Response to Scottish Government consultation

Here is the StARLink campaign’s response to the Scottish Government’s consultation:
Response to consultation by StARLink (St Andrews Rail Link) campaign.
Question 1: Do you agree with our vision and approach? Will they help us to achieve the Scottish Government’s purpose of increasing sustainable and inclusive economic growth?
Tackling inequality should be raised to the level of the other 4 economic competitiveness points in terms of connecting more remote communities for access to hospitals, education, employment and tourism. In St Andrews, it is employment and tourism which are most relevant and a railway is the best way to move the large numbers involved. Better connectivity would make St Andrews more of an economic powerhouse for the whole of the east of Scotland; at present it is perceived as too remote from the Central Belt and difficult to get to. It should be noted that the erstwhile Transport Minister, who previously said that all that was required was to rename the buses a ‘virtual branch line’ has admitted that the bus ‘connection’ between St Andrews and Leuchars does not work; indeed the take-up of the bus remains stubbornly at 15-20%, despite a much increased frequency in recent years.
Question 2: How might we make trade-offs and prioritise between different types of investments, while ensuring that our actions are aligned with our vision?
Forward planning is essential, including safeguarding routes, both former and potential ones identified in professional feasibility studies. For example, see the Tata Steel indicative alignment, in the St Andrews Railway High Level Report:
Move investment should be switched from road and air to rail; this is justified on environmental grounds alone.
Rail is a success in spite of management’s efforts. In general people like travelling by train, and there is a lot of public goodwill towards the railways.
However there appears to be no stomach to further expand the rail network, filling in the obvious gaps, whether imposed in the 1960s or which were never filled from the start. St Andrews is an obvious example, requiring just 5 miles of track on a new alignment to make possible direct trains to and from Edinburgh and Dundee, with the potential also for services to Glasgow if the Dunfermline-Alloa line is upgraded to passenger use. That would massively improve the connectivity of one of Scotland’s most important destinations and economic generators, facilitating employment for residents of Cupar, Dundee and Dunfermline and generally contributing to the area’s prosperity.
Devolution of rail powers to Scotland has been a success.
It is difficult to understand how the changed structure will affect the vision for Scottish railways.
Network Rail Scotland should be devolved further, with powers transferred to Holyrood.
It should be recognised that since 2007, even under the previous structures, there have been minimal (or, indeed, negative) decisions to expand the network in terms of route mileage or stations. St Andrews is an example of a missed opportunity.
Question 3: Do you support the move to a more flexible ‘Pipeline’ approach to scheme delivery that does not force us to make early decisions on a detailed specification prior to the commencement of the five-year regulatory control period, without receipt of a robust business case?
No particular view, but bearing in mind the length of time a scheme can take from conception to realisation, a long-term overall view needs to be taken rather than one matching the election cycle.
Question 4: What are your views on the retention or removal of individual ring-fenced funds?
5 years is too soon to remove ring-fencing for a project which could take as long to construct. There would have to be a robust case made to transfer money hitherto allocated to a project which for some reason is not making the expected progress but any money so released should remain earmarked for rail development and not be used for anything else.
Question 5: What alternative sources of funding could be used to help deliver the rail investment programme?
If roads are happily paid for out of public money, it is difficult to see why a more environmentally-friendly mode like rail, which is also popular and has the potential for a significant modal shift, would not be. It should be noted that at the moment interest rates are very low, making borrowing cheap. However there may be local circumstances which facilitate other funding sources. For example, in St Andrews, land value uplift capture could raise a significant percentage of the capital cost, It should also be possible to tap money raised by specific events to build up a fund, for example the money generated by the Open Championship in St Andrews. As golf in general and the quinquennial Open in particular place excessive demands upon the transport infrastructure, it seems only right to use some of the wealth brought about by the event to mitigate the detrimental effects.
However the difficulty in finding the large amounts of money for the required STAG evaluation for any rail project tends to discourage councils and RTPs from even embarking upon them, as does the suspicion that government is forcing local authorities and other ‘promoters’ of a scheme £100K a time to re-invent the wheel (otherwise why has Fife Council had to pay for 2 STAGs for Levenmouth, for example?). This does not appear to be a problem for road schemes - again, the balance is skewed in favour of environmentally-damaging roads.
Question 6: Do you agree with our approach to emissions reductions and climate change adaption? What else should be considered?
This approach is very much supported. The transport sector has not contributed nearly enough to emissions reduction.
It is however all very well saying ‘reduce the demand for transport’ but in a place like St Andrews where tourism and higher education are pivotal to the economy, the journeys simply have to be made; ‘virtual’ tourists sitting at computers many miles away do not benefit the local economy, and similarly ‘virtual’ students do not spend money in the town. Therefore people have to travel and the most efficient way of transporting large numbers to a destination is rail. As it is, without the railway, every development or enhancement that takes place in St Andrews means an influx of more cars and consequent environmental damage.
Question 7: Do you agree with the proposed approach to specifying performance outputs?
No particular view, but as far as late-running is concerned, with the nearest station to St Andrews being 5.67 miles away at Leuchars, a late-running train can mean passengers stuck in the back of beyond waiting for a bus, while if the last train is more than a few minutes late, there is no bus until the following morning. If St Andrews were reconnected, then even if the last train in were late, it would at least mean messengers arriving at a destination with all the comforts of a town, which are conspicuously absent at isolated and windswept Leuchars; hardly a suitable welcome to the Home of Gold and Scotland's oldest university town.
Question 8: How should performance be balanced against the wider priorities for reduced journey times and the full utilisation of existing and new capacity?
While the Tata Steel St Andrews Railway High Level report included passive provision for excursion trains, a Transport Scotland official suggested that active provision from the start would be expected. Given the difficulties encountered in the Borders juggling the regular service and steam specials, this make sense. It is anticipated that the new line would be single track, with a triangular junction in the vicinity of Seggie, but because the line would permit 90 mph running, there would still be the capacity to fit in an hourly service to Edinburgh and a half-hourly one to Dundee.
Another way to increase capacity would be to upgrade the signalling from semaphore to lights north of Ladybank, allowing trains to run closer together. Also, electrification north of Edinburgh allows faster stopping and starting. We anticipate a St Andrews line having traffic-light signals and being electrified from the start.
Allowing two passenger trains at once on the Tay Bridge High Girders will create more capacity. Also, if rail traffic continues to grow on the ECML north of Edinburgh, serious consideration should be given to straightening out the Burntisland-Kinghorn tunnel, because the kink in it means a greatly-reduced speed limit for its distance. A straight tunnel would create additional train paths on that line.
Question 9: Do you have a view on our approach to safety? How can the closure of level crossings be better supported?
There is a level-crossing at Seggie, giving access to a farm across the East Coast Main Line. When the St Andrews line is constructed and the triangular junction built in the vicinity, the opportunity should be taken to provide an alternative access to the farm to remove the level-crossing.
QUESTION 10: Do you support the proposed approach to innovation and new technologies?
By definition, a new St Andrews line and service would be an innovation!
Question 11, Do you have any other views as to how innovation could be better supported through the HLOS process and Network Rail’s broader management of the rail infrastructure.
Not at the moment.
While in general rail services have improved greatly in the past 20 years, it is disappointing that there seems to be no part of the Scottish Government advocating enhancing and extending the rail network. Nor is there any straightforward procedure for instigating a new scheme from the initial idea, to developing it and finally implementing it. We recommend St Andrews as a prime candidate for such a programme, being a prime destination, employment hub and economic generator, with the potential to be and contribute so much more.