2.1 The town of Laurencekirk in Aberdeenshire lies on the East Coast Mainline between Aberdeen and Dundee and is in very close proximity to the A90 trunk road, which also links the two cities. In terms of distance, the town is situated approximately 30 miles south of Aberdeen and just over 35 miles north-east of Dundee. The town has a resident population of approximately 2,800 (rising to almost 5,000 in the wider Mearns area) and this is projected to increase by 11% by 2030 by the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS). Residents of the town and surrounding area have a high dependence on access to Aberdeen and Dundee for employment and other key facilities such as education, health and leisure.
2.2 Laurencekirk station was a calling point on the routes between the Central Belt and Aberdeen until 1967 when it was closed as part of the wide-ranging Beeching reforms.
2.3 In 2004 Aberdeenshire Council commissioned work to appraise transport options which could help meet the identified transport problems / constraints and deliver opportunities for the area of Laurencekirk. The work was carried out in line with the Scottish Government / Transport Scotland’s Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (STAG). The findings of the STAG appraisal pointed towards the re-opening of Laurencekirk Railway Station as a possible option which could deliver a value for money solution in line with the stated transport planning objectives, which were to:
- Link rural commuters to centres of employment, educational establishments and other facilities;
- Encourage greater use of public transport by connecting the township of Laurencekirk and its surrounding area to the rail network;
- Encourage modal shift from private car to public transport by constructing a Park and Ride facility serving the new station; and
- Improve road safety by encouraging a reduction in trips made by road and through reduced road traffic.
2.4 Following the STAG Part 2 appraisal, a business case for the station was developed and the station was reopened in May 2009.
2.5 In line with the recommended appraisal and evaluation cycle of Rationale, Objectives, Appraisal, Monitoring, Evaluation and Feedback (ROAMEF), Transport Scotland commissioned this study to undertake an evaluation of the re-opening of the station, to understand whether the project is meeting its intended objectives.
2.6 Transport Scotland is currently developing new guidance for carrying out evaluations of rail projects. This study is one of three which have been commissioned by Transport Scotland to inform the development of the new guidance. The findings set out in this report will therefore play an important part in contributing to the guidance.
2.7 One of the key requirements of STAG is the undertaking of post-implementation evaluation. STAG refers to the term ‘evaluation’ as a detailed, objective-driven review or audit of a project’s performance, which includes:
- Process evaluation, which concentrates on the effectiveness of the implementation and delivery aspects of the project;
- Outcome evaluation, which assesses whether the outcomes have been achieved and how the projected performs against identified targets and objectives, including the stated STAG criteria; and
- the preparation and completion of an Evaluation Report, based on the outputs from the Process Evaluation and Outcome Evaluation undertaken.
2.8 The process and outcome evaluations for the reopening of Laurencekirk station form the main elements of this Evaluation Report.
2.9 As part of the STAG-based process and outcome evaluations, the Brief for the study identified a number of specific issues to be considered – these included:
- analysis to understand why outturn passenger numbers and ticket revenue has exceeded forecasts;
- an information gathering exercise / survey to obtain a better understanding of users of Laurencekirk station and their travel behaviour prior to the station reopening;
- analysis to determine the impacts of the project against the STAG criteria of economy, environment, accessibility, integration and safety;
- analysis of the outturn costs and benefits to generate a retrospective Benefit Cost Ratio for the project;
- gaining a fuller appreciation of the ‘Wider Economic Benefits’ (WEBs) of the station and also how it has impacted on the local area; and, finally
- making recommendations on the Draft Guidance on Rail Evaluation being prepared by Transport Scotland.
2.10 These wider issues are considered in turn. The findings from the process and outcome evaluations are presented in chapters 3 and 4 respectively. Chapter 5 sets out the findings from the review of the 2004 Laurencekirk appraisal, including analysis of why the outturn passenger numbers have exceeded forecasts. Chapter 5 also includes the results of the assessment of the impacts of the project against the STAG criteria, as well as a retrospective Benefit Cost Ratio applying the outturn impacts. The chapter culminates in presentation of the findings of the Wider Economic Benefits (WEBs) analysis. Chapter 6 reports on the analysis of how the station has impacted on other social and economic factors not captured in conventional STAG appraisal. Chapter 7, sets out recommendations for Transport Scotland’s Rail Evaluation Guidance, while Chapter 8 provides a summary of the conclusions and findings.