The Road To The SAK Bill

I was much too young to notice whether the loss of passenger trains to and through Alloa caused a lot of disquiet at the time, but over the years it became clear that some people at least wanted to see this decision reversed, even if there weren't enough of them at first and even if they didn't have enough influence.

The first time I really noticed this was in the late 1970s when calls for the re-instatement of passenger trains got some publicity in our local newspaper, but it quickly became clear that British Rail was not interested and that there was little political will at any level to tackle this at a time when freight branches were being shut and some passenger services elsewhere were under threat. Some years later in the mid-1980s the issue came up again, but the idea was dismissed even more quickly as Margaret Thatcher's government was somewhat hostile to British Rail and BR themselves were apparently only interested if the re-construction costs and an operating subsidy came from elsewhere so that it would not affect their finances. 

In the late 1980s the issue was revived yet again, just after freight traffic to Menstrie stopped traveling beyond Cambus, and this time as a publicity stunt a Class 26 was sent down to Alloa to be photographed at Alloa West Junction! (I was told soon after by someone who was in a position to know that there was an internal row about this as the main line between Cambus and Alloa West Junction was no longer being maintained!) This effort failed like all the others (some of which I admit I may not even know about, especially prior to the late-1970s), and it looked like that Class 26 might be the last locomotive to visit Alloa...

However politics and society do change over time, and during the 1990s the will to re-instate passenger trains to Alloa built up at local level to the point where it was reasonably well supported even if there was no way to fund it. Also the railways were privatised in the mid-1990s, but even as that was happening the mood of the country nationally swung dramatically to the point where a Labour government was elected with a substantial majority in 1997 and proceeded to put through Devolution plans for Scotland. Also at this time road congestion and environmental issues became hot political topics as well. Although not a wholehearted supporter of any political party, I found all this reasonably interesting but as regular freight services into Clackmannanshire had ceased in 1993 I found it hard to believe there was much chance of seeing any further trains in my home county again.

And I was wrong! It took some years but the right combination of political events had come together at the right time - a Scottish Parliament capable of authorising the work and keen on public transport, a coalition forming the new Scottish Executive prepared to consider and fund a serious proposal, a local council prepared to sponsor a bill, and the railways in the hands of 'Network Rail', who were more favourable to a re-opening proposal than British Rail seem ever to have been, albeit in a climate of much higher public investment in the rail network.

I won't go into too much detail about the bill and it's successful passage through the Scottish Parliamentary process as it can all can be found (with a little digging) at the Scottish Parliament website under the title 'Stirling-Alloa-Kincardine Railway and Linked Improvements (Scotland) Act 2004' , but basically it authorised the re-construction of the 'Stirling & Dunfermline Railway' main line from Stirling to Kincardine Junction (east of Alloa) and the Kincardine branch (including some upgrading between Kincardine and Longannet) as a continuous modern single-track main line to carry freight along it's entire length and passenger trains between Stirling and Alloa.

Having access to the Internet and being a Clackmannanshire railway enthusiast I could not resist following the passage of the SAK bill (as it was soon being called for short by enthusiasts). Although the committee examining the bill held some meetings in Alloa to collect evidence and talk to objectors, I was too busy at work to attend any of these meetings, but I made a special effort on 1st July 2004 when I travelled with a friend to Edinburgh to see the final stage debate in person. 

At that time the new Scottish Parliament building was not ready and thus we watched the debate in the premises on the Mound owned by the Church Of Scotland that were used by the Scottish Parliament as its debating chamber between 1999 and 2004. In fact, 1st July 2004 was the second last day the Parliament met on the Mound and as far as I can tell from the parliamentary website the SAK bill was the last to be passed before they moved out. And I was there!


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