Rail bosses want to close down least-used stations across Scotland
Key quote "For one [station] that is very lightly used, you have to question whether it should stay open. Some could be replaced with stations that are closer to communities and more integrated with buses." - Iain Coucher, Network Rail's deputy chief executive
Story in full SCOTLAND'S least-used railway stations could be closed or relocated nearer to centres of population under a new ten-year plan to develop the network.
Network Rail, which owns and operates the rail infrastructure, believes removing needless station-stops would reduce journey times for most passengers.
The company has proposed the moves as part of a new 300 million package on top of 1.1 billion of previously announced new lines, such as links to Edinburgh and Glasgow airports.
The package includes proposals to speed up services on some routes to help cope with a forecast 30 per cent increase in passengers over the next decade.
Iain Coucher, Network Rail's deputy chief executive, said closure of some stations would be considered.
"For one that is very lightly used, you have to question whether it should stay open. Some could be replaced with stations that are closer to communities and more integrated with buses."
Barry Links in Angus, for example, which is served by two trains a day, is used by only 26 passengers a year.
Network Rail's consultation blueprint, launched yesterday, also recommended ending the award-winning Edinburgh CrossRail service to cut delays. The link, launched in 2002, connects Newcraighall in the east with Dunblane and Bathgate. Network Rail recommended that passengers should have to change at Waverley, as preferable to improving the congested sections of line that cause the delays.
Peak-hour charges could also be introduced at station car parks to encourage off-peak travel. Parking is currently free at many stations.
The document also proposed faster Perth-Edinburgh services, longer Stirling-Glasgow trains, which are Scotland's most overcrowded, and more commuter trains between Fife and Edinburgh. These would be achieved by improved signalling and timetables.
Platforms could be lengthened to take six-carriage trains, including some at Waverley and Queen Street in Glasgow. Network Rail said running more frequent or longer trains on the main Edinburgh-Glasgow line was not feasible, but journey times could be cut by reducing station stops.
Crowding on the route is expected to be eased by reopening the Airdrie-Bathgate line to create a new link between the cities in 2010 with four trains an hour. Journeys would also be cut on a third link via Shotts from 90 to 65 minutes, with services doubled to half-hourly.
New trains with eight carriages compared to the current six could be put on the Glasgow-Ayr line, which serves fast-growing Prestwick airport.
However, through trains between Glasgow and Stranraer after the ferry terminal moves to Cairnryan would be replaced, with passengers having to change at Kilmarnock or Ayr. But Glasgow-Kilmarnock trains would be more frequent and the Glasgow-Whifflet line would be electrified.
Network Rail said some improvements would be possible within the next three years, with others by 2014.
Its route utilisation strategy will be finalised in the spring and sent to ministers for them to decide which proposals to adopt. The firm said it was confident the 300 million cost could be found from both its own funds and the Scottish Executive.
However, doubts were cast over its plans last night. A spokeswoman for Tavish Scott, the transport minister, said: "There are no plans to close existing stations, because we are in a process of expansion." And Robert Samson, of the rail consumer watchdog Passenger Focus, said he would oppose station closures.
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