1 Borders line opening banner at Tweedbank Allan McLean

Borders Railway opening welcomed by campaigners and politicians

Published:5th September 2015

A bit late and a bit scaled back but it’s the UK’s biggest re-opening in a century!

The 30 mile railway line to Tweedbank in the Scottish borders has opened to national positive publicity, but is it the same behind the scenes?

For the record, the first public southbound train was the 0911am Edinburgh to Tweedbank and long queues formed well before departure time. Rail.co.uk was represented by Allan McLean who reports that the inaugural train was formed of three Class 170 diesel units including 170458 and 170411. The first northbound service, the 0845am from Tweedbank was formed of 158701/716/727.

A chocolate model of ‘Flying Scotsman’ with edible colouring was made to celebrate the opening of the Borders Railway and will be auctioned for charity.

Talking of politics…

Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Keith Brown MSP, said that the £296 million Borders Railway project would promote economic growth.

Mark Carne, Chief Executive, Network Rail said: “Personally, I would like to offer my thanks to the project team at Network Rail and our principal contractors BAM. They have performed exceptionally to build this railway, on time and on budget, in under three years and it sets the standard by which we should measure our project delivery.”

Dominic Booth, Managing Director of Abellio UK, which operates the ScotRail franchise, described the project as “a remarkable achievement”.

The managing director of the ScotRail Alliance, Phil Verster, said that the project heralded “a new era of opportunity for the Borders and for the whole of Scotland”.

Paul Tetlaw, the rail campaigner of the environmental organisation Transform Scotland, described the Borders Railway as an occasion for real celebration.

“The line will open up new opportunities for the people of the Borders and encourage others to visit the area and enjoy the many tourist attractions on offer. The campaigners who championed this railway deserve hearty congratulations and others should be encouraged by their success,” Mr Tetlaw added.

Beaching U-Turn?

Meanwhile, the Campaign for Borders Rail (CBR) hailed the opening as the biggest reversal of a Beeching cut anywhere in Britain.

CBR’s UK Parliamentary Officer, Nick Bethune, commented: “The Borders Railway should be recognised as one of the greatest achievements of grassroots rail campaigning in British history”. He praised the pioneering campaign work by Simon Longland and Petra Biberbach as leading to the rail reopening. CBR had been formed in 1998 and played a big part in persuading Borderers that they really could get their railway back.

Project scaled back and late but well worth the wait

But details of the project were criticised by one of the line’s supporters, David Spaven, the author whose book Waverley Route: battle for the Borders Railway was published in May with revisions to the original edition of 2012.

He said that the Borders Railway should have opened three years earlier but had been delayed as a result of being “a Scottish Parliament guinea pig for re-opening a completely abandoned railway”.

However, Spaven hailed the opening as “a remarkable achievement” although concerned that some details of the scheme could impact on journey times and potentially the reliability of the service.

The Borders Railway should have opened at least three years ago, but has suffered delay after delay [1] as a result of being ‘a Scottish Parliament guinea pig for re-opening a completely abandoned railway’, says rail author David Spaven [2]. Spaven – whose book Waverley Route: the battle for the Borders Railway was published in May 2015 – points out that the official Scottish Government forecast in 2007 was that trains would begin running in 2012, but three years were lost due to the Government’s abortive bid to appoint a private sector operator to build and maintain the railway under a DBFM (Design, Build, Finance and Maintain) contract. Spaven comments:

‘The re-opening of the Borders Railway is a remarkable achievement [3], putting the Borders and Midlothian back on the railway map after an absence of 46 years, but it should have been delivered a long time ago. We will doubtless hear the inevitable ‘on time, on budget’ claims by the Scottish Government, but the reality is that in 2005 – when the Scottish Executive confirmed funding for the railway, the official forecast was that the line would open in 2008. And in 2007, a year after the Scottish Parliament gave the green light for the railway, we were told that the line would open in 2012.

The DBFM exercise proved to be a very costly delay – but there’s no doubt that the railway has been well worth the wait, as it will utterly transform the quality of public transport between the Central Borders, Midlothian and Edinburgh. Trains from Galashiels to the heart of Edinburgh will take 55 minutes or less, a massive improvement on the 83 to 94 minutes taken by the bus.’

Spaven criticises some aspects of Scottish Government expenditure on the railway which will impact on train journey times and potentially on service reliability:

Gilding the railway?

‘The Scottish Government have delivered the new railway within the £295m budget announced in 2012, but not all that money has been wisely spent. Too much has been thrown at over-engineered elements of the project, such as gold-plated new roads over the railway, CCTV over-kill, with some 30 cameras at Stow station alone, over-use of expensive lineside stone ‘gabion baskets’ to support embankments, and, in urban areas, lengthy stretches of 1.8m high industrial metal-mesh fencing – which add nothing to the scenic attractions of the railway.

In contrast, not enough was spent on the basic track infrastructure, with the amount of double track cut back from 16 miles to 9½ miles [4] – and as a result, the promised maximum journey time of 55 minutes from Edinburgh to Tweedbank [5] has become the minimum, and there is very little margin for reliability. And to compound the problem, Transport Scotland short-sightedly insisted that all the new road bridges over single-track sections of the railway south of Gorebridge be built only to single-track rail width, making future doubling of the railway extremely difficult and costly.’

Spaven, who as a 16-year old was an objector to the 1969 closure of the old Waverley Route through the Borders, has identified a quirky numerical angle on the new Borders Railway and its historical links, and reflects on the personal significance of the opening for him:

‘Looking back over this lengthy saga, I spent more than half my life being angry about the closure of the Waverley Route, leaving the Borders as the only region of Britain without a rail service, and I’ve campaigned for the re-instatement of the railway for more than 20 years. So the 6th of September is an emotional milestone for me.

But my first journey on the Borders Railway will not be until the special train for the royal opening on 9th September, three days after ScotRail trains start running – a neat symmetry with my last journey on the Waverley Route, three days before its closure.’

Railway timetables…..

Official Scottish Executive / Government forecasts for the re-opening year of the Borders Railway – as recorded in David Spaven’s book – were:

• early 2005 – line to open in 2008

• mid-2006 – line to open in 2011

• mid-2007 – line to open in 2012

• early 2008 – line to open in 2013

• late 2009 – line to open in 2014

• late 2012 – line to open in 2015.

At last, the new line is open and whether it will be extended westwards to Carlisle is the campaigners next challenge!

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