The Scottish Government is to take proposals for the reopening of the Levenmouth rail link forward to the next stage of development, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity Michael Matheson has announced.
First opened in 1854, the line connected the town of Leven with the junction at Thornton on the Edinburgh and Northern Railway main line. Intended to serve the local clothing mills and distillery, the line was steadily extended eastwards, first to Kilconquhar in 1857, then on to Anstruther in 1863 and then St Andrews in 1887.
The line grew busier as it acquired traffic from fisheries, farming and, latterly, coal. A good passenger business also developed.
But road transport undermined the rail freight business and the line fell into decline. The line from Leven to St Andrews closed to passenger traffic in 1965 and then closed completely in 1966.
The remaining line from Thornton to Leven struggled on, but passenger services ceased in 1969. Bulk freight continued until 1999, and the short stretch between Thornton North junction and Earlseat opencast mine reopened in 2012 and operated around two trains a week until 2015, after which the line was again closed and mothballed, leaving Levenmouth, with a population of 37,500, as the largest urban area in Scotland without a rail link.
Local support has been growing for the line’s reopening, and now it seems that a proposed rail link between Thornton, which is on the Fife Circle, and Leven with a stop at Cameron Bridge, combined with improved bus services as well as cycling and walking facilities, has emerged as the best performing options in the Levenmouth Sustainable Transport Study.
The appraisal concluded that these measures would enhance employment opportunities as well as access to education, health and leisure services. As a result, the project will now go forward to the detailed design phase, with initial estimates of construction and preparation costs of around £70 million.
Making the announcement, Michael Matheson also committed an additional £5 million to a Levenmouth Blueprint fund, which will be made available to partners to maximise the benefits of the Scottish Government investment in the area.
“I am extremely pleased that the case has been made for the Levenmouth rail link,” he said, “and I look forward to seeing this project being taken forward to the next stages of design.
“The detailed appraisal work that has been carried out suggests that improved transport links, which give Leven a direct rail link to the capital, will lead to an enhanced local economy, bringing better access to employment and education and the potential for new investment. Easier and more sustainable travel options will make it easier for people to reach hospitals, schools and visit other areas of the country as well as giving better access to Levenmouth.
“I would like to acknowledge the hard work of local MSPs, elected members and interest groups who have campaigned for the reopening of this line and I look forward to working with all partners to realise all of the benefits that improved connectivity can bring.”
The Levenmouth Transport Study suggested that, by 2037, there will be 750,000 passengers annually, boarding or alighting trains in the area. Reinstatement of the rail link will cut the current three-hour return journey to Edinburgh by public transport by up to 50 minutes, with the journey time from Leven to Edinburgh by train being approximately 70-75 minutes.