Rail line to Peterhead would bring economic and environmental benefits

Campaigners calling for the return of rail services to the North-east have highlighted the significant environmental and economic benefits of reinstating a line to Peterhead.

By Kevin McRoberts
Tuesday, 17th August 2021, 9:18 am
Updated Tuesday, 17th August 2021, 9:20 am
Campaigners believe a Buchan Railway can mirror the success of the Borders Railway, which opened in 2015.
Campaigners believe a Buchan Railway can mirror the success of the Borders Railway, which opened in 2015.

The Campaign for North East Rail (CNER) also insists its recently-published Buchan Area Business Case, proposing a line to Peterhead, makes much more sense than suggestions a new line should terminate at Ellon.

Following the publication of the IPCC Report last week, warning of the urgent need to reduce our carbon footprint, CNER says the case for projects such as the Buchan Railway is even stronger.

Jordan Jack, CNER co-chair, said: “We estimate that in its first year of operation the route would see over a million passengers, saving more than 450,000 trips on the A90 alone, and yet more on surrounding roads such as the A947.

CNER's comparison of the proposed Buchan and existing Borders railways.

“Additional trips will come with visitors to HMP Grampian, and in later years, will allow for growth as the railway opens new opportunities for the tourism industry in the North-east.

“This, combined with the freight potential in the Buchan area, would allow us to save at least 32,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent annually.”

CNER’s business case draws comparisons with the Border Railway, which opened in September 2015, enhancing transport links between Edinburgh, Midlothian and the Scottish Borders, and it also makes the case that stopping the line at Ellon is not more realistic than continuing it through to Peterhead.

CNER says its proposed line to Peterhead is a near identical railway to the Borders, except a lot of the challenges the Borders Railway faced are not facing a Peterhead link.

The routes to Galashiels and Peterhead are similar.

On cost, the Ellon Rail Study estimated the cost of constructing a line which terminated at Ellon at £380 million. CNER says this high sum is a result of the project being burdened with the cost of doubling tunnels and upgrading the station in Aberdeen. CNER has proposed a hybrid solution to the tunnel problem and says it can prove it is workable in terms of engineering feasibility.

It has also identified a revenue stream that can fund this work in the £200m assigned to the North-east alongside the Aberdeen City Region Deal. In its business case, CNER has assessed the line to Peterhead using modern estimates and, adjusting for inflation, it has projected a cost of £402m for its proposals. This is £20m higher than the projected cost in the Ellon Rail Study, yet cheaper than the Borders Railway (£426m).

Mr Jack said: “The Borders Railway completely transformed communities along its length. This project can kickstart the regeneration of a corner of the North-east identified as a priority by the Scottish Government and allow us to take a significant stride towards decarbonisation.”

The Borders Railway saw 1,457,142 single trips in its first year. The population along the Buchan Railway is 79.22 per cent of that along the Borders line. Since the two railways are comparable, Buchan Railway could expect to see 1,154,348 trips in its first year.

However, several factors could further boost the patronage on the Buchan line.

Stations further away on the Borders line outperform stations closer to Edinburgh. Patronage at Galashiels was eight times higher than expected. The furthest station on the Buchan line is Peterhead, with a larger population of 19,270 to Galashiels’ 14,632.

HMP/YOI Grampian also has the potential to add 28,000 further annual single trips.

And Aberdeenshire sees 1.3 million tourists a year. Of these, 78 per cent come from the UK, and these medium length journeys are perfectly suited to rail.

Mr Jack continued: “There is no credible reason to believe that what occurred in the Borders will not also occur in the North-east. Stopping at Ellon will only produce a railway that does not benefit from the effects seen on the Borders Railway.

"These similarities alone should be enough to justify a connection to Peterhead. If a nearly identical railway in the Borders can be a runaway success and 'breathe new life into communities along its length', then the North-east must be given the opportunity to benefit from the same.

“Peterhead is the largest town in the UK the furthest from a train station. We must rectify this. The Borders Railway was constructed in a single phase, and so can our proposed line. There is no case where stopping at Ellon is a better option.

“Of course, we aren't only proposing a line to Peterhead. Fraserburgh is the second largest town without a connection, and the halts along its length serve a population of thousands within 30 minutes. The Deeside line to Banchory is so populous it's akin to a suburban city railway. Let's reconnect our communities, regenerate our towns, and put the Buchan coast on the map.”

He urged everyone who would like to see this happen to reach out to local representatives – MSPs, MPs and councillors – and tell them to engage with the campaign.

Find out more about the campaign at www.campaignfornortheastrail.org.