St Andrews does a lot well— education, golf, beaches, fish and chips, you name it. However, its transport links could do with some improvement. The town’s lack of a train station is frustrating— I know that Leuchars is only fifteen minutes away, but it adds an extra step to your journey which means factoring in bus times to make your connection and the awkward struggle of juggling suitcases, boxes, and the dangling leaves of a spider plant taking up half the bus.
The town used to have a functioning train station for just over 100 years, but it shut down in 1969 after the opening of the Tay Road Bridge and a major decrease in passenger numbers but it might be time to rethink this. St Andrews is the only university town in Scotland without a working railway line and it seems right that we try to rid ourselves of this title as soon as possible.
Although there have been many individuals and groups advocating for the reopening and reconnecting of St Andrews railway station, the most impactful has undoubtedly been the St Andrews Rail Link (StARLink) Campaign. Established in 1989, the campaign has spent over three decades pushing for the revival of St Andrews’ train station and in the past five years, things seem to be heading in the right direction.
The group argues that the population and tourist numbers have changed too drastically for things to stay the way they are, and they’ve even suggested that the town shouldn’t host The Open until the railway station has been re-introduced, claiming that parking for spectators is a nightmare and the town can’t hold or be accessible for all those trying to attend.
In 2018, as a result of their advocacy work, St Andrews was chosen by Transport Scotland to receive a research grant to determine whether rail is the best way to improve and develop transport within the town. If the report and the government agree that rail is the way to go, the town will be given the money— an estimated £76 million is required- and the green light to begin repairs.
However, the bright future for St Andrews’ train station seems to have disappeared as plans have recently been derailed. Members of the StARLink campaign have claimed that Transport Scotland owes them tens of thousands of pounds to pay for the appraisal study which has ground everything to a sudden halt.
Since the closure of the railway station in 1969, the town has changed significantly. The number of permanent residents has increased from 9,500 to 14,000 and student numbers have tripled from more than 2,000 to well over 7,000. We are currently amid a national cost-of-living crisis with fuel poverty a major problem for many across the country, the university is experiencing a housing crisis with record numbers of students forced to commute and globally there is a major drive to reduce car usage and increase public transport numbers to combat climate change.
The re-opening of St Andrews’ railway station won’t solve all these problems, but it would help to reduce their devastating impacts.
Due to its small nature, many students like to leave the town to explore Scotland, go to shops or clubs not around in our three streets (sorry 601 but you aren’t always what we’re looking for) or just have a McDonald’s burger in Dundee. A 2021 study showed that 90% of the students at St Andrews leave the town at least once a month, with the majority heading to Edinburgh. If the train station re-opened here, this would make the journey significantly easier with a direct link from St Andrews to the capital.
A train station here wouldn’t just improve the lives and experiences of students trying to leave the town, it would also improve things for the businesses here, increasing the number of day visitors, tourists, and customers to help rejuvenate businesses and the community.
Every year, St Andrews encourages huge numbers of tourists, boosts the Scottish economy, and brings in some of the world’s best and brightest students. Although the anticipated £76 million required to repair the train station is an eye-watering amount, the anticipated revenue from the increased numbers of tourists and day visitors, and the stress it would save students, would make it worthwhile.
The time and effort that has been put in by those campaigning have been incredible and hopefully, it will pay off in the decision made by Transport Scotland and the Scottish government. It’s now up to them to give the green light and the effort to get St Andrews back on the track can begin, full steam ahead.