1 Brand new railway Islip station looking towards Bicester Phil Marsh

Borders Line inspires other rail reopening campaigns

Published: 30th August 2015

Bicester-Oxford line to reopen just after Borders Line

Campaign groups who want to reopen their local railways are being urged to take encouragement from the Borders Railway project. The restoration of trains between Edinburgh and Tweedbank, between Galashiels and Melrose, from 6 September is seen as an inspiration for others.

The reintroduction of passenger trains to Midlothian and the Scottish Borders after almost 47 years could boost hopes for restoration of trains to St Andrews and Levenmouth on two lines in Fife.

The Campaign for Borders Rail (CBR) intends to press for extension of the Borders project from Tweedbank to Hawick and beyond, relinking more places to the railway network that lost their trains in 1969 when the Waverley Route through Galashiels and Hawick to Carlisle was closed.

But the CBR has acknowledged that other places elsewhere in Scotland also deserve a boost. Campaigns for Levenmouth and St Andrews have been highlighted.

Nick Bethune, the CBR’s UK Parliamentary Officer, said the CBR had consistently proved willing to challenge the establishment and “to rock the boat with well-informed and innovative ideas”. Another secret of the CBR over the past 17 years had been to galvanise public opinion, convincing Borderers that they really could get their railway back.

Petra Biberbach, a founder member of the CBR and its first Char from 1998 to 2002, said: “For me the lessons are: first, campaign groups are not elected, so you have to seek a mandate and get the people on side, which means working in partnership with other groups who share your aims, and avoiding an attitude of ‘them and us’; second, you need to be politically savvy and know when to work with the system, and when to challenge it; and third, passion, persuasion and tenacity are required. And in CBR’s case, well-informed and constructive criticism eventually brought some significant improvements to the Borders Railway specification.”

Allen Armstrong, of the LevenMouth Rail Campaign (LMRC), said that rail reopenings including the Borders Railway had proved inspiring to those who want to re-open the six miles of branch line between Thornton and Leven.

“If we are now in ‘a new age of rail’, as a recent Scottish Transport Minister claimed, we are very hopeful the 45,000 residents of Levenmouth and the East Neuk of Fife will soon be reconnected. The Borders Railway must not be the last. Despite feasibility studies here concluding a very strong case for reinstating the Thornton-Leven line, we also appreciate from the Borders example that ultimately it is politics that exerts greatest sway in these decisions,” Mr Armstrong said.

Also looking to the Borders for inspiration is Jane Ann Liston, convener of the STARlink campaign, which has been fighting for 26 years to reconnect the famous university and golf town of St Andrews to the railway network.

She said: “The sheer dogged persistence of the campaigners in the Borders and their refusal to give up for nearly 50 years shows that tenacity pays off in the end. We in St Andrews salute their achievement and hope that it will pave the way for the reconnection to our town, an incredibly important destination and economic hub, through being a top tourist destination and the home of Scotland’s oldest university.”

She added that the reopening she campaigned for would enable direct rail services “from the Home of Golf to Scotland’s capital” as well as to Dundee. This would boost the whole area.

Meanwhile, the CBR sees the Edinburgh/Tweedbank service from 6 September, with its formal Royal opening a few days later, as “phase one” of a plan to continue to Hawick and eventually Carlisle. The CBR claims many successes already, including the project name Borders Railway.

The English new main line Oxford-Bicester-Marylebone services about to start

The Chiltern Railways project to reopen the Bicester Town to Oxford line is about to come to fruition. It has been nearly a decade in the making and was an early franchise promise and has lately been partnered by network Rail and the East West Rail project. The scheme has prompted the Varsity Line re-opening all the way back to Cambridge within another decade and follows decades of lobbying – as with the Borders Line.

Also like the Borders Line, Bicester-Oxford services were planned to commence in September 2015 but various difficulties emerged and delayed the trains by a couple of months. They will now commence on October 26 with one loco-hauled train a day each way. The London Road level crossing at Bicester will be closed to road traffic until October 11 and this is causing traffic delays.

They said:

Chiltern Railways told Modern Railways magazine that they wanted to ensure the line was fully tested before commencing services so they could hopefully maintain their record as the most punctual railway.

Rail.co.uk had a look at the new stations at Bicester Town, renamed to Bicester Village (it is close to the retail outlet) and Islip which are still under construction. They will bring a huge improvement over the former single platform affairs used until the start of last year.

The track has been completely relaid as a double track 100mph formation to modern standards rather than the slow speed single line used until the upgrade work commenced.

Chiltern Railways has released the planned timetable for the line which will initially operate between Marylebone to Oxford Parkway on a half hourly basis reaching Oxford itself next year.

Blame game

This can happen once more trackwork has been completed, being delayed by the Oxford Council Planning team creating a fierce local debate! The noise caused by a set of points caused the delay but one has to assume that the railway was there before any of the current lineside neighbours!

The local press in turn has blamed Network Rail saying that the company had not provided the Council with the required information.

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