The projected cost of the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link has already escalated by 20%, from £500M to £600M 'and they haven't even started digging', comments a spokesman for the Scottish National Party (SNP). 'They're proposing to put a large tunnel under an active runway. That presents signi cant risk.
'We've taken engineering advice on the likely true cost of the project and we think the bill will be in the order of at least £1bn.
At that cost - and even for its current predicted cost - we don't think the project represents good value for public money.' In mid-March the Scottish Parliament approved a private bill for construction of the Edinburgh Airport Rail Link: In the preceding debate on 14 March, Liberal Democrat MSP Margaret Smith leapt to the project's defence, saying: 'The EARL project is a benet for the whole country and a key part of Edinburgh's future on the international scene.' But in the nal stages of the debate Fergus Ewing, SNP transport spokesman, pledged that if elected to government in next month's polls, his party would scrap it.
'We have taken hard choices in advance of the election. If we are entrusted with government we will not proceed with EARL.' The scheme is also opposed by the Greens, who claim that it will encourage air travel, racking up Scotland's CO 2 emissions and contribute to climate change.
The SNP is Scotland's second biggest party with 25 of the 129 seats in parliament.
A Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition has dominated over the last ve years, but pundits say the balance of power could swing to the SNP on 3 May.
Should the SNP become the governing party, it has pledged to invest £300M in rail upgrades across Scotland. 'Our proposal is to spend money on reducing journey times and increasing capacity on existing routes, ' says the party spokesman. 'The choice, as we see it, is writing a blank cheque for an inherently risky tunnelling project, or enhancing the quality of rail travel elsewhere.' He adds that EARL would reduce congestion on roads to the airport by a paltry 2%.
Schemes the SNP would invest in are:
better signalling on the Forth Rail Bridge to allow a doubling of capacity and increased line speed. This would reduce journey times from Fife and Perth to Edinburgh by four and a half minutes
Platform extensions at Glasgow Queens Street and Bishopbriggs to allow increased longer trains to Alloa, Stirling and Dunblane
Track and platform improvements on the Kilmarnock line
Platform extensions from Ayr via Paisley to Glasgow
Double-tracking to the port of Stranraer and new loops to improve journey times
Additional services to East Kilbride
Improved track capacity between Dundee and Aberdeen
Improvements to track at Stirling to create additional capacity on the Larbert line
The SNP is not opposed to the idea of an airport rail link full stop. 'We'd like to have EARL, but without the tunnel, ' the spokesman concedes. A tunnel-less rail link would have a spur to Fife, but would not connect through to the west. The station would be at surface level rather than below ground.