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Railwatch 069 - October 1996

What hope for reopenings

By David Hansen

When the Railways Act was pushed through Parliament, we were promised that the new railway organisation would lead to improved rail services. The railways would become more attuned to their customers as private businesses and, using private finance, new stations, lines and trains would be provided.

These promises were put to the test recently and found severely wanting.

Near to Dunfermline in Fife lies the community of Dalgety Bay, built like many new estates without a railway station. As part of a package of public transport improvements, partly to alleviate the need for a second Forth Road Bridge, a station was proposed two years ago serving especially car-based commuters heading for Edinburgh.

When it was first envisaged two years ago the station was estimated to cost £500,000 by a council-sponsored study. By January 1996 the cost estimate had risen to £1,300,000 for a better station. In June 1996 Railtrack's estimate of the cost had risen to a staggering £1,800,000.

Despite its profits Railtrack has refused to fund any of this expenditure itself. Its position is that since no extra trains will run over the line (to begin with) it will get no extra track access charges and so no income.

I have some sympathy for Railtrack, as they are operating in a system that has been set up by others. However, we were told that the current set-up would encourage investment and private sector risk taking.

There is no doubt that an enhanced railway service, which the station is part of, will attract passengers, produce a requirement for more trains and so lead to increased track access charges.

Like many business investments this will take a little while to mature and there would be some risk. One must speculate to accumulate and there is no evidence of this, despite the promises of politicians in Westminster. On the evidence of Dalgety Bay the changes to the railways have not produced the business climate we were promised.

We were also promised increased investment in the railways, due to private sector finance. There is a private sector commitment to Dalgety Bay station waiting to be spent. As part of a planning package the developer Tay Homes is to spend £100,000 on the station.

At one time this was a significant contribution to the estimated cost. However, if work has not started by October 1996 Tay Homes will withdraw this contribution. This is an example of private sector money being turned away only weeks after the new set-up came into effect.

On at least two counts the new railway set-up has fallen at the first jump. There seems to be nobody in the railway industry concerned with promoting opening stations. Neither Railtrack nor ScotRail seems prepared to invest. If a station cannot be built at Dalgety Bay it is unlikely that a station can now be built anywhere in Britain.

This situation has not arisen out of the blue. It was predicted in 1995 by the Railway Development Society.

At a conference in Bathgate (not very far from Dalgety Bay) the society noted the absence of any part of the new railway set-up responsible for promoting openings and called for changes to the set-up. Copies of the motion were sent to all political parties and the Government. It is tragic to see this prediction coming true so soon after Railtrack was privatised.

I live less than two miles from the proposed station. It would be tragic if this fiasco cannot be sorted out in time to make use of the private sector finance on offer.

Contacts: David Hansen: 0131-555 1467.

Railtrack: John Yellowlees, External Liaison Manager: 0141-335 3350.

Fife Council public transport officer Trond Haugen: 01592 413106.

Note: contact details (postal and email addresses, along with telephone numbers) in old editions of Railwatch out of date. Click CONTACT US for latest contact details.

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