After a year’s delay, the St Andrews Rail Link Campaign (StARLink) is back on track to continue their fight to reintroduce a railway line in St Andrews. Transport Scotland has now confirmed the allocation of £106,000 to complete an in-depth options appraisal, with results due in March.
Campaigners have been calling for a railway line since the 1980s, arguing that this would improve connectivity and reduce dependency on cars, thus alleviating congestion and pollution levels in town. The original St Andrews railway line was shut in 1969 as part of the so-called Beeching Cuts, when around 850 miles of passenger railway was closed across Scotland between 1964 and 1972 in an attempt to alleviate perceived financial losses in the wake of the increased use of private cars. With its population of nearly 19,000 (around half of which are students) St Andrews is now Scotland’s third largest town without a train service.
StARLink convenor, Jane Ann Liston, said, “There is a saying that there is nothing so ridiculous as an idea whose time has not yet come; I was also told back in 1989 that I was either 20 years too late or 20 years too early! However, the cynic in me suggests that it has not yet been politically expedient to go ahead with a St Andrews railway”.
She added, “I also think that infrastructure projects of this kind are seen as just too difficult and it was only because of the dogged persistence of the Borderers that the line to Galashiels and Tweedbank was re-opened. That line involved the construction of 45 new bridges, the refurbishment of 95 others, clearing spoil heaps of the line, building a new alignment along 5 of the 30 miles, ensuring the stability of old mining works and moving the Edinburgh by-pass and then putting it back again! St Andrews would need nothing like that.
“Also, dare I say it, Government on both sides of the Border is biased towards road transport.
“The go-ahead for the Levenmouth line was a political decision; the same will be the case for St Andrews.”
The StARLink campaign hit a stalemate last year when delays in funding from Transport Scotland meant that the consultants commissioned for the second report were not paid for five months. Liston told The Saint that while the Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (STAG) project was supposed to be completed by the end of 2021, delays as a result of the pandemic meant that the deadline was extended to 2023. These issues were further exacerbated by Transport for Scotland “sitting on their hands” and not providing the money due, according to Liston. Funds that “had been allocated to us originally in 2018” were eventually taken out of the South East of Scotland Transport Partnership (SESTran) budget, and the campaign is now able to continue with their new Detailed Options Appraisal.
The case for change, as outlined in the Preliminary Options Appraisal, argues that St Andrews’ unique status as a town with an international reputation in education, sport, politics, religion and business necessitates improved connectivity and more environmentally sustainable travel options. The fact that both commuters and tourists coming to St Andrews have no other option than to travel by road, and therefore often by car, has led to concerns over traffic congestion, poor parking capacity, and pollution. St Andrews is dependent on industries which require people to travel. Liston argued, “Tourism in particular simply does not work as a remote industry, and playing the Old Course by Zoom loses rather a lot! Therefore, people will need to continue to travel to St Andrews; the question is, how to bring them here in as environmentally-friendly a way as possible”.
She continued, “There is also the matter of resilience. St Andrews is overly dependent upon the eastmost length of the A91, incidentally the second busiest road in Fife. Any disruption at Guardbridge causes real problems, with tailbacks forming very quickly however you time the traffic controls, and it also means that travel to and from St Andrews becomes very difficult; not only cars but buses cannot get through and you can't even get through to Leuchars to catch the train. The bridge which carries the A91 requires significant repairs within the next 10 years, which will require traffic controls; how much better were St Andrews to have an alternative access”.
The campaign thus maintains the rail link would significantly improve journey times and ease of travel as “one must compare the disruption caused by the construction of a new railway with the cost of not doing so, and continuing congestion and environmental damage caused by everybody driving to St Andrews”.
When asked by The Saint for comment, St Andrews Environmental Network replied “StAndEN supports sustainable travel initiatives and encourages individuals to travel by train instead of the car in an effort to reduce carbon emissions. Funding [for the report] will allow for a full economic and environmental assessment to inform the decision”.
The Saint also requested a comment from the St Andrews Preservation Trust on how the reintroduction of the railway to St Andrews might on the one hand revive the benefits of the previous rail link, but also disrupt the current layout and character of the town. While Ron Kay, Planning and Property Convenor for the Trust, made it clear that he has not had the opportunity to consult with the other Trustees about the issue, he did say that the options appraisal would raise interesting questions about impact on existing transport infrastructure, financial viability, issues of land ownership and the environment. Nevertheless, Kay commented that the campaign’s progress is “an exciting development that is well worth exploring”.
Responding to concerns about potential disruptions, Liston said, “Let me make it clear that StARLink is a pressure group, a campaigning organisation. It is not in the business of building railways; that will be the job of the relevant authorities. We will have no say in the route or the construction project".
The StARLink campaign must now wait until March for the result of the Detailed Appraisal. When asked about what happens at this stage, Liston replied “At that point the ball is in Transport Scotland's court and they have to decide whether to go any further. They may come up with requests for more work, such as finalising a business plan. Or they may do as they did with Levenmouth and decide to go ahead, and come up with the business plan on the way”.
The StARLink campaign has been striving for over 30 years to make headway on this endeavour, and their hope is that the final destination is, at last, one stop closer.
Image: Jack Dalgleish