Transport in Central Fife

a report by John Morton for Glenrothes Area Futures Group

This report deals mainly with road and rail links in central Fife (broadly, the area of influence of Glenrothes, western Levenmouth and northern Kirkcaldy). Other transport links are briefly dealt with first:-

(a) Ferry services across the Forth: These once existed (before rail and road bridges were built at Queensferry) and are again being mentioned, the main routes being Kirkcaldy-Leith (hovercraft) and Burntisland-Leith (boat). The rationale is to attempt to relieve congestion on the Forth bridges at Queensferry. If such services become popular (which is highly doubtful), the main effect will be to increase congestion in Kirkcaldy and Burntisland.

(b) Fife Airport: This is almost entirely a recreational facility at present and has just one main runway, probably of insufficient length to guarantee safe landing for, say, an Airbus. Its potential for charter flights, regular passenger flights or cargo flights is virtually nil, though it could be used for executive flights.

(c) Shipping: There is currently a loss-making ferry service between Rosyth and Zeebrugge: it has failed, so far at any rate, to capture much freight traffic. The aluminium traffic has gone from Burntisland Docks and Methil fares little better. The only significant sea freight is oil at Aberdour for the Lochgelly refinery. In terms of ferries, a link to Bergen or Århus might be more appropriate than one to Zeebrugge.

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The Road Network

The main road in central Fife is the A92, a road that runs between Crossgates on the M90 and Stonehaven on the A90. It is a trunk road between Halbeath and Dundee. It is designed so as to funnel westbound traffic from central Fife onto the M90 rather than, say, towards Dunfermline, Kincardine, Alloa and Stirling. Its original route ran along the coast (Aberdour, Burntisland, Kinghorn) and right through the middle of Kirkcaldy, then going inland through Thornton and Woodside. This was by-passed by the new road from Crossgates, which is a well-engineered and generally adequate dual carriageway as far as the Red House Roundabout, where it crosses its old route. This roundabout, together with the other ones on the new route at Bankhead and Prestonhall, causes major problems. After Prestonhall the old and new routes merge: the deterioration in road quality on passing Prestonhall northwards is very marked.

Western access for Kirkcaldy on this road is good, with traffic joining and leaving at the Chapel/Cluny Interchange. Northern access is appalling (Red House Roundabout), as that roundabout is also used by all raffic between Glenrothes and Kirkcaldy and by the vast majority of traffic from Levenmouth – either joining there or previously joined at the Prestonhall Roundabout. Red House Roundabout, therefore, sees three major conflicting movements, i.e. Kirkcaldy-Dundee etc., Levenmouth-Dunfermline etc. and Glenrothes-Edinburgh etc. Even with flyovers or underpasses it would not be easy to resolve these conflicts.

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The Bankhead Roundabout serves southern and western Glenrothes, together with Eastfield, Coaltown and Milton. There is also a significant amount of traffic between Eastfield and Westfield (and their environs, e.g. Cowdenbeath) that uses this roundabout without otherwise touching the A92. In other words, there is a serious traffic conflict at this roundabout.

Not as serious, however, as that at the Prestonhall Roundabout. Not only is this the main access point for Glenrothes to the A92, it is also astride the A911, a heavily-used road between Glenrothes and Levenmouth. There are, thus, two major flows crossing here (Glenrothes-Levenmouth and Kirkcaldy-Dundee), together with substantial interchange between these flows (e.g. Levenmouth-Edinburgh, Glenrothes-Dunfermline, Markinch-Leslie).

It should, perhaps, be noted here that Tullis Russell (papermakers) is planning to build a new electric power station run on biomass, with the biomass being transported in fleets of lorries along the A92 at this point. Currently, it seems likely that biomass from the north will loop right round Prestonhall Roundabout to gain access.

North of Prestonhall, the A92 becomes single-carriageway to the bridge over the Tay – but for two short sections (Balfarg to New Inn Roundabout and the last few hundred metres before the bridge). Between New Inn and Cupar (north thereof) the A92 runs through rich agricultural countryside (the Howe of Fife), so this single-carriageway stretch is frequented by slow-moving agricultural machinery. As a minimum, some short dualled stretches should be built in that area to allow safe passing.

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But one major problem has not yet been addressed, namely the Balfarg Junction. This is where the busy Western Avenue joins the A92 (another main access for Glenrothes), with a significant amount of traffic also from the Star/Markinch road on the west. Various attempts have been made to “improve” this junction, but none are anything like radical enough.

The problem with the A92 route is that it runs the wrong side of Glenrothes. It runs north-south between Balfarg and Red House, then east-west between there and Crossgates. It would make sense, therefore, to re-route it south of Balfarg so that it follows the Western Avenue round the north and west of Glenrothes, rejoining its present route at a point between the Chapel/Cluny Interchange and Red House Roundabout. This would leave Red House Roundabout with just two conflicting movements – Levenmouth-Dunfermline and Glenrothes-Kirkcaldy – as the Glenrothes-Edinburgh and Kirkcaldy-Dundee traffic would be on the re-routed A92 at that point. The remaining conflict can be dealt with by building an underpass for the present A92 west at Red House, running east NOT onto the present A92 east but onto the A915 (Standing Stane Road) to Levenmouth. This would totally transform world access to Levenmouth. It would also mean that Glenrothes-Kirkcaldy traffic could proceed unfettered by the Red House Roundabout: it could even be replaced by a straightforward road junction for Thornton.

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As for the nature of the new route, this should be similar to the A92 at Cluny and to the west, i.e. no flat junctions. Such infrastructure is already largely in place on the Bankhead-Kinglassie road, which would become one of the two main access points for Glenrothes, the other being by the Leslie Roundabout. There should be no interchange of any description between these two, and the roadway should be suitably shielded from buildings, e.g. by being significantly sunk. Between the Leslie Roundabout and Balfarg Interchange are two local accesses for (a) Pitcoudie/Collydean and (b) Balfarg/Coul. The traffic movements should be separated here, with local roads flying over the new A92 and with limited access to it (e.g. only northbound or only southbound).

It will, of course, also be necessary to dual the A911 between Leslie Roundabout and central Glenrothes. Indeed, parts of the A911 west of there could do with substantial improvement, as could the A912 New Inn-Bridge of Earn Road.

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The Rail Network

Currently, there is only one rail route into Fife that does not involve crossing a somewhat perilous bridge – and that is the single-track line between Perth and Ladybank. It is expected that another route will shortly open, between Stirling and Dunfermline, but this will be primarily for freight.

The Forth Bridge is getting on in years, though it’s in rather better shape than the neighbouring road bridge. It has a weight restriction on it, such that it is not allowed for two coal trains to be on the bridge at the same time. Also, its construction makes it impossible, e.g., to add additional tracks. But its main problem is that it is used to capacity: no more trains can physically be run over the bridge than currently do at peak periods.

For this reason, it is hoped that the new Forth crossing, whether bridge or tunnel, will be multi-modal, e.g. with tramlines, in order to reduce the demand for the heavy-rail Forth Bridge trains. This can be done by running a tram service between Edinburgh and Dunfermline. That, hopefully, will leave enough room on the present bridge to enhance the service for the rest of Fife (Kirkcaldy, Glenrothes, Cowdenbeath, Cupar etc.).

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The Tay Bridge is in far worse fettle. Here, the weight restriction is such that no more than one train of any description is allowed onto the bridge at the same time. In other words, the Tay Bridge has, effectively, become a stretch of single track. Like its predecessor, it needs to be replaced – this time, hopefully, BEFORE it falls down! It carries, after all, the main line from Scotland’s third AND fourth largest cities to the capitals of Scotland and England.

Apart from the Forth Bridge, signalling sections between Edinburgh and Ladybank are typically no more than a kilometre. This means that a frequent service can be provided. However, north of Ladybank this is not the case. Thus, for instance, a northbound train cannot leave Cupar until the previous one has cleared Leuchars. The signalling system needs updated in NE Fife.

While the service between Fife and Perth is not enormous – roughly one train each two hours – the long single-track stretch between Ladybank and Hilton Junction (Perth) causes problems. It would be of great benefit to provide a passing loop (and a station) at Newburgh.

It is a fact that it takes an inter-city train roughly the same amount of time to get from Edinburgh to Dundee (approx. 100 km) as to get from Edinburgh to Newcastle (200 km) or Dundee to Aberdeen (150 km). Apart from speed restrictions on the bridges and a lower maximum allowed speed (only 100 mph north of Edinburgh), the main cause of this is the tortuous rail route between North Queensferry and Markinch. There are significant curves at Thornton, Aberdour and Burntisland, together with a crooked tunnel at Kinghorn. In view of the dense settlement in Burntisland, Aberdour and Kinghorn, rebores and minor re-routing are not really an option.

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In addition, Fife’s main town for administrative purposes, Glenrothes, is not on the rail network. Other nasty rail features include the severe gradients between Inverkeithing and North Queensferry and between Dunfermline and Cowdenbeath.

Inverkeithing Station is not far above sea level, yet North Queensferry, only 2 km away, is at quite a height, because of the Forth Bridge. The track gradient between the two is 1 in 70. Similar gradients are met between Dunfermline and Cowdenbeath.

Also, because of the vicissitudes of fitting in with express services and the timetabling vagaries of inter-city services, the local services are very badly spaced between Edinburgh and Inverkeithing (not so bad once past Inverkeithing). Indeed, instead of one local service roughly every 15 minutes, there are gaps of 5 minutes and 25 minutes at South Gyle, Dalmeny and North Queensferry.

The solution is costly, but should, nevertheless, be done. That is, to build a new line from North Queensferry, running above the M90 past Inverkeithing, then cutting through the hills underneath Crossgates, joining the existing track briefly at Cowdenbeath, then by Kinglassie, underneath Glenrothes (with a new major station sited beneath the present bus station), over the Leven, under Cadham and Balfarg, rejoining the present main line by New Inn/Kirkforthar.

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As for services, the Fife Circles should run as they do now – hourly in each direction, two-hourly on Sundays/evenings. The services that currently terminate at Cowdenbeath and Markinch should run on, in the case of Cowdenbeath to Ladybank via Markinch and of Markinch to Dundee or Perth. All inter-city services and at least half the express services should use the new route, with occasional expresses running through Kirkcaldy or Dunfermline. A new service could be introduced, e.g. running all stations between Glenrothes and Stirling via Kinglassie, Cowdenbeath, Dunfermline, Kincardine and Alloa. Fast trains will need to be provided for Kirkcaldy to replace those lost to the new route – these could be Methil-Edinburgh services. Over the Forth Bridge there would typically be (a) either two express trains or one express and one inter-city, (b) two Fife Circles, (c) one “Markinch” (Dundee) and one “Cowdenbeath” (Ladybank) train and (d) one “Methil Flyer” each hour, 7 trains an hour, leaving about 3 slots for eventualities like (1) a fast Dunfermline service, (2) goods trains or (3) late running.

As for station car parks – where road meets rail – these should be free for rail users. This can be done either by using “smart” rail tickets or by a pay-as-you-enter system where you get the payment deducted from the ticket price when you buy a ticket. This, of course, would only apply to station car parks that tend to become filled by non-rail users: other station car parks would remain free anyway.

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