2021 has been another year of disruption for the CRP. We hope, subject to COVID guidelines, to reintroduce our regular meetings in the Spring although this is looking more doubtful by the day as I write. However, the CRP has continued to function and our Board has been busy on projects and other things which have cropped up.
We have been involved in a number of timetable consultations during the year and in particular that of LNER which proposed a near decimation of trains stopping at Dunbar with a total recasting of the service. We instigated our three local MSPs to work together to counter this and a number of virtual meetings were held with interested parties. I wrote a major section of that group’s submission to Chris Heaton-Harris, UK Rail minister. Consultations with ScotRail, Trans-Pennine Express and Cross Country have also been held plus attending various events, conferences (one face to face in Edinburgh) and a much improved final timetable has been put in place. East Lothian Council have also reintroduced their Rail Forum meetings, and our attendance at this was important. We are also taking part in a new committee, involving MSPs and other parties, in shaping the future of East Lothian rail services, including serving Haddington and the new town at Blindwells.
Our funding situation has vastly improved following restructuring of the rail industry during COVID and The Community Rail Network (CRN) has assisted in ensuring that Scottish CRPs are largely treated in a similar way to those in England. We have therefore benefitted from up front funding from both Cross Country Trains and Trans-Pennine Express, both of whom serve Dunbar. The latter has given us an upfront sum to promote their new Dunbar services and a project is in course to achieve this. Cross Country, as part of their agreement with DfT until 2024, is funding us substantially (over £17000 to date). We have received agreement to utilise the services of a paid person to undertake and assess projects utilising these funds, as ScotRail will not do so and I am delighted to advise that Philip Immirzi, a Dunbar resident, is assisting us in this regard on a self-employed basis. Every CRP in England and Wales has a paid project officer as the amount of work required is substantial for voluntary service alone, and now five of the eight CRPs in Scotland have paid support, leaving only three who do not. The writer has been undertaking thirty to forty hours per month voluntary work over the year, often attending three or more virtual meetings per week, and getting involved in project work, so our ability to spread the load is most welcome. Philip will also improve our electronic services including social media and keep the website looking good and up to date.
During the year we donated a small amount to The Crunchy Carrot in Dunbar, a local buy-out, to cement our local connections there. I also attended, on St. Andrew’s Day, an event at The Scottish Flag Centre in Athelstaneford where we have part funded the completion of the path project from Drem Station to the Centre (previously part funded by ourselves) to include disabled access in Athelstaneford.
Our principal project is to replace the murals at Prestonpans station which have become weathered to the extent they are irrecoverable. This is now beginning to move, after over a year of delays, and we await our final costings. It is proposed that local artists, including some school pupils from Preston Lodge High School, and four others, create four local scenes which will be reproduced in polypropylene (which is recyclable in case anyone objects to the use of plastics) and put on a new station façade. I hope to enter this into the CRN awards scheme for 2022.
There are other projects on the drawing board which will be pursued as time permits, but we are not short of ideas. These include the potentially self-financing production of paper timetables for East Lothian trains, as ScotRail have taken the decision to only produce electronic versions – hence no paper timetables on stations. If this is successful this will create a significantly increased awareness of the CRP locally.
Meantime I wish you all a very happy Christmas and prosperous New Year and look forward to returning to some form of normality shortly.
Harry Barker, Chair.
14 December 2021