Monitoring group has published report on ‘seriously underperforming’ Borders Railway


Press release from Borders Rail Monitor

In 45 weeks out of 52 since late-October 2015, train services on the new Borders Railway from Tweedbank to Edinburgh failed to meet ScotRail’s contractual punctuality target of 92.5% of trains arriving within 5 minutes of schedule, a new report [1] has revealed. The report, by Borders Rail Monitor, also shows that on 40 weeks Edinburgh-Tweedbank services failed to meet the punctuality target – known as the Public Performance Measure (PPM) – while Borders Railways trains were cancelled on 47 weeks.

The report was co-written by rail campaigners David Spaven and Bill Jamieson [2], and is based on one year’s monitoring of performance from late-October 2015 to late-October 2016, using data from the Realtime Trains web site [3], which in turn uses Network Rail data. Their main conclusion is that: ‘Overall, the evidence to date suggests that it is extremely difficult to consistently operate the Borders Railway to timetable.’ The authors argue that while Abellio, the operator of ScotRail, has been the target of most media criticism:

‘…it is important to acknowledge deeper underlying factors for which Abellio cannot be held responsible. It was, for example, Transport Scotland which determined the constrained infrastructure specification for the Borders Railway and the decision to deploy Class 158 units – the least reliable diesel units in Scotland – for a route with steep gradients and multiple stops on every train service.’

Other key performance results revealed by the report include:

· ‘Right Time’ arrivals at Tweedbank station (ie within 1 minute of schedule, or not more than 59 seconds late) never exceeded 66.2% across any one week

· Right Time arrivals at Edinburgh Waverley station never exceeded 49.8% across any one week

The authors criticise Transport Scotland’s decision to cut back the 30½-mile line’s infrastructure specification from 16 miles of double track to just 9½ miles, and contrast this with the 6½ miles of new roads – paid for by the rail project – having been built ‘to the highest possible standards’. They suggest that the track cut-back was ‘a response to the supposedly poor Business Case for the railway, which was in part a consequence of seriously flawed patronage forecasting for Transport Scotland, particularly in the case of the Borders stations.’ Actual recorded patronage in the first six months of operation was 869% above forecast at Tweedbank, 409% above at Galashiels, and 375% above at Stow, despite the service quality problems.

The authors suggest a range of actions needed [4] from the main stakeholders – ScotRail, Network Rail and Transport Scotland – to address the ‘serious operational underperformance’ of the Borders Railway, and recommend that ScotRail should commission passenger satisfaction surveys, encompassing both continuing passengers and lapsed passengers who have abandoned the Borders train service due to poor service quality relative to alternatives such as the car and the bus.

The report – which has been submitted to Transport Scotland and the ScotRail Alliance (with Network Rail) – also notes that in September 2016, Scotland’s Transport Minister instructed ScotRail to deliver a recovery plan for the Borders Railway, but the authors say ‘it is too early to conclude whether this is having a significant impact. However, not since late May 2016 has a week passed without a train cancellation, nor have Tweedbank-Edinburgh trains achieved the PPM target across any one week since early May, a period of over 5½ months.’


David Spaven on 0131-447-7764 or 07917-877399
Bill Jamieson on 01578-730262


[1] The ‘Borders Railway Performance – Year 1 Report’ is attached here: borders-railway-performance-year-1-report

[2] Bill Jamieson and David Spaven campaigned (individually, and with the Campaign for Borders Rail and the Waverley Route Trust) for the return of the railway over a period of more than 20 years from the mid-1990s until the opening of the line in 2015.


[4] The report sets out 15 short, medium and long term actions to improve performance, including redeploying, as soon as possible, more reliable 3-car Class 170 units to the Borders to replace 2-car Class 158s, and in the longer term (from 2019) doubling the single-track pinch point at Portobello Junction on the East Coast Main Line (ECML), increasing capacity on the congested ECML section from Portobello Junction to Waverley station, and extending the length of double track on the Borders Railway itself.


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