courtesy of Network Rail

Steam trains to launch Borders railway next year

Published: 31st August 2014

Capacity issue concerns remain but opening welcomed

Steam trains will feature in celebrations for the opening of the Borders Railway project in Scotland next year, it has been confirmed. The reopening of a major section of the Waverley Route that closed in 1969 is seen as a particularly significant reversal of a notorious “Beeching cut”.

Campaigners regard the reinstatement of 35 miles of route between Edinburgh and Tweedbank as phase one of the restoration of the line, which originally went beyond Tweedbank to Melrose, St Boswells and Hawick on the way to Carlisle. Further reopening is not yet in the plans, but there are hopes that a study will lead to the return of trains to more communities in the Scottish Borders Council area.

Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, announced plans for the opening to take place on 6 September 2015. Speaking just before going into a four-week “purdah period” of official silence on formal pronouncements from the Scottish Government in advance of the Scottish independence referendum of 18 September 2014, he also announced a feasibility study.

The study will be led by Scottish Enterprise in partnership with Visit Scotland, Scottish Borders Council and the agencyTransport Scotland, investigating how the Borders Railway will transform the tourism potential of the region.

The study will also look at tourist opportunities from any future development of the line, including the potential for a turntable and the creation of a permanent home at Tweedbank station for the Great Tapestry of Scotland, the world’s longest embroidered tapestry, reflecting the textile heritage of the area.

Steamy services to start the railway

Mr Salmond also confirmed that there will be opportunities to experience steam trains on the line, beginning with the opening in September 2015. But campaigners who welcomed the news also pointed out that long stretches of single line on the railway will limit capacity for steam charters to run once the public half-hourly diesel trains are operating.

Which locomotives will be used? It’s a pretty safe bet that John Cameron’s LNER A4 No. 60009 Union of South Africa and LNER K4 No. 61994 The Great Marquess will feature along with West Coast’s LMS Royal Scot No. 46115 Scots Guradsman.

They said:

Mr Salmond, First Minister, said:

“From September 2015 - for the first time in almost half a century - there will be passenger train services running on this track.

“For commuters and tourists alike, the reopened line will provide opportunities to enjoy the many fantastic attractions and experiences on offer in the Borders.

“We can expect the Scottish economy to benefit by tens of millions of pounds from the regular train line. The feasibility study will look at how the area can benefit from the railway. With a dedicated tourist service and the attraction of the Great Tapestry of Scotland to be based at Tweedbank, more people than ever will get to visit and enjoy Scotland’s stunning Borders.

“There will be few railway journeys anywhere in Europe to match the outstanding scenery along the route of the new Borders Railway. I have no doubt that Borders Railway will be profoundly successful and I will be one of the first in line for a ticket when the trains are running in September next year.”

Longer platforms

He also confirmed that the platform at Galashiels station will be extended to accommodate longer tourist trains, there will be a new footpath at Newtongrange to link the station and the Scottish Mining Museum, there will be wifi connectivity at all seven stations on the route and a train will gain a special livery to promote Borders tourism.

Campaigner’s issues have not gone away

A long-term railway campaigner, David Spaven, author of the book “Waverley Route - the life, death and rebirth of the Borders Railway”, said: “A key tourism issue which has still to be sorted out is how the charter trains will be accommodated within the limited single-track infrastructure being provided by Transport Scotland.

“With no spare ‘paths’ for charters over and above the half-hourly ScotRail service, other than in the evenings and on Sundays – and the length of double track cut back from 16 to 9½ miles – it will need a lot of ingenuity to properly accommodate tourist charter demand on the Borders Railway.”

Simon Walton, chairman of the Campaign for Borders Rail said: “It’s gratifying so many recommendations made by the campaign are being actively discussed … I hope we’ll see the line established as a through route, carrying long distance trains between Edinburgh, the Borders, Carlisle and beyond.

“We would urge that the First Minister’s feasibility studies announcement be extended in scope to examine these benefits too.”

Councillor David Parker, Leader of Scottish Borders Council, welcomed the “significant plans to further strengthen the tourism potential of the Borders railway”.

He added: “The Scottish Government’s commitment to steam and charter trains is extremely welcome and will be a fantastic boost to the Borders economy.… I truly believe that this is going to be a very special railway line that will attract a great many visitors as it is an outstanding scenic journey.”#

Catherine Maxwell Stewart, the tourism business representative on the Scottish Borders Community Planning Partnership, said: “The Borders Railway offers a fantastic opportunity for local tourism businesses to attract new visitors to the area and to offer them exciting, new experiences. The Scottish Borders has so much to offer visitors, whether they are here for a day, or for a week. I am sure that this new link from the heart of the city to the heart of Scott's Country will be a catalyst for our local tourism sector, with benefits rolling out across much of the area.”

She added that the project would “really help to put the Borders on the map as a tourist destination for all”.

Mike Cantlay, Chairman of Visit Scotland said: “The new Borders Railway presents a huge opportunity for Scottish tourism. The scenery from Edinburgh through Midlothian down to the Scottish Borders and back again is remarkable and I have no doubt that visitors will make the journey just for the experience as well as to visit the many attractions.”

Construction going well

Meanwhile, the construction of the railway is well under way with sleepers positioned beside the future line, ballast piled up at key locations and the first track being laid. The focus now is switching to track-laying and station-construction. Early progress included platforms at the station at Shawfair on a new stretch bypassing the original line and Eskbank station at a different location from the previous one on the original route.

Work is also under way at the other Midlothian stations in Newtongrange and Gorebridge while the railway is becoming steadily more recognisable through the Scottish Borders stations of Stow and Galashiels. The initial terminus at Tweedbank, also in the Scottish Borders Council area, is part way between Galashiels and Melrose.

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