'Flawed claims' and 'no need' - 'Courier' letters

The letters from Messrs Topping, Reid and Wilson in today's Courier can be read at:


Mr Topping takes issue with the description of St Andrews as 'Scotland's Oxbridge, Canterbury and Wimbledon all rolled into one' or at least the last two, saying,

'The Open Championship comes to the town on a rotational basis and lasts 4 days, not annually and for a fortnight, unlike tennis at Wimbledon.'

Up to a point; there is the small matter of the practice days and the past champions, making the Open a 7 day event. However there are also the annual Dunhill championship, Spring and September medals not to mention the odd visit of the Women's British Open and the Curtis Cup. Also, unlike Wimbledon, the Links are open to the public, and attract masses of rhopaloferous pilgrims throughout the year. Therefore, I contend that the comparison is valid because St Andrews is as synonymous with golf as Wimbledon is with tennis, even though golf at St Andrews probably attracts more people.

He goes on,

'St Andrews is hardly Canterbury with a working cathedral, monastic buildings, bishop's palace, staff and visits by thousands of pilgrims.'

But, Mr Topping, we do have 'thousands of pilgrims' (see above), albeit of a secular variety. Actually my use of Canterbury as a comparator was as a historic small town with an ecclesiastical background, so I think it too is valid.

Next he queries how a railway would reduce:

'unsightly' car parking in St Andrews town centre,

Quite simple; by providing an attractive alternative means of transport. Evidence shows that, whereas car-drivers are very reluctant to use buses, they are much more likely to use trains. I don't think anybody is seriously suggesting, for example, that all the passengers on the Alloa and Borders services are erstwhile bus users; it stands to reason that a great many must be car-drivers letting the train take the strain.

Mr Topping however presumes that :

cars parking in the town centre belong to locals and residents of outlying communities, using the town for shopping, conducting business and supporting the local economy

and then goes on to make the bizarre suggestion that the aim of the campaign is to make everyone:

use the railway to shop elsewhere, forcing local businesses to close?

Quite the opposite, Mr Topping. It is recognised that railways are very good at bringing people into towns, as usually the station is in the centre. The whole point of the railway is to bring people into St Andrews in a sustainable and efficient way, i.e. without their cars.

On the subject of buses disappearing before rail passengers at Leuchars can catch them, Mr Topping suggests:

this could be the case with the proposed new station.

Eh? The proposal is for through trains to Edinburgh and Dundee, with no changing at Leuchars. If he means, though, that a train could arrive at St Andrews station just as a bus to - somewhere - departs, well, yes, that would be up to the operator. But, and it's a big 'but', the passengers would at least be in St Andrews with all its facilities, such as cafés and pubs, rather than in the back of beyond at Leuchars. The new station might even have its own coffee-shop.

Mr Topping claims that:

buses depart Leuchars every 10 minutes, hardly a great inconvenience if you have just missed a bus.

Again, not quite. They don't operate that often in the peak morning commuting times, nor from the early evening onwards. Mr Topping perhaps underestimates the irritation that passengers on the footbridge feel as they perceive the tail-lights rapidly receding and resign themselves to a lengthened journey time which, even if just 10 minutes, is not pleasant in weather such as we are 'enjoying' at the moment. And of course, that is why so many people drive to Leuchars rather than take the bus.

Mr Topping's next objection is that:

The planned route of the rail line will devour a lot of prime agricultural land at a time when the population is on the increase and farmers are under increasing pressure to provide greater amounts of food.

Actually, no it won't, because a single track railway occupies quite a narrow strip. As far as I know there is no blanket rule against developing on prime agricultural land anyway; it wasn't allowed to stop the building of the Fairmont, nor apparently is it a reason not to build Madras College at Pipeland. And wasn't the Strathtyrum Course built on agricultural land, as is Feddinch? But that would be for the planners to decide once an application is made.

Finally, Mr Topping queries how extra services could be accommodated into Edinburgh, because of the high volume of rail traffic from the north. I can only say that the indicative timetable was produced using information from Transport Scotland, and it does fit in with existing services.

Turning to Mr Reid's letter, he seems perfectly happy with the status quo and makes the bold assertion:

St Andrews has survived and grown in the past 46 years since the closure of the uneconomic line and will do so in the next 50 years, with or without a railway station.

Thank goodness he doesn't think a station would cause damage, then! But why does he say the old line was 'uneconomic'? It's as well remembering that North Berwick was in the same list of closures but because John P. Mackintosh MP was more energetic that Sir John Gilmour MP, North Berwick was saved, and is now electrified, safe from any accusation of being 'uneconomic', while St Andrews was not. Former Provost David Niven said that BR would not show the Town Council the figures used to justify closure. It is generally agreed nowadays that BR's model was somewhat flawed and would not pass muster nowadays. (The Tata report, incidentally, states that a St Andrews railway could operate at a profit.) I am not sure that we should be complacent and assume that St Andrews will do just fine whatever happens, as other golf resorts are anxious to take custom away from us and even the Borders, with its new railway line, might attract tourists away from the far-flung fringe of the East Neuk.

Mr Reid goes on to claim that:

the rail line would be well over six miles because of the route

The Tata report states 'the length of the new railway will be 7855 metres or 4 miles 70 chains which will take a Class 170 train 5 minutes to traverse at up to 90 mph'.

There is some confusion over our Facebook page. Mr Reid claims it has had:

only 550 hits, 150 in the past two years.

No. The page has only been in existence for 4 months. We have nearly 550 (547 to be exact) 'likes' not 'hits'.

Mr Reid then claims that some people parking at Leuchars are not rail passengers, but shoppers using the car-park as a park and ride for St Andrews, using the bus to get into town; he does not say whence they come originally. That may well be the case, but one suspects that they are not many, if for no other reason than the spaces fill up so quickly in the morning that there would likely be none left for shoppers later in the day.

He ends his letter by claiming I have not replied to particular questions about the station. That is probably because they were not actually in his last letter. These will be matters for the developer which is not, and will not be, StARLink. However the indicative route produced by Tata shows a site for a station, a short distance north of the old station site, with accommodation for excursion trains, plus a multi-storey car-park.