So the plans for the Border’s rail link are flawed! What have we been saying for years? According to a report obtained under FOI, “significant mathematical and methodological errors" are included in it as well as "inappropriate application of economic techniques". Now a first year statistical student or transport planner on a university course could have told them that, so why has the whole thing continued to be pushed through by Scottish Borders Council, Holyrood and applauded by a number of MSPs who ought to know better? Well of course it’s politics isn’t it, nothing to do with what is really right for the Scotland, the Borders or the people that live here.
The latest report into the folly of the ‘tram to Gala was compiled by Cyril Sweett, a London-based international construction and property consultancy. The report highlights the fact that the costs of the project had been underestimated, the management had been inadequate and vital information is missing. "The technical and financial elements of the business case are not considered as robust as they should have been. They go on to say that "a number of potentially significant flaws", are contained in the plan and it is. " Overly optimistic and not robust in its structure." This includes,
• The cost of land or the effect of inflation.
• No provision seemed to have been made for buying land necessary for connecting the Borders line to existing tracks.
• The rail link plan rested on "significant unexplained growth" in demand for new homes in the Borders, the report argued.
• Assumptions implied rush-hour trains would become overcrowded, with some expected to be carrying double their maximum capacity by 2035.
Perhaps most astonishing of all are reports in the Sunday Herald that quote a member of the Waverly Trust who are supporting the line’s reopening.
"Many of the criticisms in this report are valid. We've long had doubts about the way this scheme has been managed. To survive and prosper the Borders rail link needs to be rethought, and we're hopeful that under the new management of Transport Scotland that will happen."
So here we are then, the Waverly Trust helped push through a scheme they thought was flawed, probably knowing full well that if the correct figures and information were laid before Holyrood et al then it would have hit the buffers before we even got started. However, according to a Transport Scotland spokeswoman. “The report did not reflect the most up-to-date information, for example on patronage levels, train timetabling and expected housing developments.” So why didn’t Transport Scotland give them the most up to date informant having commissioned them to do the report? Apparently the agency therefore overhauled the business case, which improved the project's cost/benefit ratio. "
In my world that means they fudged the numbers.
The absurdity of this situation is beyond belief. We have a plan approved by parliament based on dodgy numbers. When it final gets under way the budget will be way over the £295 million that they are currently working on. The obvious questions about how on earth can this project make money remain. Even more so given the revelations that the railway line has passenger forecasts that are way too high. Don’t forget, even with the high passenger numbers it was still set to fail to cover its operating costs.
In 2000 the costs of restoring a railway to Tweedbank was estimated at £73m. When MSPs voted to restore it in 2006 the costs quoted were £155m. Next we were told that the costs will be £178M - but don't worry. According to local MSP Jeremy Purvis "detractors of the rail project had been proved wrong, and maintained: It will be delivered on time and on budget." Apparently the reason for the increase were due to a, "much more detailed technical assessments. These identified that significantly more work was required on structures such as bridges and tunnels than originally estimated. In addition, costs have increased due to general increases in track, signaling, earthworks and other factors such as environmental mitigation, some land acquisition and design and management. In addition to inflation, there are also new costs such as landfill tax that has now been built into the revised cost estimate.
When the scheme was approved the SNP Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said the cost had increased because of additions such as an extra station at Stow. Increasing land costs and extra strengthening work on bridges on the line.
All this proves it’s a railway built on the politics of creep. Many people have a vested interest in seeing this line built because it supports their political aims, they have investment riding on the project, jobs depend on it and egos are at stake. However, whether or not it’s a good thing for the Borders, and Scotland seems to be getting lost in the mix. We need to stop this madness and the latest report is a timely reality check.