Economist's verdict on St Andrews line and Starlink's reaction to 'virtual railway'

Mr McAlister bases his opinion upon the fact that when the line was built in the nineteenth century there was no alternative to the railway other than the horse and cart, whereas now there are cars and buses. However, he questions whether Beeching and BR understood the economics of branch lines, and suggests they did not. He quite rightly points out that account has to be taken of 'social costs such as pollution and congestion caused by cars and buses which keeping the line open could have avoided'. He concludes that, as construction costs are irrecoverable, a branch line should be kept open unless it fails to cover its variable costs which the old line probably did.

But surely the variable costs would only fail to be covered if there were not a substantial transfer to rail by car drivers and bus passengers? The evidence suggests that there would indeed be such a transfer, judging by other rail re-openings; surely no-one is suggesting that the Alloa passengers are all new travellers? Also, the situation is not static, what with a 2.5% increase in cars into St Andrews every year, so the status quo is not an option.

As for the 'virtual railway', the changes are purely cosmetic. The information provided is welcome, as is the ability to buy a joint ticket, although with no discount, from St Andrews. But not a single extra bus will run, nor will the bus or train times be reduced, yet the Scottish Government claims that journey times will be improved! They do not seem to realise that the main delay in a bus & rail trip to/from St Andrews is the time at Leuchars between the arrival of one transport mode and the departure of the other; only by reducing that gap will journey times be improved. In fact, as bus passengers currently buy their tickets on boarding the bus, unless the joint ticket is also available upon boarding then having to go to St Andrews Bus Station to buy it might well lengthen the total journey time!