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15 years and a million train journeys on, has Laurencekirk train station been worth it?

The train station was reopened 42 years after shutting its doors, with hundreds of locals turning out for the occasion.

Laurencekirk train station was reopened 15 years ago, but do locals think it's made a difference? Image: Darrell Benns / DC Thomson
Laurencekirk train station was reopened 15 years ago, but do locals think it's made a difference? Image: Darrell Benns / DC Thomson

More than 1 million passengers have used Laurencekirk’s train station since it reopened 15 years ago — but has it made a difference?

The original station was closed in 1967 along with several other north-east platforms during the notorious Beeching cuts.

For decades, locals campaigned to bring trains back to the town in the heart of the Mearns, and they were finally able to celebrate the “fruits of their labour” following a £3.9m revamp.

The 15-year-old station. Image: Paul Glendell / DC Thomson

On May 17, 2009, hundreds of well-wishers turned out to watch and cheer as the first passenger train in 42 years pulled to a stop in Laurencekirk. The sun beat down and the champagne flowed as locals celebrated the return of their long-awaited service.

And 15 years on, 1,192,203 passenger journeys have been made since the station reopened.

But how has it affected the community?

Read on to find out:

  • If local business owners think the station has made a difference
  • What local people think of transport in Laurencekirk
  • A breakdown of the passenger numbers over the 15 years
  • And take part in our poll to let us know what you think about the Laurencekirk train station

Train station makes Laurencekirk ‘more attractive’

Emmanuel Lopez, owner of Chez Raphael and the newly opened Le Bouchon, says the train station has made the small town “more attractive”.

His two businesses are located on the High Street, less than a 10-minute walk from the railway station.

Emmanuel says the station makes Laurencekirk a “focal point”. Image: Lauren Taylor / DC Thomson

The Frenchman wasn’t living in the town when the station reopened, but he says from what he’s heard from locals it’s improved the possibility of commuting to Dundee or Aberdeen.

“If you come here in the morning at around 7am or 8am you see people coming in and out, and it’s cool,” he said with a smile. “That’s activity and activity is always nice.

“The only trouble here is the lack of buses. At the moment, there are very few bus services, they’re not working on the weekends and there are other issues.

“That’s the last thing they need to improve here because there’s a big demand for it. But, people are quite happy with the train station.”

Locals use the train because ‘it’s easy and it’s quick’

The hospitality owner takes the train when he goes to Aberdeen instead of driving there in his work van.

“It’s easy and it’s quick, it’s not cheap but it’s alright. He finished with a chuckle: “You can’t have it all can you?”

Emily Watt, a waitress at Gannets also uses the train to go out with her friends in Montrose or for day trips in Aberdeen.

Laurencekirk station. Image: Darrell Benns / DC Thomson

When she moved to the town with her family, the train station was already running, and the now 19-year-old thought it had “always been there”.

She said: “Me and my friends use it to go to Montrose or something for a night out once a week, or once every two weeks at least.

“I do drive, but if we’re going to Aberdeen for the day we take the train because it saves us from driving and it’s convenient. You don’t have to worry about who is driving, if there’s enough seats in the car, that sort of thing.”

Crafter recalls watching trains at the station when he was younger

Amanda Barclay, who owns Holly Mae’s Crafts and Gifts, says she thinks the station “keeps the village alive”.

Her High Street shop stocks goods made by people across the north-east, and a few of the crafters use the train to get to Laurencekirk.

Although Amanda doesn’t use the trains herself, she knows other people who rely on them. Image: Lauren Taylor / DC Thomson

“My daughter used to use the train before she had a car to go to the cinema and that,” she explained. “And there’s no buses, they are so irregular.

“But now she has a car, she just drives just because it’s cheaper and convenient.”

One of the crafters George Massie was in the shop at the same time, and both of them agreed it “all comes down to costs”.

George, who now lives in Montrose, grew up in Luthermuir said it was “sad” when the Laurencekirk station closed down.

George with some of his handmade wooden crafts in the Laurencekirk shop. Image: Lauren Taylor / DC Thomson

“I used to go down to the train station when I was a youngster at lunchtime to watch the trains,” he told us.

He also fondly described memories of later helping shift yellow lime off the trains and loading it onto trucks, so it could be transported to farms to be spread across fields.

And they both agreed that crowds always turn out at the station to watch the Flying Scotsman when it tours the east coast.

But, Laurencekirk trains often get ‘cancelled at last minute’

The Royal Hotel on Conveth Park is practically around the corner from the train station.

Owner Sandra Paterson told me when the station was being rebuilt they had workers staying with them.

But she argued the station hasn’t made a difference to their business or the village.

Sandra says she “doesn’t mind” using the trains but they often get cancelled and are unreliable.Image: Lauren Taylor / DC Thomson

“The trains get cancelled last minute, and it’s nae cheap either,” she said.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve gone to Aberdeen and my husband has had to come get me, or how many people we’ve given a lift into the city because they couldn’t get in.

“It’s a joke, if you want to go to Dundee you have to get the train to Montrose and then to Dundee.”

She once got the bus to Aberdeen, but it went “in and out of every village” and she decided to just drive instead.

What do you think about the Laurencekirk train station? Let us know in our comments section below…

Laurencekirk station unmanned and with no services

And fed-up travellers occasionally stop in by the hotel to have a drink while they wait for their next train if there’s any disruption.

I couldn’t help but wonder if she thought it was better when the station just opened.

Exasperated, Sandra answered: “It’s been the same for years. When they’re running it’s fine, but there’s hardly a week that goes by without trains being cancelled, and I’m nae exaggerating.”

On the day I visited Laurencekirk, there was a signalling fault between Aberdeen and Montrose, meaning all trains were cancelled.

James was concerned by the lack of information about the cancellations. Image: Lauren Taylor / DC Thomson

I spoke to James Hatter and his friends who were waiting for a replacement bus service back to Kintore. They had been in Laurencekirk visiting for the day.

Although the group didn’t mind the disruption too much, they said there was no one at the platform to inform them of the changes and they only found out about the replacement bus after calling up customer services.

And they were left waiting at the station that does not have a toilet, with the closest public facility being on the High Street. But they didn’t want to go that far in case they missed their replacement bus home.

He said: “My only concern is that no real information was given prior in terms of what was going to be happening. One or two people who were already here, they left upset.”

How many passengers have used the Laurencekirk train station?

Scotrail currently operates 22 trains between Laurencekirk and Aberdeen every day, and 21 from the village to Dundee.

Since May 2009, there’s been more than a million passenger journeys made from the Mearns town.

In 2014, the numbers peaked at 112,963 for the whole year.

And while the passenger numbers were impacted by lockdown, they have been slowly growing ever since.

Scott Prentice, Scotrail strategy and planning director, said: “We’re delighted to be marking the fifteenth anniversary of Laurencekirk station, with more than a million passenger journeys made from the Aberdeenshire station.

“We know how much the communities of Laurencekirk and the Mearns value the station, and we’ve worked hard over the years to listen and develop improvements to our rail services in the north-east.”

‘Strong case’ for more north-east stations, says campaigners

Jordan Jack, a spokesman for Campaign for North East Rail (CNER) said the reopening of Laurencekirk station “began a trend that continues to this day”.

According to the campaigner, rail projects in Scotland have “time and time again” outperformed their expected passenger numbers.

Jordan Jack, co-founder and spokesman for CNER. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

CNER has been fighting to bring back Peterhead and Fraserburgh rail links for years and believes there’s an “appetite” for train travel across the country following the success of Kintore and Laurencekirk, as well as, the Borders Railway and the soon-to-be-opened Leven line.

Proposals are also being considered to reopen stations at Cove and Newtonhill, adding two more stops on the East Coast line.

He said: “15 years on, we’re now much more aware of the climate emergency facing us all. Achieving a modal shift from road to rail is one of the most powerful carbon-saving moves available to any government.

“The only way to actually get people out of their cars is to provide them with a better alternative, and that’s the railway.

“There’s a strong case for stations in Cove and Newtonhill, and for extending the East Coast mainline through Ellon, Peterhead and Fraserburgh.

“15 years from now, I wonder where else will be enjoying the transformative change that rail brings; social inclusion, economic development, cleaner air and environmental sustainability.”

We want to know what you think, take part in our poll to let us know:

Read more about plans to reconnect the north-east via rails: