Firstly we have the Edinburgh tram fiasco and now it's the Borders railway. What is it about Scottish transport projects? Why are the Scots unable to manage a tramline or a railway line? Is it because we 'export' many of our high-flying managers and those now in charge are second-rate? I think that must be the answer.
The libdems persuaded the Scottish government to fund a railway from Edinburgh to Tweedbank (not far south east of Galashiels). The cost of the project is £300 million.
It has now be reported that the benefit-to-cost ratio of the project has slipped over the past three years as estimates for house building in the Borders and passenger forecasts on the 35 mile route have been revised downwards. The line is due to be completed by 2014 and Transport Scotland, the government agency, which is overseeing the construction, has said the line would deliver a 20% return on investment - far lower than the 100% previously documented.
For some time I've stated that this railway link wasn't feasible. The town of Peebles is one of the largest towns in the Borders, yet this railway goes down the hypotenuse; completely ignoring Peebles which sits at the opposite angle. Peebles is continually expanding and, having friends there, I know a railway would be used by many who work in Edinburgh. Also Peebles is nearer to Edinburgh than any other well populated town on the route.
Although officials estimate the construction costs of building the route could be up to £295 million, as it is being financed and built by a consortium of private companies, the real cost to taxpayers is likely to be several times higher as repayments are made over the next 33 years.
For some reason the SNP government were persuaded to back this project. Their decision was certainly flawed. Of course, if Peebles had to be included then the length of the railway would have doubled as would have the cost, but at least the return would have been far greater.
I should clarify, the Edinburgh tram project is run by a branch of Edinburgh Council and not the main public transport organisation Transport Scotland. Shouldn't Scotland bring all these major projects under the one quango? Seems sensible to me and then perhaps we can persuade those excellent managers to stay in Scotland rather than take their skills abroad.