by Allan McLean

Track-laying and bacon rolls on the Waverley Route

Published: 10th September 2014

Borders project visibly takes shape as track-laying commences

The statistics are staggering. The most memorable is probably that people working on the Borders Railway project have eaten 25,000 bacon rolls in one year.

But amid all the figures, probably the most exciting fact currently to hand about the reinstatement of part of the much-lamented Waverley Route is that track-laying begins in earnest on 6 October, exactly 11 months before the public opening between Edinburgh and Tweedbank.

Some rails are already in place and many sleepers have been lined up along the trackbed. But the main track-laying will roll out from October onwards.

Formal statistics include 4,000 new houses planned as part of a substantial commercial development next to the new Shawfair station, the 96 contractors with an EH postcode proving that local work has been delivered, the peak of 1,100 workers, the 45 road access points for maintenance once the line is open, the badgers that have required protection at 108 setts, the 90,000 railway sleepers ordered and the 23 stone spans of the refurbished Lothianbridge (also known as Newbattle Viaduct).

Minefield

It has also been necessary to fill in old mine workings, which would extend from Edinburgh to Manchester if laid end to end instead of being under the ground in Edinburgh and Midlothian. Other statistics include 65 kilometres of new track along 49 kilometres of route serving the three local authority areas of Edinburgh, Midlothian and the Scottish Borders, 10 kilometres of associated new roads, 42 new bridges and 95 refurbished bridges.

Although the project had been on the cards for some years, earth works only really got going on 18 April 2013, so actual progress on the ground has been relatively rapid.

To redouble or single track mind?

When the original Waverley Route from Edinburgh to Galashiels, Hawick and Carlisle closed in 1969 it was all double track. The Borders Railway project to reintroduce trains along part of that alignment will be mostly single track but there will be double-track sections through the stations at Shawfair and Stow, and also south of Gorebridge station, to allow trains to pass each other in opposite directions.

The main station is the existing one at Edinburgh Waverley, from where trains will follow the East Coast Main Line for about three miles to Portobello Junction, diverging onto an existing line to serve current stations at Brunstane and Newcraighall. Then a completely new alignment is to be followed past the site of Monktonhall Colliery and a new station at Shawfair before rejoining the original route on the Eskbank side of the A720 Edinburgh City Bypass road.

The original trackbed is being followed through a new station near the old one at Eskbank, restored stations at Newtongrange, Gorebridge and Stow and a new station at Galashiels, where the original site is no longer available.

Temporary terminus at Tweedbank?

The new terminus at Tweedbank never had a station before. It is between Galashiels and Melrose and near Abbotsford, the recently restored home of Sir Walter Scott, whose novel Waverley was published in 1814.

A lot has had to be done to overcome road developments that cut through the railway trackbed in the 1980s when the official policy was that trains would never return. This includes a large new tunnel box under the A720 on the outskirts of Edinburgh and a massive viaduct to take the railway across a roundabout on the A7 at Hardengreen, between Eskbank and Newtongrange in Midlothian.

Significant alterations to the plans have been made at the summit of the line at Falahill, avoiding the need for two previously proposed roundabouts on the adjacent A7 road. There will be no level crossings anywhere on the route – unlike the original.

Construction is due to finish in time for driver-training to begin in June 2015, ready for the introduction of public services on 6 September 2015. It is expected that Class 158 and Class 170 diesel trains will be used with varying train lengths between two and six carriages. Much of the time there will be half-hourly services with a target schedule of 55 minutes between Edinburgh and Tweedbank.

Studies are underway to see if the line can be extended beyond Tweedbank back to Carlisle so Tweedbank may only be a temporary terminus.

Scottish steamy service start promised

Charter trains will also run, including inaugural steam operation. So-called “passive provision” has been made for possible future electrification. There is also “passive provision” for four trains an hour each way between Edinburgh and Gorebridge in future, including space being left for a possible fourth section of double track through Newtongrange. There is no certainty that this option will be exercised but it remains possible.

Signalling will be controlled from Edinburgh and there will be contact with train drivers via GSM-R, the Global System for Mobile communications, Railway.

The railway project is being carried out for Transport Scotland, the Scottish Government’s agency that covers road, rail and ferry transport. Main contractor for the Network Rail project is BAM Nuttall. Many people involved also worked on the reinstatement of the railway between Airdrie and Bathgate.

Campaigners regard the 2015 opening as phase one of the restoration of more of the Waverley Route. There are hopes that trains can be restored to more communities in the Scottish Borders Council area in due course.

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