Puir infrastructur is a belt aboot Scotland’s thrapple. Oor roads ar pithailed anachronisms. Boats tae the isles ar auld an dear. Fleein tae ony airt ither than London gars ye traivel tae ane o the central belt aeroports, doublin the cost an time o ilka journey. Scotrail is a mixtur-maxtur o the sorry an the sublime. On ae haund there’s a braw new electric service breingin atween Embra an Glesca. On the ither haund ye hae twa-cairiage vintage trains rattlin aroond an aboot the hielands, gangin nae place fast. No anely is infrastructur puir, but infrastructur inequality is severe an growin warse ilka year. Gin ye want tae gang onywhaur in Scotland north o the Forth, by car, sea or rail, it’ll be slaw an it’ll be dear.
The effects o this ar extreme. Hale sections o Scotland ar economically uninhabitable.
Ane o the warst effectit airts is the Buchan. The Broch. Peterheid. Buckie. MacDuff. Big touns thrang wi cultur, business an potential, cut aff fae mercats an cities by an infrastructur that’s oot o date by decades.
A solution is chuggin reekily ower the horizon: the Buchan railway line. There ance wis a line linkin aa the North-East tae the rest o Scotland, but it wis torn oot by Beeching in his cuts. Nou a reinstatement is possible. The SNP ar gettin ahint the idea. It haes grassroots support.
Whither it’d be a full relayin o the auld 57-mile track that linked Peterheid an the Broch wi Dyce, or some new configuration, isnae yet set in stane. But whit is gey clear tae the maist blindit o een is the sair need in the area for a train line.
The fowk o the Buchan ar haein tae thole gey sair times the nou, in the wake o the ile crash an the decline o fishin. Unemployment is a huge issue. The nummer o fowk needin a haund fae the state rose by 97.5 per cent in 2016. The lack o ony ither employment opportunities in that airt means that thae fowk wha ar dumped oot on their dowp efter years o guid wark in the ile an gas industry arnae likely tae finnd new posts ony time suin. The unemployed ar mair nor likely tae be hale, hearty men atween the ages o aboot forty an saxty, an skilled warkers intae their sectors. Ae muckle barrier tae wark wis that they juist couldnae gang intae Aiberdeen for tae finnd wark or mak contacts; it wis juist ower faur. Nou, ye’re mibbie anely speakin aboot forty mile or so, but on thae totty wee roads, wi their ferm clart an tractors blockin yer run, it micht weel be twa oors tae drive. It’s fower oors an twenty quid return on the bus.
So aa these gey talentit lads, richt in the middle o their warkin lifes, ar bein left tae rot in the fields like unhowkit tatties, their skills deid tae the economy o Scotland.
An exemple fae near at haund shaws us clearly the benefits o a train line.
Ballatar an Braemar ar baith Cairngorm conurbations. Baith war on ane o the vital routes throu the Cairngorms an syne haed ivery raison tae be vibrant economic hubs. In the nineteen-hunners a trainline wis planned, tae link Braemar tae Aiberdeen. Construction got sae faur as tae big a railway station at Braemar, a biggin that staunds there yet.
But than intae this naitural development cam big Queen Vicky. She bocht Balmoral Castle, an a guid skelp o the laund thereaboot. She suin cam tae ken that the new railroad wad gang richt by her new front door. So the train wis stapped at Ballater, saxteen mile doun the road. Braemar was left tae stew in parochialism.
The difference atween the twa touns — ane wi a train station durin a century, the ither withoot — couldnae be mair merkit. The population o Ballater is double that o Braemar, its tourism infrastructur is weel-developit an it haes a relatively diverse economy.
The tearin up o the North o Scotland railroads pit a stap tae Ballater’s development, but the tale o the twa touns is a uissfu fable for unnerstaundin the importance o infrastructur in rural areas.
There is a braw modren test-case for rebiggin the Buchan railway line: the Borders Railway. The Borders line rins fae Embra doun tae Tweedbank, juist ayont Galashiels. The area wis ane o the maist disconnectit in Scotland, wi a hirplin tourism industry an prohibitive traivel costs. Busses tae Embra teuk ower twa oors, but this train taks unner ane. This situation is mirrored by the Broch an Aiberdeen.
The economic impact o the Border Railway haes been staggerin. Ower a million passengers in the first year — 350,000 mair than expectit — an a huge shot in the airm o local businesses. The Scottish Tourism Economic Assessment Monitor (STEAM) figurs for the Borders efter the biggin o the railway war aa fantastically positive: a 27 per cent increase in visitors steyin at hotels an B&Bs; 20 per cent mair spent by visitors on bevvy an scran. Aa across the buird nummers ar heized up.
There’s naebody doun there scratchin their heids speirin whaur aa this new money cam fae. They ken fine. “The introduction of the railway has undoubtedly contributed” tae aa this growthe, says Stuart Bell fae the Borders Council.
The Buchan needs this railway like it needs its neist breath o air. The belt o 19t century infrastructur needs lowsed aff the thrapple o the North-East.
The Transport Minister, an indeed aabody in the SNP leadership maun pit their shouder tae the wark an mak absolute certain that this project comes tae fruition. A new trainline will be the artery, pumpin the lifebluid o cash an fowk tae the Buchan hertlands that’s sae sairly needit. Wi’oot it? It’ll be yet anither tuim airt, anither Ross, anither Cairngorms, anither bleak wasteland that ance supportit life but nou anely exists for grouse shoots an postcairds.