24 April 2008

S3M-1539 Leven to Thornton Rail Link

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 24 April 2008

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

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Leven to Thornton Rail Link

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Alasdair Morgan): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-1539, in the name of Tricia Marwick, on the Leven to Thornton rail link. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that the South-East Scotland Transport Partnership commissioned a feasibility study into the reopening of the Leven to Thornton rail link; believes that the reopening of this line to passengers and freight is vital to the regeneration of the Levenmouth area; notes that the reopening of the Leven to Thornton rail link is one of Fife Council's top transport priorities, and believes that those most interested in the regeneration of Levenmouth should contribute to the feasibility study now being carried out.


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The Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change (Stewart Stevenson): I join others in thanking Tricia Marwick for securing the debate, which recognises the important role that transport plays in facilitating regeneration and sustainable economic growth.

I found the contributions of all members interesting. As I was brought up in Fife, albeit a wee bit further east, at Cupar, I echo many of the reminiscences of colleagues. My favourite line was when we went to Dundee. We would change at Leuchars and take the Tentsmuir train, which was a little tank engine with two wee coaches. However, enough of the past and more of the future.

I understand Fife Council's aspiration to reopen the Leven to Thornton rail link to and from Levenmouth, to provide travel opportunities for employment, business, leisure and tourism. The line first opened in 1854 and helped Leven to become a tourist resort popular with visitors from the west of Scotland, particularly Glasgow. The benefits of good transport links are anything but new. I note that the reopening of the Leven to Thornton rail link is one of Fife Council's top transport priorities and is considered to be vital to the regeneration of the Levenmouth area.

Claire Baker commented on housing. I spoke at a transport research conference in Glasgow this morning. One of the professors who spoke suggested that the value of housing that is adjacent to good transport links, particularly rail, can be as much as 20 per cent higher. That shows that there is a valuable link between housing and rail links.

Ted Brocklebank said that St Andrews is the only university city that is without a rail link. I find it slightly ironic that when the Borders rail link opens I will represent the only parliamentary constituency in Scotland that has neither a railway nor an airport. The package of additional money that we receive from the First ScotRail franchise renegotiation will enable us to provide, in the first instance, a virtual rail link to St Andrews from Leuchars. Such a link will be of value to that part of the country.

Iain Smith referred to the Newburgh rail halt. The station is still there, although it is derelict and incapable of use. I recall seeing it as I went past. When the Wormit station was still open, with the little branch up to Tayport, there was a park and ride that many people used. I used it, and I always felt that it was a short-sighted decision, when the main line finally came, not to move the station on to it.

Iain Smith referred to signalling, which is one of the big inhibitions to faster development of the rail network. Signal engineers are booked up throughout Europe. It is not a question of money—it is simply that there are too few signal engineers. Members can be sure that for the many developments that the Government is backing we will ensure that we have the right resources in place.

Fife Council and SEStran are working with Transport Scotland to take the Leven to Thornton proposal forward. It will be assessed using the Scottish transport appraisal guidance methodology. I welcome that approach and look forward with interest to the completion of the Levenmouth sustainable transport study. I commend the partnership working involved and the commissioning and funding of the study by SEStran. Rail developments will have a positive knock-on effect on the people of Fife.

Iain Smith mistakenly referred to the deleterious effects of opening a station at Gogar. The station at Gogar merely replaces the one that would have been underneath Edinburgh airport. Exactly the same number of additional stations are being provided for the network to Fife.

Iain Smith: Will the minister take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: I will in a minute.

The mileage between Edinburgh and Fife via the Gogar station is slightly less than the mileage via Edinburgh airport.

Iain Smith: The Edinburgh airport rail link proposal, which the Government scrapped, would have created additional lines. Trains that stopped at the Edinburgh airport station would have been on a different line from trains that stopped at the Gogar station. The minister's position is therefore incorrect.

Stewart Stevenson: Members can be absolutely sure that I am well aware of the capacity issues. There is capacity on the rail link, and the provision of an additional signal in the middle of the Forth rail crossing will double the number of blocks that are available. That will not double capacity, but it will increase it.

Tricia Marwick: The Leven to Thornton rail link will be a branch line that starts at Leven, comes in through the Thornton junction and goes on to Kirkcaldy. There is no need for additional capacity; there is plenty capacity and it will do the job.

Stewart Stevenson: Let us coalesce—I think that we are capable of doing so—around the idea that continued expansion of the rail network is a good idea. I use rail more frequently than I use any other mode of travel; members therefore have an enthusiast in the minister.

Achieving modal shift of freight is very important, as Chris Harvie said. The opening of the Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine route on 19 May will deliver the benefit of a reduction in rail congestion on the Forth bridge. That will free up paths, making them available for Fife services. Should we find ourselves proceeding with the Leven to Thornton link, the paths would be available.

John Park mentioned the Rosyth rail link. Of course, there is a rail link into Rosyth that goes very close to the ferry terminal. I see the merit in what Mr Park said, and I acknowledge that additional work would have to be done, but the basic infrastructure is present.

In the proposal for the Leven to Thornton link, we have a great advantage: we have a railway that has never been closed in legal terms. The proposal may therefore have particular benefits.

The challenge will be to ensure that the Office of Rail Regulation deals robustly with Network Rail's plans so that, at tier 3 and the high-level output specifications, the money is available for interesting and engaging projects. I look forward to

seeing the results of the studies. On behalf of the people of Fife, I hope that they will show that the link is economically viable. If so, I will consider it with considerable interest.

Meeting closed at 18:07.

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