The Scottish government has outlined an ambitious plan to target investment in the rail network during a five year period, which is being called a “bold step forward”. As part of the £5 billion package for the new 2014 rail franchise that will be put out to tender, there are plans for affordable fares, better journey times and improved punctuality. The franchisee will be responsible for improving performance, enhancing the rail experience and increasing passenger numbers. A separate franchise will be formed for the Caledonian Sleeper service, which will last for 15 years and receive a substantial level of investment.
SNP MSP Graeme Dey said that these are a significant set of measures that will help secure a far better rail experience for passengers in Scotland. The Rail 2014 consultation had a big response rate with the travelling public, which made clear the importance they put on punctuality and reliability. Meeting these high expectations will be at the heart of the next franchise.
Dey continued that the creation of Community Rail Partnerships will also put local passengers back at the heart of their service, where they belong. This is a great investment package and bold step for the Scottish rail network. Although they are prevented from doing more due to the UK framework, the results they could achieve alone will be better. It’s disappointing that the UK government hasn’t responded to the Scottish government in making that point, he added.
As part of the investment, significant new technological enhancements will be needed. Smart ticketing technology will be spread across the rail network by time the franchise period ends. Bidders for the franchise will be urged to develop plans to link with other modes of transportation – including bicycles – while efforts will be made to integrate rail journeys and connecting bus and ferry services better. The new franchise deal will also require that wi-fi technology be installed across the network in five years. ScotRail has just started a trial of wi-fi this week on the Edinburgh-Glasgow route, which will help establish which solution will be used.
Speaking about the technological enhancements, SNP MSP Kevin Stewart said that it’s right for Scotland to learn from innovations around the world and bring the best solutions to the rail network. Improving the passenger experience should always be at the centre of improvements on their railways. Smart ticketing has worked well in London and other cities, so he’s thrilled they will bring that technology to the Scottish rails. It’s clearly more efficient and convenient, and he’s confident it will be welcomed by passengers.
Stewart continued that it’s also important more is done to integrate various types of transport in Scotland as much as possible. He’s sure that requiring the next franchisee to develop plans for this will be useful. The warm welcome received for the trial of wi-fi on the Edinburgh-Glasgow route this week shows the strong demand for internet access on the go. Introducing the technology across the network by 2019 is an ambitious step forward, and he’s sure that the lessons from the current pilot will be well learned.
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