Rail improvements: £30m fund for new stations will take two years to arrive
MORE stations are set to be added to Scotland’s growing rail network after an announcement by the transport minister of a new £30 million fund.
The funding will not become available for two years but could also be used for upgrading existing stops.
Nearly 70 stations have been added to the network within the past 30 years, which now totals 350 stations.
The latest were three on the Airdrie-Bathgate line in 2010, while seven more will be added as part of the Borders Railway, the current official opening date of which is late 2014.
Annual Scottish passenger numbers have also rocketed by one quarter to 78 million on ScotRail over the past eight years, and to more than 84 million including cross-Border trains.
Glasgow Central last week regained its title as the busiest station outside of London.
Rail growth has prompted communities across Scotland to campaign to be connected to the network by having long-closed stations reopened or others built in new locations.
Transport minister Keith Brown’s announcement on Tuesday about the Scottish Stations Investment Fund comes less a month after he accepted an invitation to visit the sites of potential new stops on the East Coast Main Line at East Linton in East Lothian and Reston in the Borders.
Other long-running campaigns for station re-openings include Blackford in Perthshire, and Dalcross, east of Inverness, to serve the city’s airport.
Mr Brown said the fund would exclude stations where developers were expected to pay for new stations, such as at Winchburgh, on the main Edinburgh-Glasgow line in West Lothian.
The Scottish Government’s consultation into the next ScotRail franchise said new stations could help stimulate “sustainable economic growth” or reduce car use.
However, it added they could make things worse for existing passengers by increasing journey times because of the extra stops, and potentially cause overcrowding.
Proposed new stations will also have to pass current feasibility tests.
The consultation said ministers would consider whether other organisations, such as councils, businesses or local groups could run new stations.
The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency said of the new fund: “The package could see new stations delivered across the country where there is sufficient demand, as well as improved access and better facilities for some existing stations.”
It is hoped councils, regional transport partnerships and developers will also contribute.
Mr Brown told The Scotsman that the fund – comprising new Scottish Government money – would operate over five years from 2014, and it had yet to be decided how much would be used to improve existing stations.
He said new stations cost around £2.5m-£3.5m to open.
He added: “New and better stations are a major part of attracting more people on to our rail services and providing sustainable, integrated and cost-effective alternatives to the private car, as well as supporting jobs in the construction sector.
“I believe that passengers, the rail network and the wider economy will benefit significantly from this bumper package.
“I look forward to receiving detailed proposals from communities and developers and will shortly be confirming how current or new stations can access the fund.”
Aberdeen-based FirstGroup, whose current ScotRail franchise ends in 2014, made £20m of station improvements during its original seven-year term, including CCTV, train information screens, toilets, waiting rooms and shelters.
As part of a subsequent three-year extension, the operator agreed to establish a £70m investment fund generated by a profit-share arrangement, based on projected passenger growth.
Glasgow MSP Patrick Harvie, for the Greens, welcomed the minister urging communities to take the lead.
He said: “After a series of U-turns, it’s pleasing to see a positive announcement from the transport minister on rail.
“In particular, I welcome the commitment to involve local communities in deciding how this cash is spent.
“The Scottish Government’s track record on consulting communities about its transport decisions leaves a lot to be desired – they’ve recently had to back track on plans to change cross-border services, they’ve been forced to rule out the closure of local stations in Glasgow although they haven’t given a commitment on service, and they quietly raided £50 million of funds earmarked for sleeper services to splash on Scottish Water.
“I’m sure many communities around Scotland will be bidding for a share of this fund, so the minister must be prepared to make more funds available if there is strong demand. Public transport has been a low priority for far too long.”
An East Lothian Council spokesman said: “We welcome the announcement that additional funding may be available for projects such as reinstating a rail station at East Linton as part of the council’s policy of improving rail services between Edinburgh and Dunbar.”
Scottish Chambers of Commerce chief executive Liz Cameron said: “This fund provides an opportunity to increase the amenity of our railway infrastructure, creating jobs in the process.”
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