The Campaign for North East Rail (CNER) has been fighting to bring back Peterhead and Fraserburgh rail links for years — but will 2024 finally be the year plans go full steam ahead?
Jordan Jack, Craig Leuchars and Wyndham Williams have been campaigning to reconnect the “forgotten corner” since 2021, and 2023 was no different.
Peterhead and Fraserburgh are the two most populated towns the furthest from a train station across the UK.
Years ago, the trio realised there was a serious problem with transport in the north-east and felt there was an obvious need for a railway line going north to Buchan.
Since forming in 2021, they have been lobbying politicians, taking part in consultations and pushing for better rail links to be put on the table once and for all.
And, in 2022 they made a major breakthrough after being awarded £165,000 from the Scottish Government’s Just Transition fund to study the Buchan transport links.
We caught up with Jordan and Craig to find out what Campaign North East Rail (CNER) has been up to in 2023, and what we can expect from them in 2024.
Study a huge step forward for Campaign for North East Rail
It’s a wet, and chilly morning at Dyce railway station, and as we shelter from the downpour of rain Jordan and Craig tell me more about the Buchan Sustainable Transport Study.
Over the last year, the group has been working away behind the scenes and appointed two transport consultants to focus on the research.
Two surveys are looking at transport links between Dyce and Fraserburgh/Peterhead; one for residents, and one for businesses and organisations based in the area.
The information collected in the surveys will be analysed and used to inform decisions.
A similar study was undertaken in 2016 and 2017, but the group felt it lacked “local knowledge”.
So now, they have “paralleled” what was done in 2016 and 2017, but have updated the work with the missing Boddam line and journey time analysis.
The survey will run until January 3.
Bus service headaches show more north-east trains needed
Throughout the consultation process, it’s been shown that the unreliability of buses, the infrequency of services, and a lack of accessible seats on buses are issues for people in Buchan.
But, both Craig and Jordan stress they want “a transport system that works in harmony”.
They believe with proper planning, trains and buses could work together to reconnect the north-east.
Jordan gave the example of getting the train to Ellon and then taking a bus to Newburgh, and having buses servicing the stop so it becomes a “fully integrated” system.
I couldn’t help but wonder if the cuts to Inverurie trains to boost services between Aberdeen and Glasgow had impacted the campaign at all?
But both Jordan and Craig seem pretty certain this is just a temporary measure.
While Craig described it as a “quick fix” to “scavenge” train sets to service the Levenbank line, Jordan did admit it was “bad for the north-east”
They have also thrown their weight behind a petition launched in June to reopen Cove and Newtonhill railway stations, which closed in 1956.
The petition has more 1,000 signatures.
While this isn’t a petition launched by CNER, the activists say they are “100% backing” reopening the stations.
Will tracks to Peterhead and Fraserburgh be built in 2024?
As we’re chatting away, another train slowly pulls to a stop and causes a flurry of excitement as a horde of people get off and others scramble on board.
I had to ask — will 2024 be the year lines to Fraserburgh and Peterhead start to get built?
Ultimately, the answer is no.
But, there’s a lot of hope that instead it could be the year the plans get officially on track.
Once the transport study finishes on January 3, the team will analyse the responses — and they hope to see rail as one of the top priorities.
They will then start to work on a preliminary options appraisal, which will be delivered to the Scottish Government in April.
And if that is received well, CNER will apply for more funding to carry out a detailed options appraisal.
Yes, it seems like a lot of red tape to deal with but what this all means is after April, the group could be looking at plans to build the new tracks and where the lines would go.
Jordan said: “We’re pretty sure we’re going to have a good result with this study, the next study is maybe six months to a year if we can get that funded and if we can get a positive case from that, talking end of 2024, then we’re just arguing for it to be built.
“At the end of this study, we will be where we were in 2017, but hopefully with a much more positive result.”
Craig added with a smile: “Then the political lobbying really does start.”
Is scepticism of big, ambitious dreams a ‘north-east thing’?
The activists hope to spend 2024 spreading the word about their campaign, and breaking through the “barrier” to show that railway links to Fraserburgh and Peterhead could happen.
“Locally, I think everyone really wants it to happen,” Jordan explained. “They feel like it should happen, but folk think it never will.
“We kind of need to break through that barrier and show this will happen if we demand it.”
Craig agreed: “It’s building that belief and, I think, as long as we believe it can happen it will happen.
“It’s a north-east thing, isn’t it? I think people have become skeptical because there have been so many things that haven’t happened and people think it’s getting their hopes up.”
While Jordan, Craig and Wyndham have been successfully fighting to “Connect our Coast” since 2021, they all have full-time jobs and families to look after.
They recognise the campaign has had a “snowball effect” with more people becoming interested in more railway links and more questions being asked.
But they also have recognised that they have got to the point they need to grow.
And so, in a few months there will be opportunities to join the campaign and CNER will create a committee to keep the pressure on for new, and better, rail links in the north-east.
Take part in the survey before January 3 online here or call 0131 335 4200.
Find out more about the Campaign for North East Rail and keep an eye out for committee opportunities here.