Last week, The Saint was invited to attend a talk by the Secretary of St Andrews Railway Link Campaign (STARLink) and Dita Stanis-Traken. We had the privilege to then speak with Mr Stanis-Traken, along with campaign Convenor Jane-Ann Liston and Student Liaison Cameron Wright, to hear about their hopes for student involvement as the campaign progresses.
Mr Stanis-Traken branded the historic story of the St Andrews railway as “a tale of two railways,” noting that one closure was due to the infamous Beeching Report of 1963, which saw an end to many rail services across the country. While it is the second line, the Leuchars and Guardbridge link closed shortly after, which the campaign hopes to recreate.
Ms Liston has been involved in the campaign since graduating from her second degree here in St Andrews. When asked what prompted her passion, she said, “I remember one of my friends going confidently to the railway station and asking for a ticket to St Andrews, and she could not believe we did not have a railway station, and that was in 1975! [… ] When I came back in the 80s for another degree, I thought: yeah someone should be doing something about getting a railway, it seems really silly; someone should be running a campaign to get the railway back […] What’s the saying? If you want something done do it yourself.”
“And a tale of two campaigns” Mr Stanis-Traken added. The first STARLink ran until 2012, but when Mr Stanis-Traken returned to St Andrews, he decided to help the group to relaunch. He said, “I moved back to St Andrews in 2014 and, when you’re here and not a visitor, you stop seeing it through rose-tinted [glasses]. It’s my hometown, my family have been here for hundreds of years. There are several imbalances in St Andrews, but the travel is one of the worst.”
As Mr Stanis-Traken discussed, St Andrews is a small town. He said, “It’s a medieval town, designed for on-foot pilgrimage. It wasn’t designed for 14,000 people-carriers, lorries, busses, etcetera. It’s just not designed for all this vehicular traffic.” The town is only accessible by road, which is what Mr Stanis-Traken sees as the problem; there is no other way of getting in and out. In fact, Mr Stanis-Traken’s presentation heavily emphasised inadequate bus links as a principle reason for reinstating a railway line, particularly mentioning the vast increase to nearly 10,000 students, from 1,800 during the 1969 closure, and a daily commuter rate of 7,000 (5,000 in and 2,000 out), as well as the 25,000 annual visitors to the Alfred Dunhill Links golf event, to mention but one tourist draw. Ms Liston added that she had previously experienced being “stranded” at Leuchars Station following train delays that surpassed the last scheduled bus back to St Andrews. She also referred to data from summer of this year, which recorded an uptake rate of just 25 per cent to this bus link, with the question remaining of whether or not people will continue to clog the roads with cars, as the campaign sees it, or if there is simply not the demand year-round.
The STARLink event was primarily intended to raise awareness of the campaign amongst interested students. Cameron Wright, a fourth year student of Computer Science, began his involvement with the group at the start of the semester, and is passionate about getting other students on board. Returning to St Andrews with a fresh perspective also played a large role in Mr Wright’s decision to join the STARLink team following a year spent studying in California. He said, “One of the nice things about studying abroad is that you detach yourself from all the various things that you’re involved with in university, and you go and have this great experience, and then you come back and see things in a slightly different light, and you don’t necessarily feel pressured to go back into the same commitments that you did before.”
When Mr Wright returned to St Andrews, his interest in railways and transport in general grew. He said, “I got back after an internship in computer science over the summer, and I’ve always just had a side interest in railways and transport in general. STARLink had been on my radar since before I came to uni really, because I have family ties to the area as well.”
Mr Stanis-Traken believes that the STARLink campaign has made “colossal progress” in the last two years by executing a campaign based upon the campaigning model of the Alloa railway, with guidance from the Alloa Community Council. What was intended to be a one off meeting with members of community council became an ongoing relationship, with STARLink receiving strategic advice from Alloa council, whose campaign led to the successful reopening of their railway in 2008. STARLink and Fife Council have also applied to receive some funding from the Tay City Deal, an allowance of money negotiated with Holyrood for projects in the area.
However, the campaign’s priority is to attract attention, first from the students, then from the University and, most importantly, from the government.
“I got back into town and I was like, so few students are aware that this is a real campaign that has such attraction and recently, has had such a surge in energy, and the university is silent on it,” said Mr Wright. By getting involved, he hopes he will be able to see that people have at least heard of St Andrews Railway Company in the university. As he said, “If none of the students are talking about it, what reason do the university court have to do this?”
Mr Wright noted that while various individuals around the university court and within the University have personally voiced their support for a rail link, the University of St Andrews has not. He said, “The oldest university in Scotland and the only one unserved by a railway needs a rail link to prosper.”
However, this has the potential to change with the recent election of Srdja Popovic as the new Rector of the University, and the momentum he generated by indicating his support of the STARLink campaign. Mr Wright said, “One of Srdja [Popovic]’s manifesto points was a commitment to campaign for a St Andrews Rail Link. The Srdja campaign are a lovely group of very active campaigners, and a couple of them have approached me and are quite keen to continue with campaigning for St Andrews Rail Link. So, what I’m hoping to happen is, off the back of the energy of the rectorial campaign, to put some of that into something that’s going to get people’s attention.” By showing the government that this is a big deal, and something students really care about, he believes the campaign can effectively gain recognition. He laughed, “We still need to flesh that crazy thing out a bit, but it will happen.”
Mr Wright has so far been the driving force behind student support of the STARLink campaign, founding the “Students for St Andrews Rail Link” Facebook page and, recently, compiling a motion to be presented to the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) alongside over 260 petition signatures. The campaign has several promotional and informational leads available, with a petition that will be going to the SRC, with the motion for them to publicly support STARLink and to lobby university court. Mr Wright said, “The required number of signatures on a petition, that you need to take it to the SRC, is 25. We have ten times that […] If the SRC pass the motion, that becomes the legal standpoint of the students’ association, and that is the legal representation of the student body of St Andrews.”
Ms Liston agreed that students could definitely help with the construction of a major gesture. She said, “The University is primarily for the students. Sometimes people forget about that, but it is […] Students will be able to do quite a lot. Like if there is any extra evidence needed, for example how many people are actually taking the bus at Leuchars?” She suggested one idea, involving masses of student linking hands along the proposed railway route between St Andrews and Leuchars, a distance just short of five miles.
The campaign are also not oblivious to potential concerns surrounding the construction of a new railway line, including financial and environmental opposition. In 2012, a figure of £76 million was calculated as a maximum cost of the proposed work, with an embedded optimum bias, although the STARLink campaign members interviewed by The Saint suggested that it may, in reality, cost far less.
When asked where STARLink envisaged funding being acquired from, Ms Liston said, “To put the figure £76 million in context, the M74 extension was five miles, the same length as the St Andrews Branch Line, [and] it cost something like £675 million for five miles of dual carriage motorway. That didn’t do a thing for the environment, whereas five miles of single track railway could do that. You ask where is the money coming from? Well, where is the money coming from to dual the A9, which is also environmentally disastrous? Where did the money come for the borders [railway]?”
Further to Ms Liston’s reference to environmental factors, Mr Wright said, “Someone has come up to me in the past, when I was trying to get them to sign the petition, and said that it is going to be bad for the environment. Ok, it’s going to reduce congestion in the town, so there’s going to be less traffic, that’s going to improve the quality in the town. It’s going to reduce the number of busses having to come into town.” Acknowledging that no construction work is completely “green,” Mr Wright continued, “Yes, the construction may cause some small disturbance, but the University just built a pipeline all the way to Guardbridge! In terms of nature and wildlife, the suggested alignment follows the road for most of it, and that is a lot less disruptive than if they’d followed the old alignment, which went right along the side of the estuary at Eden [Mill], and is not great for the environment. I think that the long-term benefits of building a railway will vastly outweigh any costs in the short term.”
The STARLink campaign is not something that has been manifested on a whim, but rather, is one with great history, passion, and organisation. The plans and proposals present a very strong case, but what STARLink campaigners need now is for people, particularly students, to start talking publicly about their opinions on transport in the bubble, and to begin publicly endorsing their proposal.
“It’s a no brainer,” concluded Ms Liston, “but [people are] not coming out and publicly shouting it from the rooftops”.