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Rail alignments need protection in Tayside and Central plans

Published 03 July 2015 by Colin Howden

Transform Scotland have today responded to the consultation on TAYplan’s draft Strategic Development Plan, calling in its representation for the historic rail alignments of the Glenfarg Line and Strathmore Line to be protected for future use as walk/cycle routes, and for future possible public transport use. The full text of Transform Scotland’s response is below.


 

In Map 10 and in supporting text, the Plan should make provision for retention of the existing/remaining trackbeds of the historic routes of the Glenfarg Line and Strathmore Line, and that these be specified within Map 10’s list of ‘Strategic Infrastructure Projects’.

Policy 10 calls for “good connectivity within and through the area” yet the Plan fails to make provision for significant rail journey time improvements between the area and adjoining regions. In contrast, the Plan does provides for new road capacity at various points within the region. We regard this as unbalanced given the exhortations made at various points in the Plan towards reducing climate emissions and other environmental impacts (“the SusTAYnable Region”).

Specifically, we believe that the Plan should make provision for retention of the existing/remaining trackbeds of the historic routes of the Glenfarg Line and Strathmore Line, and that these be specified within Map 10’s list of ‘Strategic Infrastructure Projects’. This proposal is in accordance with Scottish Planning Policy paragraph 277, which states:

“Disused railway lines with a reasonable prospect of being reused as rail, tram, bus rapid transit or active travel routes should be safeguarded in development plans.”

While reinstatement of these lines as operational railways is not likely in the near future, should reinstatement be required in the future then clear protection of the routes in the Plan would help minimise future costs, and at limited current cost given that the protection sought is for a narrow corridor alignment.

We would note that, prior to reinstatement for rail use, there should also be opportunities for the protected trackbeds to be used for active travel purposes (again, as specified in SPP). The route mileage of the National Cycle Network in Scotland has expanded by 10% over just the past couple of years and sections of these alignments may be appropriate for use by the NCN, the ‘National Walking and Cycling Network’ proposed in NPF3, or as local walk/cycle routes.

As an example of poor strategic planning from which lessons could be learned, we would cite the example of the soon to be reopened Borders Railway. In this case, the cost of the reinstatement has been massively inflated by the misguided decision several decades ago to obscure the trackbed of the closed line when the alignment was chosen for the Edinburgh City Bypass. At the time of the construction of the City Bypass, prospects for reopening of the Borders Railway were remote; however, a more forward-looking approach by the planning authorities in that area at that time would have prevented this generation’s taxpayers suffering excessive costs caused by the failure to protect the alignment of the closed railway where it crossed the new road.

We believe that there is a strong case for reinstatement of a direct rail route from Perth to Edinburgh. The current rail route is not fit for purpose in so far as it delivers a rail journey time significantly worse than the road alternative: the AA’s Route Planner estimates a (legal) car journey time of just 59 minutes, compared to a 2015 rail average of 1 hour 22 minutes for the same journey. The current rail route is also embarrassingly slow given that the fastest scheduled journey time in 1895 for Edinburgh-Perth trips (65 minutes) is slower than the current fastest journey time (71 minutes).

The reinstatement of a direct link to Perth would greatly benefit journey times from the Tayside and Central region to Edinburgh. The review of the project in Transport Scotland’s ‘Strategic Transport Projects Review’ found that a direct route would reduce the journey time from Perth to Edinburgh by up to 35 minutes. As well as providing the opportunity to reduce journey times from Dundee and Aberdeen to Edinburgh, it would allow the creation of new stations in key growth areas such as Kinross. The currently under-utilised Perth station could also be transformed into a new Inter-City hub – the catalyst for transport connectivity and urban regeneration.

Development has already been allowed to happen on the sections of the historic trackbed of the Glenfarg Line, and we expect that a four-mile tunnelled section would be required to avoid the M90 and Glenfarg village. However, it we are to start planning now for the transformation of rail travel between Perth and Edinburgh, top priority must be given to protecting the Inverkeithing-Halbeath-Bridge of Earn rail alignment from further inappropriate development.

We would note that the benefits of reinstatement of a direct line would be considerably enhanced beyond that contained in appraisal in the ‘Strategic Transport Projects Review’ as this analysis did not:

  • Analyse the benefits of an electrified railway (in particular faster journey times).
  • Assess the merits of a new railway from Halbeath to Bridge of Earn only – allowing Dunfermline to benefit from the project.
  • Evaluate an intermediate park-and-ride station at Kinross, serving a wide catchment.
  • Analyse the benefits of routing Aberdeen to Edinburgh trains this way – together with track upgrades in Perth, allowing reduced journey times and better connectivity.