Published: 4th September 2015
The longest stretch of domestic railway to be built in Britain in more than 100 years is ready.
The Borders Railway project has completed more than 30 miles from Newcraighall in south-eastern Edinburgh to Tweedbank, between Galashiels and Melrose.
ScotRail passenger trains cover 35 miles of route to directly link existing stations at Edinburgh Waverley, Brunstane and Newcraighall with new or reopened ones at Shawfair, Eskbank, Newtongrange, Gorebridge, Stow, Galashiels and Tweedbank.
This is the biggest domestic rail opening since the route between Fort William and Mallaig in 1901.
It represents around one-third of the Waverley Route that shut over 98 miles between Edinburgh and Carlisle through Galashiels and Hawick in January 1969. The Waverley Route was widely regarded as the worst cut of the so-called “Beeching era” when Dr, later Lord, Richard Beeching became the most notorious chairman of British Rail.
After “Golden Ticket” trains for invited guests on Saturday 5 September, the line’s real opening features scheduled public services from Sunday 6 September.
Once formal ceremonies have been completed by the Queen, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh and Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, on Wednesday 9 September, the line is to settle down to regular daily service. Diesel trains of Classes 158 and 170 are scheduled to provide ScotRail services every half-hour at the busiest times and approximately hourly at other times.
On some days in the opening weeks, ScotRail is working with Steam Dreams to run steam-powered charter trains to help bring more tourists to the Scottish Borders.
At peak times, there are some through trains to or from stations in Fife through Haymarket and a new transport interchange planned for western Edinburgh with a tram link with Edinburgh International Airport. Other trains run only between Edinburgh Waverley station and Tweedbank.
From Waverley station, Borders trains run on the East Coast Main Line for around three miles to Portobello Junction, where they diverge to call at Edinburgh Crossrail stations at Brunstane and Newcraighall. A new alignment is followed through the Midlothian station at Shawfair – built in advance of a new development that the trains will serve – before rejoining the original trackbed of the Waverley Route just beyond the Edinburgh City Bypass road A720.
A station for Eskbank is on a new site beyond the previous one. Then comes Newtongrange station, handy for visits to Scotland’s National Mining Museum at the site of the former Lady Victoria Pit, then a station at Gorebridge on the site of the original. Gorebridge is the last of the stations in Midlothian.
Over the summit of the line at Falahill, trains run down the valley of the Gala Water. The original Stow station in the Scottish Borders Council area has been brought back into use, thanks to campaigners who supported the renovation of the 1849 building.
Galashiels has a new station with bus links via the adjacent new transport interchange, provided by Scottish Borders Council.
The current terminus at Tweedbank serves a community that did not exist when the line shut. It provides car-parking for people arriving by road from a wide area of the central Borders and is also convenient for visits to Sir Walter Scott’s home at Abbotsford. Melrose Abbey is not far off.
Campaigners see the Borders Railway project as Phase One of the reopening of more of the Waverley Route, with scope for enhancement of the existing line and extension to and through Hawick. Carlisle is the eventual aim.
Regular scheduled trains normally serve all stations, although some trains run through Stow without stopping.
Much of the new route is single track but there is potential for more double track to be added later. There are significant stretches of double track through the stations at Shawfair and Stow and a third double-track loop south of Gorebridge.
The Tweedbank terminus is big enough for charter trains to run with a locomotive at each end. And the platform at Galashiels is also long enough for such trains, helping to boost revenues for Borders tourism.