Published: 12th September 2013
The Scottish Cabinet recently met in Hawick and the Campaign for Borders Rail (CBR) took the opportunity to urge the Scottish Government to plan for an 18-mile extension of the new 31 mile long Borders Railway being built. It currently runs from Tweedbank to Edinburgh but now the CBR want to open the next section back to Hawick, further from the rail network than any other town of its size in Britain.
In a briefing paper submitted to the Scottish Cabinet, CBR says that Hawick was the biggest loser from the closure of the 98-mile Waverley Route from Edinburgh to Carlisle in 1969, one of the final Beeching cuts.
CBR Chair, Simon Walton, commented: “A train service taking around 1¼ hours to Edinburgh was replaced by buses which needed 2¼ hours to negotiate the 51 miles up the A7 to the capital. Today, public transport from Hawick to Edinburgh – still provided by a basic bus takes over two hours is slower than it was in 1901. Hawick’s population has declined and lost the status of largest town in the Borders to Galashiels and a large part of the Burnfoot district of Hawick is included in the 15% ‘Most Deprived Areas’ of Scotland.
A third of households in the town do not have access to a car and two generations of Hawick people have missed out on the opportunities for access to education, employment and involvement in rail-based tourism which they would have enjoyed if the railway to Edinburgh had not been closed in 1969.“
The CBR acknowledges that there will be a significant improvement in the public transport journey time from Hawick to Edinburgh when the Borders Railway opens half an hour quicker than now but argues that this will not provide the step-change in journey time reduction and overall quality of service which Galashiels, Stow and Tweedbank will enjoy from when the Borders Line opens in 2015. It suggests that an express rail service from Hawick to Edinburgh could complete the journey in just over an hour, transforming the town.
The CBR briefing calls on the Scottish Government and Scottish Borders Council to take action on three key issues, to start planning for onwards extension of the Borders Railway to Hawick:
This includes the Scottish Government urgently reviewing whether the current mainly single-line Borders Railway design is ‘future-proofed’ to enable the line to be extended to Hawick. The CBR are also calling for an appraisal of the economic benefits and case for extending the 31 mile line another 18 miles from Tweedbank to Hawick which would also serve Melrose and Newtown St Boswells. Finally, the Scottish Borders Council is being asked that the Local Development Plan should safeguard the land needed for any extension of the new line between Tweedbank, Hawick and Carlisle.
A call for a Scottish junction on the West Coast Main Line to be remodelled to speed up trains has been made by the environmental transport campaign Transform Scotland. The group wants Network Rail to get rid of 15 mph speed restrictions that affect CrossCountry, First TransPennine Express and Virgin Trains in the Carstairs area.
Transform Scotland has called on the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) to include the remodelling of the Carstairs track layout in Network Rail’s funding for the period from 2014 to 2019.
Trains from Glasgow and Motherwell to England through Edinburgh and trains between Edinburgh and England through Lockerbie and Carlisle have to slow to 15 mph to negotiate tight curves that link the Edinburgh route to the West Coast Main Line about 28 miles from Glasgow. These trains can reach speeds of between 100 mph and 125 mph elsewhere on their journeys.
The call to raise the speed is among proposals in Transform Scotland's submission to the ORR's consultation on Network Rail's outputs and funding.
Paul Tetlaw of Transform Scotland said: "The junction at Carstairs has suffered from severe speed restrictions for more than a generation. It is simply unacceptable that trains on one of Britain's key long-distance routes are slowed to a crawl. The UK rail industry needs to get its act together to deliver this low-cost improvement to this long-standing bottleneck.
"This should be a top priority project and must not be deferred by any plans for a new higher speed line between Edinburgh and Glasgow, such as those proposed by the Scottish Government late last year. These plans are merely at a proposal state and are likely to take a decade or more to come to fruition.
Making improvements now to the key rail route between Glasgow and London must take precedence over tentative plans that would benefit rail travellers only in the long-term."
Transform Scotland has for some years highlighted the need to improve the very slow speeds at Carstairs. The current layout was introduced almost 40 years ago when Edinburgh passenger trains were portions attached and detached at Carstairs to and from services between Glasgow and the South along the West Coast Main Line. At that time, the Glasgow route was electrified but the Carstairs/Edinburgh line was left diesel-operated.
Since electrification to Edinburgh in 1991, there has been significant growth in travel. Through trains were introduced from Glasgow Central to the East Coast Main Line and Edinburgh was given its own complete trains to and from the West Coast Main Line. The only remaining portion working involves one Caledonian Sleeper train each way overnight.
Carstairs – originally named Float – has been a junction since 1848. There used to be a more direct link between the Edinburgh line and the WCML, known as The Queen’s Curve, but this was abandoned in Victorian times by the Caledonian Railway when it established a much shorter curve similar to the one installed for Crewe-Glasgow electrification in 1974.
Transform Scotland’s response also includes proposals to electrify the Edinburgh South Suburban Railway and improve Scottish inter-urban routes.