Levenmouth Rail Link

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 27th September 2017.

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Photo of Jenny Gilruth Jenny Gilruth Scottish National Party

I begin by welcoming to Holyrood this evening members of the Levenmouth rail link campaign group and colleagues from Fife Council. I thank my fellow members from across the political spectrum for their support on the re-establishment of the Levenmouth rail link.

What is it that makes Leven different? Levenmouth is the largest conurbation in Scotland that is not directly served by rail. The track in question is 5 miles in length and was still in use as a freight line until 2001.

Let us compare our line with the situation in the Borders, which has 30 miles of new railway. In February 2013, the final business case for the Borders railway showed a benefit cost ratio of just 0.5:1. The Institute of Economic Affairs branded the decision to build the Borders railway

“exceedingly poor value for money”.

Yet, during its first month, 125,971 passengers travelled on the Borders line. Demand far outstripped expectation, with the line carrying 19.4 per cent of its predicted annual footfall in just one month and visitor numbers surging at the nearby National Mining Museum in Newtongrange.

The method that is used to prioritise transport schemes is the Scottish transport appraisal guidance—or STAG—method. We had one STAG report in 2008 and another in 2015, but the Network Rail Scotland route study that was published in July 2016 made no reference to the Levenmouth rail link. In December 2016, Fife Council submitted the revised STAG report to Transport Scotland, which responded to Fife Council’s technical review on 18 July this year. I say to the Minister for Transport and the Islands that, quite aside from any rail link application, the process involved is tiresome, lacks transparency and, I believe, is an antiquated approach to public engagement.

The issues that Transport Scotland raised included a forecast of low passenger numbers for the Levenmouth to Edinburgh route. I gently suggest to Transport Scotland that it is rather difficult to estimate footfall on a rail line that has not existed since the 1960s. To be blunt, there is no culture of travelling to the capital for work because there is no rail line. Let us compare Leven with Dunbar. In Levenmouth, 3 per cent of the population work in Edinburgh, compared with 22 per cent in Dunbar. The towns are a similar distance from Edinburgh, and there are no prizes for guessing which has the rail link.

Transport Scotland also raised concerns about the apparently limited number of personal and business responses to the public survey. That is a quantitative look at the data. I like to do my homework, so here is some qualitative feedback that I gathered prior to the debate. Donaldson Timber says that it is

“sure that rail connectivity to the central belt and further afield would help with employment opportunities”.

Pfaudler, the engineering firm, says:

“We are in support of the proposed rail link. It would give us access to a wider pool of employees and the option of bringing materials and by rail”.

Transport Scotland claimed:

“Diageo and their logistics provider WH Malcolm are the largest identified opportunity for rail freight. No evidence has been provided with regard to their current views and their likelihood to use such a facility”.

However, W H Malcolm told my office today that it has a rail division. It says that it is

“not averse to switching from road to rail”.

Similarly, Diageo says that it would

“give serious consideration to the option of transporting materials via freight train”.

The biggest employer in Leven would naturally consider using freight. That sounds like pretty compelling evidence to me.