‘Pessimistic’ passenger forecasts hit bid to reopen Scots rail lines

The mothballed line between Thornton Junction and Leven is used only by dog walkers, but campaigners want to see it reopened
The mothballed line between Thornton Junction and Leven is used only by dog walkers, but campaigners want to see it reopened
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Hopes of reopening more railway lines across Scotland could be dashed by “utterly discredited” official passenger forecasting, campaigners fear.

They said plans to restore tracks to places such as Levenmouth, St Andrews and Fraserburgh were threatened after projections for the Borders Railway proved to have significantly underestimated demand.

A total of 184,000 passengers used Tweedbank station in its first six months – almost ten times the 19,000 estimate.

Galashiels handled five times the number expected and the line’s total of 694,000 was 22 per cent higher than anticipated. It is expected to reach one million shortly.

Rail consultant and author David Spaven said the overly pessimistic forecasts had led to the line being downgraded.

He said: “The ludicrously pessimistic patronage forecasts in the business case adversely affected the benefit-to-cost ratio, which in turn led to the cutback of double track and contributed to the unreliability of the service.

“It is utterly discredited. There should be an inquiry into how the business case was undertaken by consultants and overseen by civil servants, and a root-and-branch review of forecasting methodology.”

LevenMouth Rail Campaign secretary Allen Armstrong said: “Evidence from other reopenings has convinced us passenger use would greatly exceed forecasts.

“Our main fear is the apparently in-built handicap in rail forecasting falsely scares decision-makers away from considering such much-needed and highly viable projects.”

A spokeswoman for Transport Scotland said: “There will always be an element of uncertainty with forecasting, particularly considering the unique nature of the Borders Railway, which is the longest new line in the UK in 100 years. The forecasting methodology used was in line with industry practice and incorporates evidence gathered in the Borders.

“We keep methodology under constant review to ensure best practice, and will draw on evidence, including from the Borders Railway, to inform future appraisals.”