Levenmouth: A new start for Scotland's railway?

Thursday’s announcement in Methil breathed a new air of optimism into the whole of Levenmouth and East Fife. In an area still impacted by post-industrial decline – and on the back of yet more disappointment for the BiFab yard recently – the news of a £70m investment into reopening a rail link to Edinburgh and the rest of Fife could not be more welcome.

But it also reassured communities across Scotland that local campaigns can change things. The perseverance and tenacity of the grassroots Levenmouth Rail Campaign has been second to none. They’ve not only achieved the difficult feat of getting cross party support on a major issue, but worked with Fife Council officials and representatives, involved local school children, and got the backing of the business community in Methil, Leven, Buckhaven and the East Neuk.

Prior to my election as Green MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife in 2016 they had already met with me to make their case for reinstating the line, and it was the first issue that landed in my inbox post-election. Make no mistake that without their years of hard work the announcement this week would not have happened.

This needs to be just the beginning however of a new wave of rail reopenings in Scotland. Two years ago I published a report identifying four projects in Fife alone that could reconnect communities to the rail network – now that Levenmouth has been ticked off, it’s time for progress in Newburgh, Kincardine and St Andrews too.

For too long, the SNP Government has dragged their feet on rail. Levenmouth is the first commitment to laying new track in Scotland since the Borders Railway was approved by the Labour / Lib Dem coalition back in 2006. Investment has focused on shaving a few minutes off the Edinburgh to Glasgow commute, whilst communities in Dumfries, Fife and Aberdeenshire have been left wondering if they’ll ever see trains running through their towns and villages again.

Levenmouth matters nationally, because it recognises that a 21st century transport system is one that brings the regions along with the cities and reconnects long isolated communities. It’s a system which prioritises justice, inclusivity, and action on climate change.

Our future transport infrastructure can no longer be based around private car use. The recent feasibility study into the Levenmouth line recognised that rail, more than busses or other transport improvements, would have the biggest impact in getting people out of their cars and onto public transport. In an age of climate emergency this is crucial, and it needs to be a key factor in how we spend our infrastructure investment in Scotland.

It also holds great potential for rail freight, with the major Diagio distillery at Cameronbridge lying directly on the line. Despite long standing attempts to shift freight off our road and onto train tracks in Scotland, we’ve yet to see the necessary change. Diagio could lead the way in their industry and commit to shifting to rail freight when the line is ready, reducing their impact on local roads and climate emissions significantly.

There is still more work to be done on designing and costing up the line, and I’ll be keeping a close eye on that process as it develops. But for now, I’ll raise a glass to the efforts of local campaigners who refused to let their town be wiped off the rail map. I look forward buying my first train ticket to Levenmouth.