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‘We’ll all be on zimmers before Evanton Railway Station reopens’ says riled community campaigners

Campaigners with placards at Evanton Railway Station
The Cromarty Firth Freeport could be the light at the end of the tunnel for tireless campaigners wanting to reopen Evanton Railway Station, led by stalwart George Glaister (front left). Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Residents fighting a long-running battle to get Evanton Railway Station reopened say they’ll be on walking sticks by the time of any grand opening ceremony.

The locals are up in arms at the time it is taking to get their station back up and running after it fell victim to the 1960s Beeching railway cuts.

They wave at the trains, sometimes with placards in hand, that trundle past four times a day.

The driver never stops to let people on and off at the tiny disused station left overgrown by a 60-year sleep.

‘We’re just being ignored’

George Glaister with a train stopping at the disused Evanton Railway Station. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

Lead campaigner George Glaister says its a frustrating situation.

“We’re just being bypassed here in Evanton,” he says. “The train actually stops here long enough to let people on and off, it’s probably waiting for the line to clear down the track.

“But Transport Scotland are a joke, dragging their feet for decades and missing out on the revenue from a village of 1,700 people.”

Here comes the train that never stops…

A Scotrail train for the far north passes through Evanton.
The train passes through Evanton every day. Image: Sandy McCook/ DC Thomson

Retired 66-year-old mapmaker George hopes the campaign is being heard by the Scottish Government’s transport agency Transport Scotland.

He added: “I fear we may have to invest in zimmer frames by the time the station actually reopens in Evanton.

“The Scottish Government has just spent £15 million opening the new Inverness Airport Railway Station.

“It would cost a fraction of that to clear some bushes and extend our existing platform.”

Hitrans boss on case but it could be an uphill struggle

Frank Roach of Hitrans with the new Inverness Airport Railway Station. Image: Sandy McCook

The region’s transport agency Hitrans said it is trying to get Evanton Railway Station reopened.

Partnership manager Frank Roach met with the community last month but says reopening the station could take five to 10 years.

He said: “Feasibility work is being done to see how Evanton can fit into the proposed hourly service to Invergordon and Tain.

“The problem is, if we stop trains at Evanton it’s going to cost three minutes. If we spent those three minutes, the trains won’t be able to get from Inverness to Wick within a driver’s shift, before they have to stop for a rest break.”

Could freeport be just the ticket?

The Inverness and Cromarty Firth Green Freeport could spark an employment boom that could create tens of thousands of jobs in the Highlands. Picture shows the Port of Cromarty Firth. Image: Port of Cromarty Firth

Frank believes the number of forecasted jobs being created as a result of the Green Freeport activity means there will be substantial demand for new housing.

Places like Evanton being potential locations “will strengthen the case for reopening the railway station”, he says.

He added: “Electrification produces faster trains, so that might be one way around it.

“Or, we might also be able to get into a position where we stop some trains but not them all.”

He added: “It could be happen within five to 10 years. The Scottish Government’s target to reduce vehicle miles by 20% by 2030 will require people to shift mode.”

Could the £25 million freeport seed money fund Evanton Rail Station?

Map of green freeport area
The size of the Freeport area is significant. Image: Clarke Cooper/DCT Media.

It’s a question George and the Evanton railway campaigners say they’ve been asking ever since Inverness and Cromarty Firth won freeport status in a UK Government competition last month.

The steering group called Opportunity Cromarty Firth (OCF) was gifted £25 million of UK Government “seed money”.

It can spend this cash on anything it feels will best prepare the area for the anticipated influx of people needed to fill the promised 25,000 jobs.

Freeport cash spend still being decided

Roy MacGregor of Global Energy which is c0-steering the Green Freeport. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson

OCF’s make-up includes Highland Council, Inverness Chamber of Commerce, Port of Cromarty Firth, Global Energy Group, Port of Inverness, and University of the Highlands and Islands.

It claims Green Freeport status will bring “employment and business opportunities to the Highlands on a scale not seen since the arrival of the North Sea oil and gas industry in the 1970s” but the Greens are concerned and dubious.

OCF says it hasn’t decided what it wants to do with the £25 million.

A spokesman said: “There are a number of key projects that will be considered as part of the Inverness and Cromarty Firth Green Freeport, but at this very early stage in the setting up of the Green Freeport we are not yet able to confirm what those projects will be.”

What about government support?

Transport Scotland says a new station for Evanton was “considered as part of the recent Strategic Transport Projects Review“, but ultimately it wasn’t recommended for prioritising.

A spokesman added: “However, there remains a path for regional or local rail projects to come forward, and Transport Scotland will consider these subject to a strong business case being developed.”

He said such a business case would need to be created in accordance with the government’s rules, and “suitable funding being available”.