The Wigtownshire Chamber of Commerce published its Tourism Gateway Strategy in May 2010 which called for existing rail and port infrastructure at Stranraer to be used to develop sustainable tourism following Stena’s relocation to a new port in November 2012. The TGS was a joint effort by the then Wigtown Chamber of Commerce, the former Stranraer & District Chamber of Commerce and SAYLSA. It is still a valid proposal and one which the Wigtownshire Chamber of Commerce is still keen to see developed to realise its potential.
The Chamber wants to see the railway and pier at Stranraer used to bring tourists into the area creating an environmentally sustainable future for West Galloway tourism amid fears that rising fuel prices will see a decline in car usage in years to come.
The Chamber is also keen to see the development of Stranraer as a port of call for small cruise ships which could also bring thousands of visitors to the area annually in an effort to support existing local businesses across Wigtownshire. Loch Ryan is too shallow to berth large cruise ships but, the Chamber is keen to explore the possibility of larger vessels visiting locations such as the Isle of Whithorn where they could anchor offshore in deeper waters with passengers transferred to shore by transfer vessels. This already happens at several locations in Scotland.
Stranraer has already hosted a number of heritage rail specials including steam-hauled trains and the Chamber is keen that the existing station be retained and restored to a Victorian theme reflecting the fact that Stranraer Harbour Station is the oldest working harbour station in the UK. The restored station would also include a heritage centre charting the town’s maritime heritage.
Under the Chamber’s proposals, the restored station would include an interchange hub and discussions are continuing with Dumfries and Galloway Council to promote this option over alternative proposals to demolish the existing station in favour a a new build a few hundred metres away.
It is envisaged that most tourists arriving by rail will travel on First Scotrail services although the Chamber is keen to promote Stranraer as an attractive destination for rail heritage tours in its own right, especially as Stranraer re-invents itself as a Marine Leisure destination. In addition, we are keen to explore the potential for events trains tied into existing events and festivals in Wigtownshire such as the Wigtown Book Festival and the Stranraer Waterfront Festival. These could include music trains, jazz, folk, classical, literary trains, poetry trains, Dark Skies event trains, the possibilities are endless.
With such low passenger usage, events train provide the opportunity to increase patronage on the line making it more commercially viable whilst at the same time giving a much-needed boost to the tourism industry locally.
The Chamber estimates that where passengers on heritage trains spend a few hours in the area, the value to the local economy from just one train can amount to around £10,000 in direct spend to local businesses and nearly twice that with the multiplier effect. The overall benefit to the local economy of a developed tourism railway could be worth an estimated £7.7m annually to the Wigtownshire economy.