The transition of ScotRail to public ownership should not delay work on improving the network – David Clark

ScotRail returns to public ownership in April (Photo: John Devlin)

In particular, it has set itself the goal of creating “affordable, sustainable, customer-focused rail passenger service in Scotland in a post-pandemic world”.

For Scottish Railways to be successful, whatever happens when ScotRail transitions to a new structure, it is absolutely essential that the rail service providers remain involved in the process and that they can maintain the pace of improvement throughout the network.

Across Scotland, businesses of all shapes and sizes are contributing to the maintenance and modernization of the railway. Companies across the network, both large and small, are working tirelessly to keep existing infrastructure and rolling stock in good working order while working to expand, decarbonize and improve the railways.

Whether it’s working nights to upgrade tracks and bridges, providing state-of-the-art video surveillance to solve problems before they arise, or installing masts to electrify rail lines, the rail supply industry keeps Scotland going.

Indeed, during extreme weather events such as Storms Dudley and Eunice last week, many supply chain companies have worked alongside their counterparts at Network Rail Scotland to repair damage to key lines and keep services running safely.

According to a recent Railway Industry Association report on the importance of rail to the UK. These skilled jobs, apprenticeships and investments reach almost every corner of the country.

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A prime example of how the entire industry is working together to provide new services and generate economic benefits is the ongoing work to open a branch in Levenmouth.

The new line will serve the largest non-rail urban area in Scotland and is being built as a collaboration between Network Rail and suppliers. It will see two new stations at the Leuven and Cameron Bridge, and the entire line will be reopened and electrified so that it can play its part in decarbonizing transport.

Our rail industry is already doing a lot to create the “efficient, productive and sustainable” rail that Ms Gilruth announced last week, in particular to decarbonize the network.

In her statement, she also stressed the need to be “customer-centric”. All of which is good to hear, especially for an industry that can provide a convenient, sustainable form of public transport that helps reduce carbon emissions.

These ambitions are underpinned by the Scottish Government’s Carbon Zero Plan, announced by Cabinet Secretary Michael Matheson in 2020, which sets the ambitious goal of achieving zero carbon emissions from transport by 2035.

This will include the electrification of key rail lines, in particular the main passenger and freight lines, such as routes from the Central Belt to Aberdeen and Inverness and from Glasgow to Cumbria.

This will also include the deployment of battery and hydrogen trains on other lines, providing clean and reliable travel for millions of passengers. Some of these battery and hydrogen trains were showcased at the United Nations COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last November, demonstrating that the industry has the capacity and expertise to deliver them.

The industry is just as ambitious and full of optimism that it can deliver on the plan. One key part of this, a rolling electrification program, is already in place, providing transparency and, most importantly, confidence in upcoming projects.

This gives companies the confidence to invest in upskilling the workforce and new capabilities, such as the sophisticated equipment needed to carry out these projects. Whether it is electrification, signaling, rolling stock or other upgrades, the more transparency a rail supply chain can have, the more efficient and cost-effective it can operate. This openness and inclusion must remain key features of the new ScotRail structure.

This approach will also satisfy the appetite of hundreds of companies looking to expand into the rail industry, such as through Scottish Engineering’s Rail Vehicle Cluster initiative. The cluster will connect SMEs in Scotland with railway businesses of all kinds to bring innovative and new ideas to the railways.

However, as Scottish Railways transitions to a new ownership model, it is vital that there are no interruptions to the existing work to move this pipeline forward. As ScotRail is undergoing change, there is a risk that approval decisions for rail projects, whether upgrading or upgrading parts of the network, will be delayed. This must be avoided.

Postponing decisions and any uncertainty about the status of the projects will simply undermine the industry’s current confidence in the need to invest and create the necessary capacity to continue modernizing rail for Scottish passengers. Apprenticeship schemes, investments in new factories and equipment, and worker development could be halted if suppliers face uncertainty about the job ahead.

Many businesses are based in Scotland, of course, but hundreds of businesses across the UK are also vital cogs in the Scottish railway. All of them need confidence in the future.

So as the Scottish government makes these structural changes, it is important that it continues to give the supply chain a seat at the negotiating table that will continue to play a key role in building, maintaining and upgrading the country’s rail network now and into the future. The Railway Industry Association and its members look forward to being part of this journey.

David Clarke is the Technical Director of the Railway Industries Association and its head in Scotland.

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