Why the first Levenmouth rail line train ride in 55 years was an unexpected delight - Alastair Dalton

Six-mile line reconnects most populous area of Scotland without a rail link

It may only be a nine-minute journey off the main line, but the branch to Leven that was officially opened on Wednesday is likely to transform one of the most deprived areas of Scotland for decades.

Indeed, the warm, bright spring morning that greeted the first special preview train as it hugged the Fife coast from Edinburgh brought to mind the railway’s past in bringing holidaymakers from the cities to Leven’s mile-long beach.

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And on arrival at the town’s brand new station, lapping waves on the coast were visible just a few hundred metres down the final stretch of the River Leven.

Given the right weather, could this line once again provide a seaside day out - 55 years after its closure?

But more than that, the new permanence of the railway as a transport link compared to flighty and slower bus services is seen as providing the vital confidence needed for new investment in the 30,000 population Methil-Leven-Buckhaven conurbation.

The first of an expected 360,000 annual passengers will get their chance to jump on board from Sunday at the new Leven and Cameron Bridge stations on the line.

The initial hourly service to and from Edinburgh will take about one hour ten minutes, which line builder Network Rail said was more than 30 minutes quicker than the fastest bus. Leven-Kirkcaldy journeys will take 18 minutes - around a third less than by bus.

First Minister John Swinney steps off a train at Leven Station to officially open the Levenmouth rail line on Wednesday. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/The Scotsman)First Minister John Swinney steps off a train at Leven Station to officially open the Levenmouth rail line on Wednesday. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/The Scotsman)
First Minister John Swinney steps off a train at Leven Station to officially open the Levenmouth rail line on Wednesday. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/The Scotsman) | LISA FERGUSON

There will also be more than twice as many trains a day compared to before its closure in 1969. But I was glad to see far bigger - and more elegant - covered waiting areas at both Leven and Cameron Bridge stations than what I’ve described as “glorified bus shelters” at previous new stations, like Tweedbank at the end of the Borders Railway.

The re-opened line, although just six miles long after it leaves the Edinburgh-Aberdeen line just north of Kirkcaldy, also proved an unexpected travel delight.

Far from traversing a bleak, post-industrial wasteland, much of the route follows the attractive River Ore and River Leven valleys, with their pretty water meadows and yellow gorse.

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First Minister John Swinney officially opens the Levenmouth rail line at Leven Station on Wednesday. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/The Scotsman)First Minister John Swinney officially opens the Levenmouth rail line at Leven Station on Wednesday. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/The Scotsman)
First Minister John Swinney officially opens the Levenmouth rail line at Leven Station on Wednesday. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/The Scotsman) | LISA FERGUSON

Walkers stopped to wave and take pictures of the train as we passed - along with hard-hatted workers at Diageo’s sprawling distillery complex, which so far appears to have ignored the railway’s potential - but seeing it open could just change that.

First Minister John Swinney, stepping off the train in Leven with several hundred invited guests, was ebullient in his praise for Scotland’s first new line for nine years following the opening of the Borders Railway.

A special preview train for the official opening of the Levenmouth line arrives at Leven Station on Wednesday. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/The Scotsman)A special preview train for the official opening of the Levenmouth line arrives at Leven Station on Wednesday. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/The Scotsman)
A special preview train for the official opening of the Levenmouth line arrives at Leven Station on Wednesday. (Photo by Lisa Ferguson/The Scotsman) | LISA FERGUSON

One of Mr Swinney’s first assignments after taking up the post had been to visit the £117 million project, and its opening will come as welcome and timely good news for the SNP at the start of the general election campaign.

He said: “It can only be described as a day of unbridled joy for the communities of Leven and the Kingdom of Fife.”

Mr Swinney also spoke of his “absolute delight” at “resolving” the community’s exclusion from the rail network for over half a century, which he described as a “historic wrong”.

So pick a nice day, pack your towel and sunscreen and join the Costa del Fife revival.

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