As a lifetime supporter of public transport, I found it incredibly disheartening, that after taking the train from Perth to Edinburgh this week, I really wish I hadn’t.

What used to be a slow, yet reliable train service, has degraded to the point of being both inconvenient, and appallingly slow. Cost alone has always been enough to deter people from our railways, but now in many cases, commuters are also put off due to the length of journeys, and the lack of suitable trains times.

Until recently, it would take 1 hour and 15 minutes or more to commute by train from Perth to Edinburgh, which was already slower than some trains were in the 1890s. But following recent changes, this service has further slowed- acting as another reminder of how we appear to be going backwards in our economy and society- taking on average, an extra 20 minutes (now 1 hour 35 minutes) to do this relatively short journey. 

In fact, the journey that tortuously snakes through Fife and runs for 56 miles (to travel what is only 43 miles from Scotland’s oldest capital to its current one as the crow flies), can actually take longer than the ‘direct’ train via Stirling.  This is absurd, the route through Stirling is over 70 miles in length. No-one in their right mind would drive to Perth via Stirling from Edinburgh by choice, so why does the train?  And perhaps more importantly, how on earth is this quicker than a more direct route through Fife?

One of the priorities I have seen over and over again in national strategy documents, is the desire to better connect Scotland’s cities. And yet, we constantly see the opposite happening.  From Edinburgh, it’s quicker to get to Newcastle than it is to get to Perth, which is a third of the distance.  In fact, Newcastle is a similar distance from Edinburgh as Aberdeen is, but trains to Aberdeen commonly take 3 hours!  We have prioritised trains to London above trains to connect Scotland’s major cities.  And it’s not just Perth and Aberdeen.  Dundee, and even more obviously, Inverness, are really poorly served by trains.

If we are trying to encourage sustainable transport, we need to do better. Not only would faster routes increase tourism and jobs, it would start to address the huge discrepancy in house prices north of the Bridges compared to the capital city.

But the benefits go much wider still. Half an hour’s reduction in the train journey from Edinburgh to Perth is also half an hour off the train journey from Edinburgh to Inverness, so whilst there are other rail improvements required, this is the most vital step in better connecting all of Scotland’s cities and becoming a primary transport route for the whole of Scotland north of the Central Belt.

With an increasing emphasis on the need for more sustainable transport, and fewer car miles, we need to see more investment in rail infrastructure beyond simply electrifying the central belt.  And if we want to see our cities and towns north of Edinburgh thrive and survive, and if we want to enact a ‘just transition’, we need to start connecting them up in more ways than just roads.