Local Labour politicians have expressed concern that changes by the Scottish Government to the way new railway stations could be funded, will delay or even put at risk campaigns to re-open Eastriggs, Thornhill and Beattock Railway Stations.
South Scotland MSP and Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy Connectivity and Transport Colin Smyth, Annandale South Councillor Sean Marshall and Annandale North Councillor Adam Wilson have raised the concerns after the Scottish Government’s transport body- Transport Scotland- unveiled new the rules.
The current process to get a station re-opened involves four stages before culminating in a bid to the Scottish Stations Fund (SSF). South West of Scotland Transport Partnership (SWestrans) have been developing potential rail station re-opening bids for Thornhill and, Eastriggs on the Nith Valley line and Beattock on the West Coast Mainline, based on the current process.
All three potential stations have gone through the first two detailed stages of the process- a Pre-Appraisal and a Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (STAG) Part 1 and the results have been submitted to Transport Scotland.
Since then the SWestrans have commissioned the next step- STAG Part 2 Appraisals- for the three areas, with a view to ultimately submitting Business Cases to the Scottish Stations Fund (SSF) for funding for new stations.
However, last month Transport Scotland published their Rail Enhancements & Capital Investment Strategy. It sets out a new approach to funding rail projects, moving from the current four stage process to a ‘pipeline-based approach’. As a result, no new bids to the existing Scottish Stations Fund (SSF) will be considered with the current fund due to be scrapped by March 2019.
Completing the four stages under the existing rules and making a bid for the Scottish Stations Fund (SSF) in the less than 12 months before it is scrapped is not viable for the three potential stations in Dumfries and Galloway. As a result work on the STAG Part 2 process has now been paused by SWestrans until clarification is received on the new process.
Colin Smyth has written to Scottish Transport Minister Humza Yousaf seeking urgent clarification on the changes. In particular, the local MSP has sought a guarantee that the new process won’t render as worthless the huge amount of work already carried out at a cost of tens of thousands of pounds on pre, STAG1 and STAG2 appraisals for the three potential stations.
He has also sought details of what will replace the existing Scottish Stations Funds (SSF) as this was the only source of funding the three potential stations could bid for from the Government.
Colin Smyth MSP, who also Chairs the Eastriggs Railway Stations Action Group (ERSAG) said, “It is hugely frustrating that work in developing the cases to re-open Eastriggs, Thornhill and Beattock Stations has had to be halted because the Scottish Government have decided to change the rules. It is now not clear what the new process will involve and more worryingly whether there will even be a Scottish Stations Fund to bid into to help fund the re-opening of the stations”.
“The process that has been followed for the three stations to date is not simply filling in a few forms. It has been years of detailed research and studies which have cost literally tens of thousands of pounds. I would be really angry if that work turns out to be largely worthless because the new process requires very different information”.
“It is absolutely vital that we get some quick answers from Scottish Transport Minister Humza Yousaf explaining to communities exactly how the new process will work and what will be needed to ultimately get these stations re-opened so we can get back to work on developing plans”.
“We also need to know what, if any, funding will be available when the current Scottish Stations Fund is scrapped next year. The Scottish Government should be encouraging the re-opening of these stations not seeking to delay it”.
Annandale South Councillor and Secretary of Eastriggs Railway Stations Action Group (ERSAG) said, “We were building up some real momentum for the re-opening of Eastriggs station so it’s really disappointing to hear that work by SWestrans on the process has now been put on hold because the Scottish Government appear to be moving the goalposts”.
“There is a strong case to be made for re-opening Eastriggs Station given the growing number of people from the area who travel to Annan, Dumfries and Carlisle for work, leisure, education and healthcare”.
“Given the massive economic challenges facing our area, investment in this type of transport infrastructure is vital to open up opportunities for the community both in terms of bringing people to Eastriggs but also to improve commuting”.
Annandale North Councillor Adam Wilson, who was recently appointed to the Board of SWestrans said, “I know a great deal of work has gone into the campaign to re-open Beattock Station, much of which has had to be funded by the Beattock Station Action Group themselves. This news is therefore a bitter blow and we need urgent clarification from the Transport Minister on how we quite literally get this whole process back on track based on the new rules”.
“It’s just a couple of months since Humza Yousaf sat in a room and explained to campaigners including students from Moffat Academy that they needed to follow the current STAG process. Now we are being told that those rules are no longer relevant.”
“Our area is not well served when it comes to rail by either the Scottish or UK Government and its time we got our fair share of investment when it comes to better transport links.”