Station where it's the train waiting in vain

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THE train now approaching the platform... might as well keep going. Scotland’s least used railway station has been revealed, and it cost at least £4,650 per passenger last year to keep open.

Golf Street station, Carnoustie, was used by fewer than 20 travellers last year, despite annual running costs of around 33,000 and a 60,000 refurbishment.

A train pulls in to the Angus ‘ghost’ station early in the morning and another calls late at night. But despite being on the main line to Aberdeen, it is rare for more than one passenger a fortnight to make use of the service.

ScotRail keeps figures on passenger journeys for all of the country’s stations and these are normally a closely guarded secret.

However, details of the list have been obtained by Scotland and Sunday and they show that, as well as chronic under-use at Carnoustie, three stations attract fewer than 50 passengers a year.

One of them, Barry Links, is near Carnoustie and on the same line. The others are neighbouring Tyndrum Upper and Tyndrum Lower in the West Highlands. Despite being a Mecca for walkers, the vast majority of people still prefer to get to the area by car.

Last night, campaigners for better public transport said the answer to Scotland’s ‘ghost’ stations was to encourage train use and improve services rather than simply shutting them down.

Golf Street station sits just yards away from the first tee of the world famous Carnoustie Golf Course Links, home to the 1999 British Open.

Despite the astonishing rarity of passengers, commitment to the rail network by the Scottish Executive and the Strategic Rail Authority means it and other ‘ghost’ stations have so far escaped the axe.

Residents living near to Golf Street remain baffled as to how the tiny platform manages to stay open. In its heyday it bustled with commuters and golfers eager to play on the famous course.

Even with the arrival of the Open in 1999 the station remained virtually unused as the extra trains laid on proved too long to stop at the platform. So far there are no plans for Golf Street to be used when the Open returns in 2007.

Former councillor Bill Brand, has lived in Carnoustie all his life. His bed and breakfast looks on to the golf course at the front and the station at the back.

The 66-year-old and his wife Mary, 52, campaigned for the station to be used during the Open in 1999. Brand, who is also chairman of the Carnoustie Business Association, said: "It’s ridiculous. They have just spent 60,000 on it and I never see anyone using it. Back in the 1970s, commuters and golfers used the station a lot. Now the only train to go through is at 6.53am, and one comes back late at night.

"They need a better service and more trains. As it is, they have just spent all this money on it and unless there are more trains it will be a massive waste of money.

"Most commuters stay at this end of town and it saves walking right up to the main station. This used to be the busiest station in the area."

Brand added: "At the last Open they did actually lay on extra trains but they were too big for the platform. They would have to extend the platform for it to be much use, or use smaller trains."

The Scottish Executive and the Strategic Rail Authority are both resistant to closing down stations.

The historic village of Tyndrum was once one of the most important rail links in the Scottish Highlands but now it has two of Scotland’s quietest stations.

The village grew from a small hamlet because two main lines from Glasgow - one north to Fort William and the other west to Oban - pass through it.

Now these once bustling stations are used by fewer than 50 passengers each year, according to the leaked ScotRail figures.

In 2000 the historic station building underwent a massive restoration but now locals say the waiting rooms remain locked and empty.

Train operators ScotRail pay Network Rail 24,000 to use the station platforms and standard maintenance costs usually amount to 9,000 a year. The costs are covered by the taxpayer in the form of subsidies.

Secretary of the Rail Passenger Committee Scotland, Robert Samson, said the stations will only be used again if services improve.

He said: "In Scotland most journeys are made from about 50 stations yet in total we have around 336.

"One of our problems is that a lot of them are in isolated areas and there is a low level of patronage. But many of these stations have a low level of service by the train companies which just contributes to passenger figures dropping.

"The money spent on maintenance seems a hell of a lot. If stations are deemed to be in bad locations then instead of just closing them we should look at moving them to better locations."

MSP Kenny MacAskill, shadow transport spokesman for the SNP, said local people should decide whether their empty stations should stay open. He said: "These things have to go through proper procedures. There might be good reason for such a low-use station to stay open. But at the same time the volume of passengers can not be ignored.

"There is a whole range of other factors which should be considered. But that one train a day could be extremely important for someone."A Scottish Executive spokesman said the decisions on railway closure come from the Strategic Rail Authority.

"As part of the Partnership Agreement, Scottish Ministers will agree a new Scottish passenger railway franchise and improve on the current level of service. Shutting down a station would involve a lengthy closure procedure, during which Scottish Ministers would be consulted," the spokesman said.