History of failure holds little hope for link

IN THE light of unconfirmed reports that Alex Salmond will back a new high-speed Glasgow-London rail link, more light is now focused on the Scottish Government's "delivery" quango Transport Scotland (TS), who will be charged with making this vision a reality.

What grounds are there for confidence? TS is clearly "unfit for purpose" having let down both the business community and the travelling public.

For evidence, look no further than TS's feeble response to the well-documented problems with the Forth Road Bridge (FRB) and its presentation of the Forth replacement crossing options.

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It was the last Scottish Executive that set up transport authorities accountable only to ministers: TS as a national authority to advise ministers on integrated road and rail; South East Scotland Transport (SESTRAN) to look at regional issues and the Forth Estuary Transport Authority (FETA) as a Forth-wide transport authority, overlapping with the other two.

These quangos are under no obligation to co-ordinate their findings and all have access to disparate sources of public funding.

All have looked at the Forth crossing issue, and, have subcontracted a dripping roast for engineering and transport consultants to feast on. FETA commissioned report after report on technical problems associated with the FRB, following warnings from the US that there could be problems with cables in suspension bridges.

It took FETA several years to investigate the problem, the delay causing bigger problems requiring more reports. The main recipient of this munificence with public cash were the consultants Faber Maunsell, who recommended that a second suspension bridge with a span of some 1.2km should be built at a 2004 price of 320 million (since mysteriously multiplied).

Eventually the Scottish Executive woke up to the serious problems with the existing FRB. Not only were there problems with the cables, but the anchorages, the trusses, the deck and the barriers were critically inadequate.

TS in its wisdom employed the same consultants who conducted five convoluted reports, involving no new physical investigation of alternative routes, unsurprisingly resulting in the same road-only bridge solution.

This flew in the face of a 2005 SESTRAN report that analysed the potential for expanding the rail network to cope with the increased demand over the rail link on the Forth Bridge. That report concluded that, even if a road-only additional bridge were built and the existing FRB could be reconstructed and given over to high occupancy vehicles and trams, that this new additional bridge would be as congested as the bridge of today by 2032. Why was this ignored?

Transport Scotland recommended a road-bridge only solution, maintaining that the existing train infrastructure can be adapted to meet the demand of commuters from Fife into Edinburgh. This claim is wholly without foundation (see panel).

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The idea of making the new bridge fully "multi-modal" - capable of carrying road and rail - had been discussed in the last TS report on the crossing. It concluded that a bridge could be built to take heavy rail but that the cost would exceed the cost of road-only bridge by at least two times. If a new-style cable-stay bridge were to be built to take heavy rail it would be the largest of its type in the world, exceeding the current maximum of 490 metres by some 180 metres. Given Transport Scotland's record of "delivery", there is little appetite among Scottish business for an assault on the Guinness Book of Records .

By contrast, immersed tube tunnels (ITTs) are widely used throughout the world with some now approaching one hundred years old and still in good service. ITTs are flexible in their format, carrying rail or road or a mixture of both. An ITT could provide a three-lane highway in each direction with a pedestrian access between and two separate tubes to take high-speed rail. The southern approaches would be by bored tunnels under the Hopetoun estate from a portal access near the M9. On the north side the tunnel access road would connect to a new Rosyth bypass with the high-speed rail connections to the Fife loop possible. Tunnels of this type have a good safety record, and rail is 2,000 times safer than road.

Despite Transport Scotland, there is a growing swell of opinion in favour of a robust ITT as the next Forth crossing with an immediate road transport capability but future-proofed to carry heavy rail, principally high-speed trains from the north to Edinburgh/Glasgow. Transport Scotland's own record in providing additional rail is already woeful. The new Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine line, originally priced at 30m, is now well in excess of 80m and is at least a year late. See also the Glasgow airport rail link, originally estimated at 150m and due to be completed by 2010. The most recent report suggests it will not be ready until 2012 at the earliest with a probable cost in excess of 250m. Before it even starts, TS is saying there are insurmountable problems that still have not been factored into its recent cost and programme. A link needed for the 2014 Commonwealth Games is now in grave doubt. Good start!

We cannot allow a situation where a project of the importance of the next Forth crossing is given to quangocrats, not technocrats.

Consultations need to be had with industry to investigate cost and time delivery. Contingency plans need to be put in place to cope with non-delivery of a crossing. Businesses and people in Scotland deserve to know what is going to happen in 2013 when the existing bridge may have to close to HGVs and 2019 when the bridge may have to close completely.

They need to know what is going to happen to the existing road bridge by way of reconstruction and they need to know the costs and the time scales. TS should not be allowed to hide information such as the likely costs of demolishing the existing bridge. It needs to operate in the open, not behind a mask of secrecy.

Scotland cannot afford to shrug off the embarrassment of the "Forth replacement crossing" report, which cost the taxpayer over 1m and cost Scotland the best part of a vitally important year, but which, by failing to give proper attention to tunnel options, did not even achieve the basics of what it was asked to do. Dithering over a new Forth crossing long pre-dates the formation of this mutating quango, but TS, by its incompetence and arrogance, has helped inject a sense of panic into what was already a serious challenge for the Scottish economy.

• Martyn Day is executive councillor for transportation at West Lothian Council while William G Walker is a chartered engineer and a Fife councillor sitting on the environment and transportation committee.


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THERE are currently 75,000 vehicles crossing the Forth Road Bridge each day.

By the time a second crossing is completed, realistically in 2020 (by which time the existing bridge may have been closed for more than a year), this figure will have increased to 100,000, mostly in the (morning) rush hour.

The measures that Transport Scotland (TS) claims are being taken to increase rail capacity over the Forth Bridge will provide only 2,000 more passenger seats in the rush hours by 2026. A trans-Forth tram system will, if built, provide seats for around another 2,500 (per hour).

Thus TS's figures do not add up.

The growth of 12,500 new trans-Forth travellers will swamp the non-car measures by a factor of three.

The rest will have travel by road so a new bridge will be congested almost as soon as it is built.