Published: 30th May 2015
The Borders Railway project in Scotland is getting ready for its first regular passengers in September in half a century while the first section of the East West Rail project has track reinstated between Bicester and Oxford. Both lines were closed around 50 years ago.
ScotRail trains will run between Edinburgh and Tweedbank, near Melrose, from 6 September 2015 following confirmation that the £294 million project is on time, in line with forecast completion dates.
The longest new domestic railway built in Britain in more than a century, the Scottish Government’s project will re-establish passenger services for the first time in more than 45 years on a key part of the former Waverley Route which closed in 1969.
The project includes a new station at Shawfair, on a diversion from the original route that will take trains along a new alignment from an existing station at Newcraighall to rejoin the former trackbed south of the A720 Edinburgh City Bypass road.
The new line then follows the old alignment through Midlothian to the area served by Scottish Borders Council. All track has been laid and tested in recent months, with finishing touches being added in time for a handover during June for driver-training to begin over the 30-mile route.
Trains already running between Edinburgh Waverley and Newcraighall will be extended to Tweedbank through stations at Shawfair, Eskbank, Newtongrange, Gorebridge, Stow and Galashiels.
Shawfair is a new station to serve a major commercial and residential development. Eskbank station is on a new location further south than the previous one. Newtongrange and Gorebridge stations are at original sites.
Stow station is the original that closed with the full route between Edinburgh and Carlisle more than 46 years ago. Galashiels station is on a new location alongside a new transport interchange for bus connections, while there never was a station at Tweedbank before.
Tweedbank will serve a residential area that did not exist when passenger trains ran this way in the past as well as providing park-and-ride connections for car drivers and acting as a railhead for the nearby historic town of Melrose and the home of the author Sir Walter Scott at Abbotsford.
The train services – half-hourly six days a week and hourly on Sundays – are expected to boost tourism as well as provide transport for commuters and other regular passengers. There will even be special steam trains to help promote the scenery along the line.
Meanwhile, the Campaign for Borders Rail regards the Borders Railway as phase one of the eventual reopening of the full Waverley Route through Hawick to Carlisle.
Oxford and Bicester have had their rail link reconnected after the line was severed in June 2014 and buses ran instead of trains. This was to allow the slow single line route to be completely rebuilt as a double track 100mph line forming the western section of the East-West Rail link.
The missing link was fixed on 6 May when the Down Line (the line running east) was connected together near the M40 road bridge and re-establishing the rail connection linking Bicester and Oxford. This is a key milestone for the project and trains will be running from October, a month later than envisaged.
But one small backwards step has been announced by Chiltern Railways who is behind the project. Their trains were due to commence in September but the new date for trains to recommence is October 26.
Chiltern have said that they want to retain their mantle of the most punctual right-time railway company in the UK and that the new line requires a little more testing to ensure that this accolade can be continued.
Trains will initially operate twice an hour between Marylebone and Oxford Parkway and brand new stations at Bicester and Oxford Parkway have been constructed. A mini-fleet of nine Class 170s has been acquired by Chiltern for the service from Transpennine Express and these will be repainted and internally refurbished to Chiltern’s Class 168 standards.
The trains will reach Oxford station in April or May 2016 when the last few miles of the line have been completed. It has been a bit delayed either due to the Council delaying Planning Consent or due to Network Rail not providing the right information depending on who you talk to!
Either way, so long as the go-ahead is given in the next month, trains should reach Oxford completing the western section of the East West rail link. Three years after Oxford trains run, services will reach Bedford, Milton Keynes and Aylesbury opening up new travel opportunities on the rail network. And who knows, by 2019, maybe the Borders Line will have started phase two extending to Carlisle also offering more new travel options….