vital step in better connecting all of Scotland’s cities and becoming a primary transport route for the whole of Scotland north of the Central Belt.

Does Perth have the vision and appetite to call for this type of large-scale infrastructural investment?  And does the Scottish Government have the foresight and the money?  It would probably cost less than half of the A9 road-dualling project and do a great deal more for connectivity and sustainability, and create significant economic benefits across a very wide area.

I think it is time to test this idea more fully.  This month (November 2016) we convened a meeting hosted jointly by the SCDI and Transform Scotland to present the case for improvements, with representatives from SCDI, Transform Scotland, the Rail Freight Group, Perth City Development Board, VisitScotland, and rail groups from Inverness and from Perth & Kinross Council, amongst others.  We found a real enthusiasm to explore this idea further.  We hope that a proper scoping study would help flesh out the practicalities and benefits of creating a faster route and assess options for delivering this most effectively.

If, as I suspect, this unveils the potential that I, SCDI, Transform Scotland and others predict, it will need to be embraced wholeheartedly by the people of Perthshire, Tayside and further afield, to ensure it takes its place in Scotland’s infrastructure priorities.  But with the immediate potential direct investment of around £1.5 billion and such evident long-term knock-on economic merit, here is a great opportunity to see a step change in our rail infrastructure, benefitting the whole of Scotland, and moving us from a 19th century railway to a rail service fit for the 21st century.