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The Annual Scottish Rail Event: "The Thornton Junction - Levenmouth rail link" by Dr Allen Armstrong, Secretary. LMRC. Edinburgh meeting of 17 November 2015

The current Levenmouth Rail Campaign reflects the conviction of the community that no other single measure would exert greater positive impact on this large community on the Fife Coast more than reinstating the rail line connecting it to the national network.

The Herald identified Levenmouth in 2010 as the largest urban area in Scotland without trains, and by then 40 years had passed since passenger closure though freight continued until 2001 and the first mile to Earlseat reopened for opencast coal in 2012. A previous reopening campaign in 1991/2 had failed, but renewed campaigning in 2008 led to a STAG appraisal in accordance with the Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidelines. However, the line was not included in the Strategic Transport Projects Review since it was claimed as being of "local, not national benefit".

A hundred years ago, mineral and passenger lines criss-crossed the area with separate passenger routes to Methil and Leven, the Wemyss Private Railway and marshalling yards serving the Wellesley Colliery and Methil Dock. After passenger closure, the site of the station at Leven was eventually built over and freight continued to serve Methil Power Station until 2001 and the distillery at Cameron Bridge which last saw a trial freight in 2003.

Today with the centralisation of Diageo operations, it is one of the largest in Europe with a huge bottling plant a mile away: Diageo invested £63 million making it carbon-neutral yet such interest stops at the front door since it remains totally reliant on road haulage. While logistics contractor WH Malcolm are keen on railfreight, the campaign struggles to get Diageo to engage, Sainsburys adjoins the track near Leven, and the Kingdom of Fife Railway Preservation Society operate Kirkland Yard although they are ambivalent about line reopening.

Methil Power Station was demolished two or three years ago. The line's current status is that it is legally intact, only mothballed under Network Rail ownership. Transport minister Derek Mackay recently clarified that if there is a demand Network Rail has an obligation to reopen it to freight in 9-12 months: the Earlseat traffic means that the junction at Thornton is now working. Fife Council considers the reopening of the Leven line as a top transport priority and has set aside £2m which has helped fund a new STAG in 2015.

The present campaign was launched in March 2014 by interested ordinary local residents. Reinstatement of the intermediate station at Cameron Bridge would serve and Windygates, Kennoway, while Leven would serve not only inner Levenmouth but also the southern East Neuk. The track is well-used by dogwalkers who according to Network Rail are trespassing so a visiting MSP was compelled to wear an orange jacket!

Levenmouth is a name that is seldom used to describe the contiguous settlements of East Wemyss, Buckhaven, Methil, Methilhill, Leven as well as Windygates, Kennoway and adjoining Lundin Links and Largo which has a combined population to 37000 people, with the towns and villages of the East Neuk that lost their trains in 1965 lying beyond housing another 10,000 and plans for 2000 more homes. More tourists could be attracted to the area since even Leven itself had once been a thriving holiday resort and the Fife Coastal Path while one of the Kingdom's top tourist attractions is not everywhere capable of easy access.

In addition to the Diageo distillery and the bottling plant other freight markets could include the Fife Energy Park which fabricates North Sea oil platforms and renewables, and is currently hosting the world's largest turbine, fresh produce from Fife's fertile fields, Donaldson's timber products and supermarkets - railfreight is ailing in Scotland with the downturn in demand for coal, but Levenmouth could contribute to its revival.

Deprivation and the need for regeneration are evident in the statistics that over 19% of Levenmouth residents of employable age are unemployed or on low incomes while 38% is the proportion of children living in poverty and of homes without access to a car - yet on the main, inadequate Standing Stane Road any blockage creates a problem and the National Cycle Route avoids this stretch of the coast. Levenmouth is at the northern periphery of the Edinburgh city region and the south end of the Dundee one so tends to fall between two stools.

Whereas 22% of Dunbar's working population commutes to Edinburgh only 3% of Levenmouth's, just three miles further away, do so. In 1947 Levenmouth had rivalled West Fife in having the Kingdom's busiest road and rail flows, but now East Fife is the only team in the Scottish league 2 whose ground cannot be reached by train. The bus currently takes 1hr 30-40 minutes. As well as the line being intact, Leven can easily be served by extending the current Fife Circle services, there is land available for stations and Leven station would be ideally sited close to the bus station and town centre. There could be operational advantages to Fife having a traincrew depot located at Levenmouth.

The latest STAG Report considered an improved bus option and also a train option. The case for rail is very strong, clearly best fulfilling stated objectives. However the Campaign is slightly concerned at unrealistic figures used show a benefit-cost ratio of only 1.31 for rail as against 5.19 for further improvement to the bus link with Markinch despite this being against the prevailing traffic flow, bypassing the commercial hub at Leven and heightening the area's dependence on Stagecoach. The Borders Railway had cost £9.8M per mile despite the solum being in very poor condition, so how could reinstating the line to Leven work out at £15.7M per mile, with the total estimated cost up from £48.05M in 2008 to £78.4M now? If there had to be an optimism bias in construction forecasts, so there should be a pessimism bias for demand forecasts which in every Scottish reopening had been exceeded.

The Campaign was sustaining its profile with monthly meetings featuring guest speakers, social media activity and lobbying for the line's inclusion in the 2016 Holyrood manifestos. Fife Council were expected to approve the latest STAG report this week. The rail line meets strategic objectives much more effectively than bus. Now the Campaign had to keep the drumbeat of its activities going, and the challenge would be to go on finding new stories, for a current assessment might be that as well as being deprived, disconnected and not widely known Levenmouth now lacked significant champions and had to contend with political rivalries, pressure from other Council projects, issues with transport planning methodology and competition for a place in the national programme of transport priorities."

For a copy of the presentation, Click here (Presentation: PDF format (15Mb))

Report by John Yellowlees.


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