The Scottish Government’s announcement of a £70m project to reconnect Levenmouth in Fife to the rail network is most welcome.
Half a century after Dr Beeching’s infamous cuts, railways are very much back in fashion. In the 1960s, when a Union Jack-painted Mini became one of the symbols of the decade, trains may have seemed like relics of the 19th century to be cast aside amid the wider societal revolution.
However, in recent years, the railways have been positively booming with 98 million passenger journeys on ScotRail services alone in 2017-18 – up by a staggering 31 per cent in just ten years.
And yesterday saw a long-anticipated announcement that appears to confirm that we are indeed falling back in love with this once-neglected form of transport.
A £70 million project will see the re-opening of a six-mile stretch of track in east Fife, which was closed to passenger trains in 1969 despite actually being spared by Beeching, and the creation of two stations, Leven and Cameron Bridge.
With some 33,000 people living in the Levenmouth area, this will create a link to the rail network for the biggest urban conurbation in Scotland currently without one.
The news will no doubt embolden campaigners in places like St Andrews, Haddington, Penicuik, Kilmacolm and Lossiemouth who are hoping to be similarly reconnected.
However, there is a potential problem that could become more serious than ‘leaves on the line’. In the 1960s, the number of passenger journeys that originated in Scotland ranged from 63 million to 73 million.
Given there are many more now on a smaller network, reconnecting new lines will raise questions about the capacity for more services and over-crowding on existing ones.
At some point, if the Beeching cuts continue to be reversed, considerable investment will be required to ensure the network can cope. And there are a number of chokepoints in the system – such as the Forth Bridge – that may ultimately mean there is a physical cap on expansion. A fourth, at that point at least, Forth bridge seems unlikely.
But such considerations are for the future. Yesterday campaigners in Fife were celebrating the news with MSP Jenny Gilruth saying the new line had “the potential to change lives and give the Levenmouth area a new lease of life”, bringing jobs, investment and “huge opportunities”.
We very much hope this proves to be true and that other parts of Scotland can join in this 21st-century railway revival.