A Better Borders Railway

A Story of Success

The Borders Railway’s high-frequency train services have been a popular success story, exceeding the expectations of many. At the same time the new railway has not been without its problems and there is considerable room for improvement. Late running and cancellation rates have exceeded acceptable levels at times. There have been too few coaches on peak-time services, causing severe overcrowding. Despite these shortcomings, demand has risen year-on-year since opening, with estimate annual usage at Galashiels and Tweedbank around ten-times higher than pessimistic business case forecasts.

Infrastructure Upgrades

Targeted infrastructure improvements are the only way to address the underlying causes of most delays and cancellations on the Borders Railway. More capacity is needed on the busy approach tracks to Waverley Station, which Borders trains share with many other services. On the Borders Railway itself there are pinch-points with not enough double-track for trains to pass on the mainly single-track route. CBR’s top priority is campaigning for the re-doubling of Portobello Junction, where the Borders Railway joins the East Coast Main Line.

Longer Trains

Action on overcrowding also requires longer trains. The inadequate 2-coach Class 158 diesel trains have now been replaced by 3-coach Class 170 trains on most services, while some peak-time trains now run with paired units providing 4 or 6 coaches. Overcrowding remains an issue and further increases in train capacity are needed to support continued growth in passenger numbers.


The Borders Railway was built with passive provision for electrification and, subject to key track-capacity upgrades being done first, CBR strongly supports the introduction of electric trains. On a hilly route like the Borders Railway, electric trains’ greater power and acceleration can help cut journey times. They are also more reliable and cheaper to run. Although diesel-powered trains remain greener than road transport, electrification offers the chance to further improve the environmental benefits of rail.