The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, organised a meeting which took place yesterday between St Andrews Rail Link (StARLink) campaigners and officials from Transport Scotland in order to discuss local and regional transport plans for the future.
Speaking to StARLink last week, members told The Saint that they are hopeful this meeting will lead to plans for the reopening of the St Andrews railway line, which has been closed since January 1969 following a decline in use.
The meeting was proposed by the First Minister after an enquiry was made by Willie Rennie MSP (Mid Scotland and Fife), with Ms Sturgeon stating that the Scottish government is willing to consider suggestions for new passenger services where there is evidence of benefits.
In an online statement, StARLink expressed their confidence “that the manifest benefits of a reinstated St Andrews rail link can be robustly demonstrated and we will continue to develop our case until we secure a governmental commitment to a new St Andrews rail link.”
Railway lines in the Borders and Midlothian area were recently reopened as part of Transport Scotland’s current £5 billion investment programme, which hopes to “ensure that as many people as possible have access to the rail network.”
A spokesperson for Transport Scotland stated: “Although the St Andrews Rail Link does not feature in our current investment programme, we are committed to on-going improvements to rail services and connectivity and are willing to consider proposals for new stations where there is clear evidence of benefits, subject to affordability and a suitable business case being identified.”
StARLink campaigners note that the St Andrews and Borders railway lines were closed on the same day in 1969, making now a good time to pursue a new link to the Fife town.
Jane Ann Liston of StARLink noted the “fresh impetus” which the reopening of the Borders line has given to the campaign in St Andrews. She stated, “The construction of 30 miles of railway shows that building the 5 miles required for St Andrews can and should be done.”
Ms Liston continued, “It is nothing short of a national disgrace that St Andrews, the Oxbridge, Canterbury and Wimbledon of Scotland all rolled into one, does not have a railway. It is the only Scottish university town without a station, sharing this doubtful honour across the Border with only Buckingham, Cranfield, Keele and Lampeter.”
Though estimates indicate that the required construction cost could come to over £76 million, Mr Rennie, who is also leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, has also advised ministers to seriously consider proposals: “We have seen from the new Borders railway the positive difference that improved rail links can have in terms of the number of visitors coming into an area and extra jobs.
“The Scottish Government should investigate if St Andrews could benefit in the same way.”
Ms Liston similarly vouched for the economic incentives of restoring the link, saying that connections to St Andrews would “greatly enhance the town’s ability to boost the economy, especially the chance of increasing the knowledge economy centred on the University.”
She also mentioned the environmental benefits of students, tourists, commuters and golfers reaching the town by train.
The StARLink convenor expressed her belief that the University has a large role to play in this campaign.
She told The Saint: “Back in 1969, with 2000 students due to return after Christmas on Monday 6 January, the University pleaded with British Rail (BR) to delay the closure by just one day to allow them to return by train; however, BR refused and the last train ran on Saturday 4th as planned.
“Since then the number of students has quadrupled, adding to the pressure on the town and strengthening the case for a railway.
“We are glad to say that supportive comments have been made by the Chancellor Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, Principal Louise Richardson and Rector Catherine Stihler,”she said.
Miss Liston recommended that students contact their local politicians and visit the StARLink Facebook page if they want to support the campaign, stating: “The louder the town shouts, the more likely the politicians are to listen.”
Original plans for the reinstatement of the line suggested a direct 5.9 mile route between Dairsie and St Andrews. Tata Steel released a report and track-layout proposal in 2012, suggesting a shorter 4.8 mile route which is now being pursued.
StARLink has also secured a meeting with the new Head of Economic Development at Abellio Scotrail, in the hopes of pursuing their case.