CBR urges councillors to reject single-track Falahill overbridge

In advance of tomorrow’s SBC Planning Committee meeting, Nick Bethune, London Officer of CBR, has urged councillors to ensure that the proposed new road overbridge at Falahill provides sufficent width for future double-tracking of the railway:

“I am writing to you on behalf of the Campaign for Borders Rail (CBR) about Network Rail’s planning application for a revised road and rail arrangement at Falahill, which as a member of the Scottish Borders Council Planning Committee your planning officers will be asking you to approve tomorrow.

“Our message to the Planning Committee is only to approve this application on condition that the proposed bridge structure be redesigned to allow the railway to be double-tracked in the future. The attached letter, which we submitted to SBC as part of the consultation process, sets out our argument in more detail.

“On page 10 of your officers’ report, under the heading “Railway Specification”, the view is expressed that this is outwith the committee’s remit. We strongly disagree. The committee should know that the applicant’s response to the effect that “any future increases in capacity of the line will be met by additional loops, signals and double tracking in areas clear of bridges or other physical constraints” is in fact an empty assurance designed to appease the well-founded concern that the specification of the railway has been cut back in a way that will severely limit its future potential. Because of the policy of designing all new structures on the line to single-track clearances, the passive provision that the applicant’s statement implies has been allowed for elsewhere will not actually be readily available in reality.

“We urge the committee to act in the interests of proper long-term planning, rather than passively accepting arguments that are motivated solely by short-term cost factors.”

5 thoughts on “CBR urges councillors to reject single-track Falahill overbridge

  1. I thoroughly agree that double track provision should be made. It just shows how much any supporting group that is monitoring events has to be ‘on it’, on the case, the whole time to ensure the cost cutters do not get their way.

    Usage figures have been consistently above the original planned projections in any railway reopened so far. The Ebbw Vale line in South Wales being a prime example. With numbers being DOUBLE the original estimates in the FIRST YEAR of operation alone, and going up year on year after that. .

    With the planned projection to extend the Edinburgh to Tweedbank line through to Hawick and then Carlisle it is obviously folly just to operate this as a single track line, which will need to fulfil its long term function for both large freight as well as passenger traffic.

    Especially as the Secretary of State for Transport has publically acknowledged that the existing rail system in the UK is running at near maximum capacity, it is obvious that new build and re building of former railways be given the opportunity to maximise their capacity for the rest of this century.

    Brian George.

  2. Folks, I genuinely sympathise with CBR’s position here, however I would point out that the project costs have considerably outstripped the budget that was set (235-295 million pounds). We are currently at 353 million and with the changes being made here, that may go up again. Working as an engineer in a similar situation on a major semiconductor factory project that has gone over its $1.6bn budget by about 10%, you end up backed into a corner, and sometimes hard choices have to be made to keep rising costs under control.

    Ultimately, we have to ask the question: is a double track width bridge really needed here? I know I will be unpopular for saying this on this forum, but it’s not needed. Period. Besides, there are several other structures in the vicinity of this one that are being built, or rebuilt, to single track width. The plans on the Borders Railway web site show that the new bridges at Heriot and Cowbraehill, along with several redecked Gala Water culverts in the immediate vicinity of Falahill, will all be single track width. Why spend the extra money in this isolated instance when there are at least 6 other structures on the 2 miles of line either side of it which are single line width as well? I am not trying to rain on people’s parade here; in the end of the day though the costs of this project have spiralled and not all the taxpayers who are ultimately paying for this think this is money well spent.

    The new bridge is not ideal; I would prefer a double track bridge as well, but in the end of the day a single track bridge will work.

    • This is a case where we have to strengthen the sinews and be robust. Being fatalistic about what has already been done is not the answer. If the bridge is kept single track then it is another expense to be dealt with later when the track is doubled.

      Moreover for the line from Tweedbank to Hawick through Melrose line needs to be double. And further down to Carlisle.

      A big economic argument for the through route in the future will be that it should be used for heavy freight as well as passenger. How can that be if you just have a single track and short passing loops?

      We need to press ahead with double tracking. The argument maybe lost with the single line which is being rebuilt now, but we need to concentrate on double tracking for the rest of the route .

      Recent history shows that reopened lines perform way above indications when it comes to passenger carrying numbers. The budget for the this thirty miles of route maybe climbing, but you can be assured that whatever funds expended have ALREADY been replaced in the treasury coffers with fresh influx of taxes.

      Such funds are well spent, and as far as I can see, a lot less than that which has been expended on the Edinburgh tramway system.

      So press forward and be of good cheer.

      Hope CBR meetings at Hawick have persuaded the authority there to support the coming of the railway, once again. Sluggish minds need changing. The benefits of reintroducing rail forcibly expounded.

      • Brian, I have to respectfully disagree with your take on funding. I am not being fatalistic; I merely highlight economic realities. The funds have not already been replenished. That money was allocated for something elseā€¦ schools, hospitals, other public services. Of course we want the best possible railway, but that does not give the right to write a blank cheque for what is ultimately a “nice to have”. Ultimately, the taxpayer picks up the tab, and Government ministers and civil servants need to be fiscally responsible. Every pound overspent on this project means money being diverted from elsewhere. Working as a an engineer on another construction project that has gone over budget, I find myself in a similar position, having to make hard choices and ask what is really needed to make it work. Although the Falahill design not ideal, the bridge as designed and approved will work. Fact.

        As far as an extension to Carlisle goes, I would love to see it happen, but here is the challenge I see. It will cost around a billion pounds to reinstate at today’s prices, based on the cost to reinstate to Tweedbank. To make that investment viable, the line needs to be competitive as a through route to the North of England. The route taken by the original Waverley Line south of Hawick really was not competitive. The route up the Slitrig valley and down Liddesdale made made the line longer, it bypassed the only major population centre (Langholm) and the terrain it passed over resulted in very severe gradients and tight curvature. The line should have been built over Teviothead and Mosspaul to Langholm, parallel to the A7. Taking that route would have been a straighter shot to Carlisle, resulted in easier gradients and it would have made the line a viable alternative to the Carstairs route. Reinstating the line as originally built would result in a considerably longer journey for through trains to the south. Without that through traffic, a reinstated line to Carlisle will not generate enough traffic to make it a viable proposition. Hawick is eminently achievable, but a southwards extension to Carlisle would need to be built on a new alignment to make it viable. Building the line to Hawick does not require full double tracking.

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