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Fife’s ‘forgotten’ town? The mission to put Newburgh back on the rails

Since 1955 Newburgh has been cut off from the rail network, but the Newburgh Train Station Campaign wants to change that for good.

Newburgh train station campaigner Nigel Mullan. Image: Kim Cessford / DC Thomson
Newburgh train station campaigner Nigel Mullan. Image: Kim Cessford / DC Thomson

The railway line cuts into the steep slope above Newburgh, with trains carrying passengers on their journeys from Perth to Edinburgh.

The Fife town’s 2,000 or so residents are merely onlookers, living without a station since 1955.

However, if members of the Newburgh Train Station Campaign (NTSC) get their way then this could be about to change.

Newburgh is Scotland’s largest town on a railway line that has no station, campaigners argue. And members of the NTSC desperately want that to change.

At the centre of the 13-year campaign is Nigel Mullan – an animated Newburgh High Street resident.

“A railway station will mean journey times cut and it will also take more cars off the road”, he explains.

“This will result in more community sustainability and help with Net Zero targets.”

But how much would a new train station cost?

Nigel says it could be cheaper in Newburgh than some might think.

“If you’re going for a development like at East Linton – they’re spending £6 million or something like that”, he explains.

“But, we did some costings and it could be up to £2 million. If you a look at a low cost option too, which involves using lightweight modular platform systems that can be shifted by hand. That could come to £600,000.

“I know toilets are an issue for a lot of business in Newburgh. Not only could we be building railway infrastructure, but some of these other neglected services could fall in behind.”

Proposed site for the new station in Newburgh
The proposed site for the new station in Newburgh. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson

Could a new station help whisky loving tourists?

I met a nervous looking Nigel on Saturday January 27 as he waited to see who would turn up for a hastily organised campaign meeting at Lindores Abbey Distillery.

His nerves were settled when nearly 100 people came along to the session.

The distillery’s managing director and founder, Drew McKenzie Smith also backs the campaign.

Owners of Lindores Abbey Distillery, Drew, Helen and their daughter Gee McKenzie Smith.

“We get around 30,000 visitors per year from around 70 countries, but being a distillery making whisky one of the main problems is travel”, he explains.

“If there was a station people could spend 2-3 hours here and then go home merrily without worrying about cars.

“If they could just get on a train it would make their life much easier. A few of our workers are also based in Dunfermline and Edinburgh, so it would also make life easier for them.”

Is Newburgh Fife’s forgotten town?

Newburgh straddles the Perth and Kinross border, with Fife ending at a dip in the road before Abernethy.

Some locals feel this means the town receives less attention than the region’s other areas.

“My family has been here since 1905 and have seen a fair bit of change”, says Mr McKenzie Smith.

“There used to be a linoleum factory, which was the biggest employer in the town at one point.

“Sadly, it burnt down and this slightly tore the heart out of the town. Losing the train station has been a blow over a long period of time.

“Newburgh has struggled for employment and inward investment and we’re right on the edge of Fife, so we’re slightly forgotten about.

“Fife is a great county that has the East Neuk of Fife, which benefits greatly from tourism.

“And then you have West Fife with the ex-mining villages, which were really poorly treated.

“Both sides get lots of investment for completely different reasons. Whereas, Newburgh sort of falls between the cracks.”

Campaigners and local residents wanting to learn more about the campaign gathered in Lindores Abbey Distillery. Image: Kim Cessford/DC Thomson

Crossing the Tay can prove ‘exhausting’ for Newburgh patients

Members of the campaign argue that a train station could help change this perception and make it easier to travel to cities like Dundee.

From the traditionally agricultural town you can glimpse the oil rigs and high rises of the city beyond the vast expanse of the Tay estuary.

For some travelling to Dundee or Perth by public transport it can feel a lot further away than it looks.

The last services of the hourly 36 bus towards Perth and Glenrothes call at Newburgh at 6.25pm and 7.49pm respectively on weekdays.

The 94A service from Newburgh to St Andrews runs frequently and later.

But passengers have to connect to buses or trains bound for Dundee at Cupar.

This longer journey is all too familiar for Newburgh United Reformed Church Reverend Valerie Walker.

The former nurse used to commute to Dundee’s Ninewells Hospital.

“I know of cancer patients and others that have to drive themselves to Ninewells Hospital for treatment”, she says.

“That must be exhausting, especially if you are receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy, which is really hard.”

New Newburgh station could help commuters and day-trippers

Eliza Waye is Australian and moved to Newburgh from Edinburgh about a year ago with her husband, Mark Evans to find “more space”.

She now commutes into the capital five days a week, leaving Newburgh at 6.30am and returning after 6.30pm.

“I either drive in or I drive to Bridge of Earn and catch the electric bus or I drive to Ladybank and catch the train”, she says.

“It’s crazy because if I have to drive to the train station and catch the train that adds on around 25 minutes to my journey both ways.

“Parking in Edinburgh and the cost of me driving in with the fuel is also pretty expensive.

“And if you drive to Ingliston and catch the tram there it adds around 45 minutes onto your journey.”

“If you could encourage more migration to the town then it would help. There is one pub here that is closing because they’re just not making enough money.

“When we moved to Newburgh we were told that back in the day when the station was here there used to be a cinema, like eight pubs and that everything you needed in Newburgh was here.”

Nearly 100 people attended the event at Lindores Abbey Distillery, showing that there is an interest for a railway station to be built in Newburgh. Image: Kim Cessford/DC Thomson.

How far along the tracks is the campaign for a new train station?

After the meeting, Nigel told The Courier: “There was a good turnout and faces you don’t often see. There is a continuing level of support in this community which isn’t going away”

This was echoed by Ms Chamberlain, who is set to discuss the campaign with the UK minister of state for rail and HS2, Huw Merriman.

“My intention is to meet with him – see what the limitations might be – and it might just give a kick to the Transport Scotland side of things”, she says.

Transport Scotland is part of the Scottish Government.

Nigel Mullan from the Newburgh Train Station Campaign and Wendy Chamberlain MP would both like to see Newburgh have a rail link. Image: Kim Cessford/ DC Thomson

According to the Liberal Democrat MP, a new Newburgh station “is the type of quick win from a government perspective that you think they would want to deliver.

“I think one of the reasons why the build at Levenmouth has progressed so well is because it was built on what was an existing railway line.

“Here we’re not building a new line, we’re just asking for a station.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said a Newburgh station was not currently a priority “investment” project but “there remains a pathway for local or regional rail schemes to come forward”.