A train driver has launched an ambitious campaign to get Aberdeen “back on track” and reconnect north-east communities with discontinued rail services.
The Campaign For North-East Rail (CNER) has set out plans to bring modern infrastructure to the “forgotten” corners of Aberdeenshire, cut off from the network since the Beeching cuts in the 1960s.
Jordan Jack’s plan, which he worked on with engineers for six months, details the case for train links to Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Banchory.
It also covers an integrated bus service all the way west from Banchory to Braemar.
He said the proposals will boost tourism, help the fishing industry transfer freight from road to rail, tackle climate change and offer a “lifeline for isolated communities”.
If realised, the vision would connect 10 of Aberdeenshire’s largest towns to “fast, reliable public transport, providing an utterly transformative system that will result in massive modal shift for thousands of people in the region”.
It would require a number of major infrastructure projects to proceed, such as a bridge over the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, and reconstruction of the Cruden Bay viaduct.
Members of the campaign, however, say public appetite for rail is “extremely high”.
The release of its plan follows calls for other improvements in the north-east.
In 2019, an £80,000 feasibility study was announced to explore the opening of new platforms in Cove Bay, Altens and Newtonhill, to the south of Aberdeen.
And last year Kintore welcomed train passengers for the first time in 56 years with the opening of a £15 million new station.
Mr Jack, who compiled the report with mechanical engineer Wyndham Williams, said a more detailed dossier examining the minute details of the proposals is being finalised.
“Aberdeen is the third-largest city in Scotland, yet has the least rail connections of all seven,” he said.
“Vast swathes of the region lost vital rail links to the Beeching cuts. Only two lines survived: One to Dundee, and another to Inverness.
“Only stations that happen to be on the routes between these cities are lucky enough to have access to rail.”
Mr Jack added: “We are 100% sure these plans are feasible, from an engineering perspective and from an operational perspective.
“And we know from the success of the Borders railway that patronage will be higher than previously predicted.
“We’ve recommended the old alignment where appropriate and more expensive options where they will work best.
“So it is affordable – and we can’t afford to not do this.”
Aberdeenshire Council deputy leader and infrastructure chairman, Peter Argyle, said: “It is good to see the enthusiasm and ambition of this group but it must be recognised that hugely expensive capital projects such as these need a robust business case if they are to prosper when competing with other major transport projects for government funding.
“Nestrans has done a huge amount of work on this question over many years, working with Transport Scotland and that is reflected in the new regional transport strategy – which was drawn up after significant consultation with partners and the public.
“Whether this campaign will be able to change completely the approach of government to developing major infrastructure projects remains to be seen.
“Bringing about such a change will be challenging. I will, of course, be following the discussions on this with interest.
New routes proposed
The proposals include the reopening of 16 train stations across the north-east and a further 22 modifications deemed necessary to establish a “modern railway”.
Heading north from Aberdeen, journeys could take passengers through Newmachar and Pitmedden to Ellon.
From there they would branch off to Maud, Strichen and Fraserburgh, or to Peterhead via Cruden Bay and potentially Hatton.
Journeys into Deeside could make stops at reopened platforms in Garthdee, Bieldside, Peterculter, Crathes and Banchory.
An integrated bus link would then take passengers west to Aboyne, Ballater, Balmoral and Braemar.
And to the south of the city, trains leaving Aberdeen could stop at Cove Bay and Newtonhill on their way to Stonehaven and further afield.
In order to realise these plans, CNER has outlined a number of other changes which will be needed.
These include some track realignments and straightening and the “repositioning” of some disused stations.
The documents say the Strichen stop could be moved closer to the village, with the Fraserburgh track ending nearer the retail park and beach.
A number of options for relocating Garthdee and Bieldside are also referenced.
Some larger infrastructure works would also be needed.
CNER says its proposed route to Peterhead will require the reconstruction of a viaduct at Cruden Bay.
It’s suggested rail links to Deeside would need new bridges at Garthdee – and also between Peterculter and Crathes to take it over the AWPR.
The proposals also take into account the railway’s heritage, with efforts to preserve a number of historic platforms and sections of track for the future.