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The Fife Circle is the local rail service north from Edinburgh. It links towns of south Fife and the coastal towns along the Firth of Forth before heading to Edinburgh.[1] Operationally, the service is not strictly a circle route, but, rather, a point to point service that reverses at the Edinburgh end, and has a large bi-directional balloon loop at the Fife end.

Fife Circle
Train approaching Dalmeny Station from the Forth Bridge.JPG
Train approaching Dalmeny from the Forth Bridge
SystemNational Rail
OwnerNetwork Rail
Operator(s)Abellio ScotRail
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Fife Circle Line
with Thornton
Queen Margaret
Dunfermline Town
Dalgety Bay
North Queensferry
Edinburgh Gateway Edinburgh Trams
South Gyle
Haymarket Edinburgh Trams
Edinburgh Waverley
(Edinburgh Trams St Andrew Square)



The service includes the Edinburgh-Dunfermline stretch of the East Coast Main Line, which includes the world-famous Forth Bridge. On the Fife side, while this line hugs the coast, the circle is formed by a line from Inverkeithing that loops back round to Kirkcaldy by an inland route via Cowdenbeath through the old Fife coalfield. Narrowly speaking, just this line could be called the Fife Circle.

The current service is actually a combination of two previously separate local routes - Edinburgh to Kirkcaldy & Edinburgh to Cowdenbeath & Cardenden. During the 1970s & 80s British Rail only ran a regular daytime service on the Dunfermline line as far as Cowdenbeath; Lochgelly & Cardenden were only served during the weekday business peaks (as can be seen from Table 242 of the UK All Line timetable of that era), whilst the remainder of the route to Thornton Junction was freight-only (having been closed to passengers in 1969). All local stopping trains on the coast line meanwhile terminated at Kirkcaldy.

In 1989 though, BR decided to link the two services together by reopening the eastern end of the old Edinburgh and Northern Railway Dunfermline branch to passenger traffic and run an 'out & back' service from Edinburgh from the start of the summer timetable in May that year.[2] Three years later (May 1992), a new station was opened at Glenrothes with Thornton at the northern end of the route to serve the town of Glenrothes and restore a rail service to Thornton after an absence of 23 years. This is listed in the timetables as the northern terminal of the Fife Circle and is the point at which certain trains terminate - the rest continue back to Edinburgh along the opposite side of the 'circle'.

There is a goods line connection from Dunfermline to Stirling via Longannet Power Station that rail campaigners would like to reopen to passengers, as it has already been between Stirling and Alloa.[3] The current line via Longannet and Kincardine was last used by passenger trains in 1930, though a Stirling - Alloa - Dunfermline (Upper) service ran via the Stirling and Dunfermline Railway (now closed east of Alloa) until October 1968. Coal trains that formerly crossed the Forth Bridge en route to Longannet Power Station are now rerouted by that line so that the bridge's maximum signalling capacity for trains can be used to increase the local passenger service. The line between Alloa and Dunfermline is not currently signalled to passenger carrying standards. The Fife Circle is a priority for present investment in new rolling stock. Its morning peak services can be notoriously overcrowded.

In March 1998, Dalgety Bay opened, while two years later In 2000, a new station was opened in the expanding eastern suburbs of Dunfermline and given the name of Dunfermline Queen Margaret, after the nearby Queen Margaret hospital. A new station was built on the edge of Edinburgh called Edinburgh Gateway station and was opened in December 2016 to provide connections to the nearby Edinburgh Airport.

Service patternsEdit

All services are run by Abellio ScotRail.[4]


  • 1tph Edinburgh to Cowdenbeath via Dunfermline Town
  • 1tph Edinburgh to Glenrothes with Thornton via Cowdenbeath (continues back to Edinburgh via the coast)
  • 2tph Edinburgh to Glenrothes with Thornton via Kirkcaldy (one continues back to Edinburgh via Dunfermline Town, the other terminates at Glenrothes)


  • 1tph Cowdenbeath to Edinburgh
  • 1tph Glenrothes with Thornton to Edinburgh via Dunfermline Town (from Edinburgh via the coast)
  • 2tph Glenrothes with Thornton to Edinburgh via Kirkcaldy (one through from Edinburgh via Cowdenbeath)

In the evening, there are hourly services to Glenrothes via Cowdenbeath and to Kirkcaldy only (some of the latter continue to/from Dundee). Sundays see an hourly service in both directions around the full circle to Glenrothes.

Some services regularly ran through to/from Newcraighall until 2015, but with the opening of the Borders Railway in September that year this routing ceased (except for a small number of weekday peak trains).

Stops on the Fife Circle lineEdit

Edinburgh to FifeEdit

Here the main line and loop line divide.

Loop lineEdit

  • Rosyth serves the town well enough but is on its inland side nowhere near the port. It also serves the south of Dunfermline.
  • Dunfermline Town serves the centre of Dunfermline.
  • Dunfermline Queen Margaret serves Dunfermline's eastern suburbs and is near Queen Margaret hospital.
  • Cowdenbeath, serves the town and the nearby village of Kelty.
  • Lochgelly serves the town and the Benarty coalfield villages.
  • Cardenden serves all areas of the former mining town.
  • Glenrothes with Thornton, serves the village of Thornton, and the new town of Glenrothes.

Main lineEdit

  • Dalgety Bay serves the modern town with a shining whitewash look and busy railway station.
  • Aberdour serves the village with awards for its "silver sands" quiet beaches.
  • Burntisland serves the seaside resort town facing directly across to Edinburgh.
  • Kinghorn serves the town at the "horn" of the coast where it turns from facing Edinburgh to the open North Sea.
  • Kirkcaldy serves the still active old market town hugging the coast with an unusual long sea promenade off the town centre.

The two lines join forming a circle.

Future servicesEdit

The east peninsula of Fife beyond Kirkcaldy is not served by railways post-Beeching.[5] At one time a railway ran all the way from Thornton to St Andrews round the coast of Fife. The Beeching Report in fact recommended services continue between Thornton and Leven but these fell victim like services on other Fife branch lines to widespread apathy in the post-Beeching era. The devolved Scottish government is considering backing a branch reopening to Leven, where a new station will be built next to the swimming pool and at the disused power station. This is to satisfy the long term upward trend of cross-Forth communications in Fife's economy. Along this branch line is Cameron Bridge which serves Windygates and Kennoway, where the line runs close to Scotland's largest distillery and Diageo's main Scottish bottling operations.

The 5-mile Leven branch line continued to operate until 2001 supplying coal to Methil Power Station. Trials of freight trains continued at least until 2003.   From 2011, a one-mile stretch of the line was reopened for freight services from Earlseat opencast pit to the mainline at Thornton. Levenmouth is now the largest urban area in Scotland unserved by direct rail services (37,500 in Levenmouth excluding the nearby East Neuk where an estimated 8,500 catchment exists). STAG appraisals conducted in 2008 and again in 2015 indicated a positive case ([1].[better source needed] This is expected to report back by early autumn 2015. A Leven rail link would provide better services to support major industrial sites at Fife Energy Park, Methil Docks, the Low Carbon Park (under construction), Diageo, the businesses along the Leven Valley (including Donaldsons) and major retailers in Leven located close to the line (Sainsbury, B&Q, Argos, etc.).[citation needed] Levenmouth is an area of high deprivation and Fife Council estimates that an hourly train link (using the Fife Circle services)to Edinburgh would increase job vacancies by 500% since commuting for work would become possible.[citation needed] The plan to re-open the rail link to Leven was approved by the Scottish Government on 8th August 2019.[6]

It has also been proposed to start a Burntisland - Leith ferry crossing in order to spread some of the Fife-Edinburgh traffic. A previous attempt at promoting this ferry service as a commuter route failed in 1991.[citation needed] Leith itself, now Edinburgh's government district, is not served by rail but is planned to be linked to the Edinburgh tram network.


  1. ^
  2. ^ Passenger Services over Unusual Lines - 1988-89 Edition; Retrieved 2014-02-14.
  3. ^
  4. ^ GB eNRT May 2016 Edition, Table 242
  5. ^ Keane, Kevin (11 May 2008). "MSP says railway would cost £20m". BBC News. BBC. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  6. ^ BBC article reporting the approval