By Allan McClean

Borders line gets 125,000 passengers in first highly successful month

Published: 12th October 2015

But England’s longest new line suffers a two year setback

The Borders Railway has got off to such a great start that campaigners are encouraged in their view that the line should be extended to include Hawick.

In the first four weeks of operation, the railway between Edinburgh and Tweedbank, near Melrose, carried more than125,000 passengers, ScotRail has reported.

The Campaign for Borders Rail believes that this successful launch justifies all the years of grass-roots campaigning by local people to get their railway back.

The Borders Railway from Newcraighall on the south-eastern edge of Edinburgh through Midlothian to the Scottish Borders covers more than 30 miles on a mixture of new alignment and reopened track along a significant stretch of the Waverley Route through Galashiels that closed in 1969. There are seven new stations.

Members of the Campaign for Borders Rail now want to see this success built on by the extension and enhancement of the line. Hawick is the most important town in the Scottish Borders not yet directly reconnected by rail.

On 6 October, exactly one month after the introduction of public train services between Edinburgh and Tweedbank, ScotRail reported that public interest soared following opening celebrations which included a formal event by the Queen on 9 September, the day Her Majesty beat Queen Victoria’s record for the length of her reign.

In addition to 192 service trains a week, many very busy, 17 steam-hauled special trains were sold out. More seats were added to these trains to help meet demand.

ScotRail quoted the number of passengers at 125,971 in one month. They included “students, commuters, tourists and eager rail enthusiasts”, ScotRail said in a statement. More than 6,000 passengers on steam trains were in addition to this.

They said:

Councillor David Parker, Leader of Scottish Borders Council, said: “I was always confident that the Borders Railway would be a success, but even a passionate railway supporter such as myself has been taken aback by the huge numbers who have embraced the new service.

“We have not only had Borderers using the service for work and recreation but many people from the central belt have been jumping on board to visit our region. The knock-on effect has already been seen, with local businesses such as cafes and restaurants reporting extra trade.

“The aim of the Borders Railway Blueprint programme is for the railway to stimulate growth in our businesses, investment into our region and to create new jobs – already we are starting to see signs of all three and it bodes very well for the future.”

Derek Mackay MSP, Scotland’s Minister for Transport and Islands, described the Borders Railway opening as historic. It had clearly captured people’s interest, he added, as proved by what he called “the soaraway success”.

“It is particularly good to see the Borders and Midlothian reap the benefits of being reconnected to Scotland’s rail network after an absence of almost half a century,” Mr Mackay added.

“Alongside delivering greater connectivity through landmark projects such as the Borders Railway, the Scottish Government is committed to a record £5 billion investment in our railways to improve rolling stock, rail infrastructure, as well as recruiting 100 new train drivers, all of which will ensure that Scotland’s rail network remains among the best in the UK.”

Phil Verster, managing director of the ScotRail Alliance, spoke of “the incredible interest in the Borders Railway over the first few weeks” as highlighting the “remarkable achievement” of opening the line.

Mr Verster said: “By helping to create new opportunities for the people of the Scottish Borders, Midlothian and Edinburgh, this line better connects the regions and benefits both the local people and the local economy.”

He concluded: “There is a great future ahead for Scotland’s railways, and the Borders Railway is an exciting part of that.”

Meanwhile the Electric Spine gets a shock

The Government announcement that the line between Milton Keynes, Aylesbury and Oxford was to be re-opened 50 years after closure was hailed as validating campaigners’ work over decades.

The line was to be opened in 2016 or at the latest, 2017 but at the recent Consultation exercise something didn’t seem quite right with the timescales. When the announcement was made, construction was due to begin in the Autumn of 2015 on the 11 mile mothballed section of line between Claydon and just west of Bletchley.

Work on upgrading the line from Claydon to Bicester and Aylesbury was also to commence. These lines have remained open as freight routes serving the former brickworks at Calvert which is now a landfill site.

The consultation asks for the public to comment on plans for the re-opening and then a final round of public consultation will be carried out in spring 2016. Network Rail will design the route after considering these submissions and will then submit a funding and associated planning application to the Secretary of State for Transport in summer 2016 to gain the necessary permissions to complete the work.

This means that meaningful funds will not be provided until Control Period 6 which starts in April 2019. Work will include:

• A new station at Winslow

• Two new platforms at Bletchley station

• Construction of 18 new overbridges

• Construction of 22 new footbridges/subways

• Changes to 97 railway crossings

The line is expected to become as popular as the Borders Line and as it also will create a diversionary route for many services, it is curious why the decision has been taken to delay the project.

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