The success of the recent reopened line to Tweedbank, with its projected extension southwards to Hawick and beyond, has given a boost to other proposed line reopening plans in Scotland, most notably the line to Fraserburgh and the links from Thornton Junction to Leven and from Leuchars to St Andrews.
The stations at Leven and St Andrews were once part of a rambling line that ran along much of the Fife coast, serving many of the attractive fishing ports that are such a feature of the east neuk of Fife.
The first section of the line to open was that from Leuchars Junction to St Andrews. The 4¾-mile long line was authorised as the independent St Andrews Railway following an Act of 3 July 1851 and was opened throughout on 1 July 1852. The line was engineered by Thomas Bouch, later to achieve notoriety as the designer of the first and ill-fated Tay Bridge, and his work on the St Andrews Railway perhaps offered a foretaste to future problems as it was engineered cheaply and to a poor quality. Indicative of the workmanship was the fact that two timber trestle viaducts — over the Eden and the Water of Mottray — were not properly treated with preservative.
The St Andrews Railway was operated from opening by the Edinburgh, Perth & Dundee Railway, which was taken over by the North British Railway on 29 July 1862. With NBR’s arrangement to operate due to cease on 31 July 1877, agreement was reached for the NBR to take-over the St Andrews Railway; this was approved by an Act of 28 June 1877 and took effect from 1 August of the same year. Under the NBR’s ownership, improvements to the line were undertaken, including the replacement of the trestle bridges in 1889.
The southern section of the line was initially promoted by the Leven Railway, which was authorised on 17 June 1852 to construct a six-mile long line from the Edinburgh, Perth & Dundee Railway to Burn Mill on the outskirts of Leven. Engineered once again by the penny-pinching Thomas Bouch, the line opened throughout on 10 August 1854, following delays that resulted with problems highlighted during the line’s Board of Trade inspection, and was operated from the outset by the EP&DR, although the Leven Railway had by agreement to supply the locomotive.
Eastwards from Leven the line was the responsibility of the East of Fife Railway; this had originally been authorised on 16 July 1846 to construct a line from Markinch to Anstruther but this was amended following an Act of 23 July 1855 for the construction of the seven-mile section from Burn Mill to Kilconquhar. This line opened, with the new station at Leven replacing that at Burn Mill (which closed), on 8 July 1857. The Leven and East of Fife railways merged on 22 July 1861 to form the Leven & East Fife Railway. The new company was authorised to construct the line from Kilconquhar, which opened on 1 September 1863. The line from Thornton Junction was operated by the North British and was formally absorbed by the larger railway on 1 August 1877 following an Act of 28 June 1877.
The link between Anstruther and St Andrews was completed through the Anstruther & St Andrews Railway, which was authorised by an Act of 26 August 1880 and was amended by an Act of 16 July 1883 to make a connection with the St Andrews Railway. The 15½-mile long line opened from Anstruther to Boarhills on 1 September 1883 and thence to St Andrews, where a new station was opened, on 1 June 1887, with the original St Andrews Railway station closing and being converted into a goods station. The completion of the railway also resulted in the relocation, slightly to the north, of Anstruther station. It is possible that both Anstruther stations were open for a period, but the original was closed by December 1863. Operated from opening by the NBR, the line was formally absorbed by the larger company following an Act dated 15 July 1887.
In 1910 there was a regular service on the St Andrews branch, with some 17 return journeys per week day; there was, however, no Sunday service. The service south of St Andrews was, however, sparser, with only five return workings to Thornton Junction on weekdays although there were a handful of trains that operated parts of the route only.
In 1923 the line, along with the rest of the North British Railway passed to the LNER; on 22 September 1930, however, the intermediate stations between St Andrews and Crail — Mount Melville, Stravithie, Boarhills and Kingsbarns — lost their passenger services. In 1948 the line passed to British Railways (Scottish Region).
There was one significant branch line of the line from Thornton Junction to Leven. This was the 14-mile long freight-only branch from Fife Central Junction (between Cameron Bridge and Leven) to Lochty. Authorised by the East Fife Central Railway in an Act of 24 August 1883 but formally becoming part of the North British Railway following an Act of 6 July 1895, the line was opened throughout on 18 August 1898. The line was built to tap into the coal industry but this was not hugely successful and the line became increasingly reliant upon other freight but this too was limited particularly after World War 2 as road traffic came to dominate. The line closed on 8 August 1964. Between 1967 and 1992 the Lochty Private Railway, owned by John Cameron primarily as a home for his preserved ‘A4’ No 60009 Union of South Africa, operated over the eastern end of the branch; following the closure, enthusiasts set up the Fife Heritage Railway at Methil.
The Beeching report of March 1963 envisaged the closure of the line between St Andrews and Leven but with the section from St Andrews to Leuchars and from Leven to Thornton Junction retaining their passenger services. Guard Bridge station, between Leuchars and St Andrews, was also scheduled to close. Passenger services over the St Andrews to Leven section , with the surviving intermediate stations — Crail, Anstruther, Pittenweem, St Monance, Elie, Kilconquhar, Largo and Lundin Links — closed on 6 September 1965, as did Guard Bridge. Freight services between Crail and St Andrews ceased on the same day. Freight traffic between Leven and Crail ceased on 18 July 1966.
However, both St Andrews and Leven were not spared; permission to close both short branches was given. The section from Leuchars to St Andrews closed on 6 January 1969, at which time the line closed completely as freight facilities at St Andrews had been withdrawn on 20 June 1966 as had those at Guard Bridge (except for the private siding), and from Thornton Junction to Leven on 6 October 1969. Freight traffic from Thornton Junction to Leven was to ensure the line’s survival; in 1965 a power station was established at Methil and other traffic was generated from Methil Docks. This traffic was, however, destined to decline, with the power station finally closing in 2000. Today the line from Thornton Junction to Leven is still extant but effectively mothballed.
The campaign to reopen the St Andrews branch, the St Andrews Rail Link Campaign (StARLink), was formally launched on 4 September 1989. Fife Council has submitted a rail reopening proposal to Transport Scotland for the Leven-Thornton Junction line; this permits a more detailed examination for the business case for the line’s reopening for passenger and freight traffic.