Network Rail project manager Martin McKinlay and local member of Parliament Wendy Chamberlain in orange safety suits walking the line of the Levenmouth Rail Link project

Scottish rail project compromises to accommodate freight potential

Network Rail project manager Martin McKinlay and local member of Parliament Wendy Chamberlain walking the line of the Levenmouth Rail Link project Image Network Rail media centre

Work is underway to reintroduce rail services to an economically disadvantaged corner of Scotland. The primary goal is to bring passenger services to around 50,000 people, resident in the East Neuk of Fife. However, the design of the Levenmouth Rail Link has been made to accommodate the introduction of freight services. That’s the word from the local authority and Network Rail, the British infrastructure agency currently overseeing the building of the eight kilometre route.

Freight services at Leven, and the adjacent Methil Docks, could be accommodated on the Levenmouth Rail Link. Design aspects of the route have been made to allow for additional infrastructure with the minimum of disruption, should demand materialise. The line was until recently retained for freight purposes, but is being completely rebuilt for a new high-frequency passenger service.

Potential for a variety of traffic

Scotland, of all the UK nations, has led the way in community-led rail development. Over the past twelve years, the Scottish government has promoted the opening of an additional route between Edinburgh and Glasgow, and the world famous Borders Railway. However, there has been criticism of both projects for a lack of capacity and provision for freight – particularly on the Borders Railway.

Engineering train on the Borders Railway in Scotland seen from the lineside
Occasional engineering trains are the only freight currently accommodated on the Borders Railway in Scotland. The Leven line will have freight capacity built in from the start. Image: Simon Walton

However, the Levenmouth Rail Link – although shorter than either of the two preceding routes – has been promoted from the outset as a mixed traffic line. Until quite recently, the route carried coal traffic for a now decommissioned power station, as well as traffic for a distillery complex, and a variety of traffic for the docks at Methil, a town which will be served by the Leven terminus on the line. Historically, the link ran all the way around the Fife coast, carrying a full variety of industrial and agricultural traffic.

Provision for freight infrastructure included

Both of the new stations on the line have freight potential. At the intermediate stop at Cameron Bridge, the nearby distiller and bottling plant is still active and may generate traffic for the railway. That has been frequently noted in public consultations over the building of the line. However, the slightly more optimistic prospect has been raised of maritime traffic from Methil. That may be wishful thinking, but Network Rail has taken it seriously, according to a planning response, and it would seem that at least one new passenger station is being developed with provision for freight infrastructure.

Graphic of the proposed layout at Leven station showing turnout for freight access to docks
Graphic of the proposed layout at Leven station showing turnout for freight access to docks (Network Rail)

The alignment of Leven station has been questioned. The chosen site deviates from the original curved alingment of the tracks, which used to form the through line around the coast and also access to the docks. Instead, the platforms will continue in a straight formation, terminating slightly off the old trackbed. This is similar to the 1986 Bathgate station, which was eventually replaced by a much bigger affair, when that line was extended to reinstate the through route between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

No major alterations required for freight

Comments in the consultation process have raised the possibly shortsighted measure of building a terminus, with no possible prospect of future extension. Comparisons have been made with the Tweedbank terminus of the Borders Railway, which was specifically designed to allow for future through working to Hawick and Carlisle, if that project gets approved. The reasons though for the Leven design have been made with the laudable intention of providing for freight.

Map of Leven area showing railway line
The Leven station in context (Network Rail – Levenmouth Rail Link annotated by Simon Walton)

Writing on behalf of Network Rail, Catherine Stewart from their planning team explained that the straight alignment of the island platform at Leven would allow for a future turn-out to be installed, so that a freight spur could be laid into Methil Docks. “There would be no need to change the shape of the platform or to put it on a curve”, she wrote. “OLE [Overhead Line Equipment for electric trains] is positioned down the centre of the platform, so it is not considered to incur mast movements or major alterations.”

That enlightened attitude to freight provision, especially in a marginal opportunity, is good news for communities and would-be customers alike. There may well be further cheer to come elsewhere in Scotland. Campaigners in the Scottish Borders and in the North East are looking on with interest. Also well may be those nearer to Leven, hoping for a railway hole in one, at the links of St Andrews, just up around the Fife coast.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

1 comment op “Scottish rail project compromises to accommodate freight potential”

James Wemyss|29.01.23|01:00

Hi Simon. I’m the person who raised the Objection in the Planning Application Have you viewed the Documents and My submission? Network Rail have missed the whole point about my concern that with the amount of housing development now being planned, to extend the double track for PASSENGER USE to Buckhaven & Dysart would need the infrastructure altered at a cost of approx £10million.

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