This week, campaigners for a railway station in St Andrews will meet with Scottish Government agency Transport Scotland, to discuss the next stage of the railway bid. It is a significant step forward for the group who say that there is no alternative for the environmental damage, congestion into town, and that “people have realised that buses don’t cut it”.
In an interview with The Saint, Jane Ann Liston, convenor of the St Andrews Rail Link Campaign (StARLink) said, “Transport Scotland seem to be wonderful at prevaricating and taking twice as long to do anything”.
Transport Scotland oversees ScotRail and is responsible for delivering major road or rail projects. Jane said it appeared that the government agency had “gone to sleep” after Transport Scotland took five months to respond to a report submitted in May. This report assessed the feasibility of a railway in St Andrews, known as a STAG report, after Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance.
The cost of conducting the report is covered by Transport Scotland and the delay by the agency meant that the consultants who carried out the study were not paid for five months.
When The Saint asked what was causing delays, Jane explained that there is some sentiment within Transport Scotland that “St Andrews doesn’t deserve a railway because it’s too rich and has plenty of buses”.
Yet this week, bus services are being cut. Despite efforts by Fife Council to subsidise uneconomical but socially essential routes, the 42A via Strathkinness will be reduced. The 99 services to Dundee, which were once advertised as running every 8 minutes, will now run every 10 minutes.
Following multiple reports of negative experiences on the X24 bus connecting Glasgow and St Andrews, The Saint contacted students who use the service.
Jemma Campbell told us that the biggest issue was how long the X24 bus takes.
This can be upwards of 3 hours. When driving directly it takes half the time. She added, “The last time I got the X24 from St Andrews, I specifically asked the driver for a ticket to Glasgow, which he gave me, but then the bus stopped at Glenrothes and wasn’t going any further”.
Jemma says driver shortages have meant that several times her journey has been partial or completely cancelled and when the next bus arrives it is so busy that some people are not able to get on.
Regarding the possibility of a railway link, Jemma said, “I think there should definitely be a station in St Andrews. Even though I probably would still get the bus because it’s a better option for me, I think it would make travelling to and from St Andrews easier for a lot of people”.
Andrei Martin, a first-year student who has used the service to visit home, shares a similar picture regarding cancellations and poor communication over when a bus has been cancelled.
One silver lining of the X24 that Andrei mentioned is, “the bonding experience shared with other passengers about the relief of getting off”.
Regarding a rail link, Andrei said, “Free bus travel with the Young Scot Card influences my decision. I think either [a station] or more regular buses to and from Leuchars at night are a solution”.
Those who are new to the town may not have known that St Andrews used to have a railway station, located where the Bus Station and car park stands today. This closed in 1969. An even older line used to stop at the current site of the Old Course Hotel – the Jigger Inn was the original Station Master’s House.
In the 33 years that Jane Ann Liston has been campaigning for a rail link in St Andrews she has often heard the campaign referred to as a “pipedream”. Today, the possibility of bringing back a railway station is not improbable.
Leven, which is 15 miles Southwest of St Andrews also had a railway station which closed in 1969. A new station is currently being built. The first rails were put down in March 2022 and the station is set to open to the public in 2024.
According to Jane, there is one more stage to go involving a more detailed appraisal, before Transport Scotland decides the outcome.
If the rail link was approved, some services provided would be an Edinburgh to St Andrews route with optional stops at the airport, Dunfermline and Cupar. There would also be a St Andrews to Dundee service with a stop at Leuchars.
This would help businesses like M&Co on South Street, which currently relies on the ability for elderly customers to find parking spaces within close proximity to the shops. Last year, the loss of on-street parking “killed trade”, particularly in the lead up to Christmas.
Lorraine, manager of M&Co told The Saint that she is “All for bringing the station and a bit of history back. Instead of cars and buses, a train would really help. People are having to park on side streets and it’s getting really difficult for customers”.
Lorraine noted that the recent development of the Levenmouth Rail link is a success that could be repeated here.
The StARLink campaign began in 1989, during this time, there has been a change of attitude towards the climate that has made people take the possibility of a St Andrews railway seriously. Jane, the convenor of StARLink, explained, “We’ve realised that driving cars all over the place is not a good idea. Electric cars don’t get rid of congestion, and they contribute to particulate pollution”.
Repeatedly, Jane speaks of St Andrews as “a destination”. She explains, “It’s a destination for education and tourism. Playing the Old Course by zoom loses something – virtual tourism is no use at all for the people who work here. We’ve got to get people here, and we’ve got to do it in as environmentally friendly a way as possible”.
The Saint raised a concern over the possibility of a railway drawing in too many people, into a town that cannot accommodate an increase in numbers.
Jane responds that people come to St Andrews anyway. She adds, “It’s not about bringing in more people to St Andrews, it’s to get the people who are coming out of their cars”.
We posed this concern to CASH St Andrews, the Campaign for Affordable Student Housing. A spokesperson for CASH told The Saint, “A new railway link can provide commuting residents with fast and quick travel to the big cities and will give students greater flexibility in where they live. However, in the likelihood that a new railway improves the desirability of the town to visiting tourists, we must consider how that might worsen the current housing crisis”.
The spokesperson added, “We already are feeling the severe impacts of the holiday-let expansion, with local residents forced out and students facing a housing market where the only thing higher than the demand for properties is their rent. The only instance in which we can welcome news of a rail link for St. Andrews is if it is proposed alongside a commitment to address our local housing crisis with a cap on the expansion of holiday-lets”.
The University of St Andrews has stated that “Our consistent position has been that we support a rail link to St Andrews in principle”. The Saint asked for clarification of ‘support in principle’ but no further explanation could be given.
For now, the University means to ease the burden of commuting students by subsidising all Stagecoach tickets at a 75% reduction of the normal price. This will be offered to everyone with a st-andrews.ac.uk email address from mid-November.
For some, the future of a railway station in St Andrews has never looked so secure. For others, like one HM Taxi driver, a rail link in town is “Never happening in 100 years”.
The same driver proposed a bet to The Saint: “Come back in ten years’ time and tell me I’m wrong”.
Illustration: Lauren McAndrew