Published: 17th May 2014
In what some have suggested as a pre-Scottish Independence referendum speech, Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland recently made a speech at Carlisle suggesting that the Borders Railway could be re-opened all the way back to Carlisle.
Construction is currently well underway on rebuilding the first 32 miles of the line between Newcraighall and Tweedbank with trains scheduled to run next year after a break of 45 years.
Alex Salmond, said that the reopened railway will be “profoundly successful” and suggests that its successes will “calibrate” any feasibility study on further reopening to Carlisle via Hawick.
But Simon Walton, chairman of the Campaign for Borders Rail, (CBR) told the First Minister “this unfairly means the economic prospects for those communities depend on the patronage of the line between Tweedbank and Edinburgh, rather than their own merits”.
Alex Salmond, at the same event, also expressed his wish to push for High Speed Rail to bring benefits to Scotland more quickly. This could mean starting construction on HS2 in the north and to move faster than the Westminster Government on HS2's development.
Mr Walton said "The First Minister spoke at length about harnessing the potential of communities on both sides of the Border, but the Central Borders communities are being missed out. We still lobby for the reinstatement of the remainder of the [Borders] line, because we believe that the Borders communities deserve their economic regeneration as soon as possible, and the railway would be a direct, tangible and effective means of doing so."
If the line was fully reopened, it would join the West Coast Main Line at Carlisle and further south join HS2 and the benefits of this to the Borders' economy must be investigated and sooner rather than later to help the business case.
The CBR has been lobbying Scotrail Franchise bidders to use refurbished Class 158 trains from the first day of services to Tweedbank. This class of train has been upgraded for the scenic railways serving Inverness. The CBR has written to bidders saying that they fear that train will be cascaded from Glasgow-area suburban routes now being electrified. This refurbishment will be crucial in retaining passengers after the initial novelty factor has worn off.
They said: Simon Walton, commented: “We had hoped to see the inter-city Class 170 units deployed on the Borders Railway, but it would appear that 158s are now to be used. If that is the case, it is absolutely essential that these are properly refurbished like those serving the scenic Highland routes.
That means brighter interiors, appropriate luggage space and bicycle facilities, and a good seat-to-window match to allow the scenery to be fully appreciated by visitors. First impressions will be crucial for passengers who are new to rail.
These comments were made to remind everybody that Alex Salmond had emphasised the attractions of the line last August in Hawick. He waxed lyrical about the ‘stunning scenery’ and said he was committed to ensuring “that people would have an unforgettable experience travelling along this incredible rail route”. Hence the call for trains to match the promises.
Rail.co.uk has reported several times on the cost savings made on the line by reducing the length of double track from 16 miles to under 10 miles. This increases the likelihood of poor reliability and timekeeping as there is no spare capacity to get services back to normal when delays occur.
CBR’s Simon Walton said that ‘We were worried that with shorter double track stretches for trains to pass on, even a few minutes' lateness would cause knock-on delays to trains traveling in the opposite direction. We've been granted several meetings with Transport Scotland officials who have repeatedly assured us that the line will be fit-for-purpose.
We retain some doubts, which is why we're asking Transport Scotland to publish the contingency plans for dealing with late running and asking for an assurance that any underlying problem will be quickly put right if our fears are justified.’
When the line was being planned, it was clearly stated that it would take no more than 55 minutes for a train to travel from Tweedbank to Edinburgh. The draft timetables have been published and this pledge has not been met as this is now the minimum transit time.
The CBR is therefore calling for Network Rail to bring forward capacity and speed enhancements to the existing section of line between Waverley Station, Portobello and Newcraighall. These could also delivering greater reliability compensating to a degree for the reduced capacity on the Borders Railway.
The Borders Railway has been under construction for a year and a lot of heavy engineering work has been carried out.
The main achievements are the installation of major new bridges including Gore Glen and Hardengreen, the refurbishment of the Lothianbridge Viaduct and other historic Waverley Line structures. This construction has been carried out alongside the ongoing environmental programme to protect wildlife species along the line, such as lamprey and soprano pipistrelle bats.
The next tasks are to work on new and refurbished bridges, the foundations of the new stations and the railway’s supporting infrastructure such as roads and utilities.
Shawfair Station access road opened last month and the new curved road bridge, which crosses the railway next to the old Monktonhall colliery site, was followed by the start of building Shawfair Station. The foundations are complete and ready to accept the pre-cast concrete units to be installed.
The A720 Edinburgh bypass has been subject to a temporary diversion because of bridgeworks and will shortly be put back to its original alignment.
There are 137 bridges on the new line comprising of 42 new ones and 95 which are being refurbished with a variety of work being carried out on them.