The first main-line train since 1972 has now reached the solum of the abandoned Waverley Route. Just after 14.30 on a wet Monday 13th October, GB Railfreight 66 736 propelled the tracklaying train through Kingsgate Points where the new Borders Railway alignment via Shawfair joins the original route from Millerhill, as shown in David Spaven’s photo below. The last previous train through here was a track recovery working in late 1972. [With apologies to the Waverley Route Heritage Association!]
Monday 6th October saw the first rail-laying train on the Borders Railway start work when a Dutch machine began heading south from Newcraighall. CBR’s intrepid photographer waited two and a half hours in a howling gale to record this unique occasion, as portrayed in two photos reproduced here:
2522 – The first rail-laying train on the Borders Railway. Just before 10.00 on a dreich Monday 6th October, the train begins inching its way south from Newcraighall, propelled by GB Railfreight 66 736. Track laying up to this point (with 60 ft rails) had been by means of cranes and other mobile equipment. Millerhill loco stabling point is in the background. [Photo: David Spaven]
2524 – Just after 10.00 on Monday 6th October, the rail-laying train inches steadily southwards from Newcraighall, propelled by GB Railfreight 66 736. The train is on what will become the Up line to Tweedbank (the logic being that the ECML from Waverley station is Up – to London – so it makes sense to continue that designation for the Borders Railway). Sister loco 66 726 sits on what will be the Down line to Edinburgh. [Photo: David Spaven]
Abellio, a subsidiary of Dutch state railways, has won the new ScotRail franchise it was announced today – and will therefore be the first operator of the new Borders Railway. Leaving aside the issue of whether the new franchise should have been postponed pending potential new transport powers to come to the Scottish Parliament, it’s clear that Abellio has some exciting plans, a taste of which came in their press release today:
“Working with partners to attract international attention to the scenic beauty of Scotland’s railways with major upgrades to Scotland’s scenic trains to enhance the tourist experience:
• Specially refurbished trains to align seats with windows
• More luggage, cycle and ski storage
• Additional service to Oban in peak season
• A Tourist Ambassador and improved on board catering that showcases local Scottish produce
• Special events in the low season to attract customers”
CBR has just issued its latest newsletter (attached), which includes details of the AGM to be held on 6th November at St Peters Church, Galashiels. We already have one excellent guest speaker confirmed and will shortly be announcing other guests. A big attendance is expected at this last AGM before the railway opens.
Just two days after the announcement of a major tourism initiative for the Borders Railway, The Scotsman has revealed to readers that the only way tourist charter trains can be accommodated on the single-track railway will be to reduce the half-hourly daytime frequency of ScotRail services. Much to the frustration of CBR, from as far back as the original Scott Wilson feasibility study in 2000, the Borders Railway infrastructure has been designed to provide capacity for half-hourly ScotRail trains, but with no paths for any other services, except in the evenings and on Sundays, when ScotRail frequency will be reduced to hourly. Rail author and CBR member David Spaven is quoted in the Scotsman story:
“Reducing the ScotRail train frequency to hourly in the middle of the day on Saturdays to accommodate tourist charter trains is not ideal, but the hourly ScotRail trains can be lengthened to cater for the extra demand.
“It’s very unfortunate the railway promoters and the political establishment ignored rail campaigners when they were pointing out these infrastructure constraints on tourist potential more than ten years ago. They were warned, but chose to ignore well-informed advice.”
CBR has welcomed the 20th August Scottish Government announcement of a major push to develop tourist potential on the Borders Railway. Announcing that ScotRail services will begin operations on 6th September 2015, First Minister Alex Salmond also unveiled plans for a “steam train experience” on the line, followed by a “significant expansion” when a visitor centre for the Great Tapestry of Scotland opens beside Tweedbank station.
A feasibility study will look at how the area can benefit from the railway, and other measures announced to help boost the tourism potential of the new railway include lengthening of the platform at Gala to accommodate charters and a new footpath direct from Newtongrange Station to the Scottish Mining Museum. CBR Chair, Simon Walton, was quoted in The Scotsman (and other media outlets):
‘Campaign for Borders Rail chairman Simon Walton said: “It’s gratifying so many recommendations made by the campaign are being actively discussed, although I would have hoped for some greater acknowledgement of our efforts, and recourse to our body of expertise.”’
Simon’s comment refers in part of course to the fact that if it had not been for lobbying by CBR and latterly Claudia Beamish MSP, the platform tracks at Tweedbank station would have been too short to accommodate commercially-viable charters – and the First Minister would now be cursing his officials for not understanding this vital market for the railway!
CBR has written to Scottish Borders Council, arguing the case for high-quality bus-rail integration on the new railway – not just in Gala, but also at the Tweedbank terminus and potentially from Stow over the hills to Lauder. Setting out an eight-point action plan, CBR Chair Simon Walton’s letter to SBC Leader, Cllr David Parker, says:
“The new transport interchange now being built at Galashiels is a welcome and very important initiative, but we also believe that robust timetable and ticketing arrangements must be put in place to make combined bus/rail journeys as seamless as possible. This is vital both to the success of the Borders Railway itself, and to ensure its benefits are shared by communities beyond the immediate catchment area of the route.”
The full letter is at:
CBR’s latest newsletter provides a comprehensive eight-page update on CBR’s recent campaigning activities, news of the progress of the Borders Railway project and Nick Bethune’s reflections on what the loss of the railway meant (and still means) to Newcastleton:
CBR — Newsletter #45 — June 2014 website version
CBR has press-released its letter to the Chief Executive of Transport Scotland, flagging up worries over the impact on Borders train service reliability of cutting back double track and not tackling rail network congestion in eastern Edinburgh.
The release highlights CBR’s call for Transport Scotland to publish its contingency plans for dealing with late running and a request for assurance that any underlying problems will be quickly put right if CBR’s fears over unreliability are realised in practice.
CBR Chair Simon Walton concludes: “Competitive journey times and reliable services are essential if commuters are to switch from their cars to the train in large numbers and ensure that the Borders Railway is the success it deserves to be.”
The press release is attached:
The May issue of ‘Modern Railways’ magazine features two articles on the Borders Railway – railway historian Ann Glen reviews construction progress, while in a 3,000 word piece rail author and CBR life member David Spaven is strongly critical of Transport Scotland over the reduction in loop lengths and the failure to ‘future proof’ road overbridges. He concludes:
“Despite the unnecessary difficulties which the Borders Railway will now face, we should not lose sight of the fact that this is one of the most remarkable rail projects in modern British history. A workforce peaking at 1,000 on any one day is transforming a corridor of 30½ miles, 121 bridges and two tunnels into a safe and sustainable transport link which will partially put right one of the great wrongs of the old model of London-based transport policy. This will be an astonishing achievement for a prospect which was dismissed by all but a handful of rail visionaries just 20 years ago. But will its deserved success be fundamentally undermined by the short-termist approach of Transport Scotland? Only time will tell.”
With construction works well advanced and the railway due to reopen in a little over a year’s time, CBR has taken the opportunity to clearly re-state – for future reference – its concerns about infrastructure provision and service reliability on the Borders Railway. In a letter to the Chief Executive of Transport Scotland, CBR Chair Simon Walton highlights the vulnerability of the service – following the cutback in double track provision – to delays originating outwith the Borders Railway itself, and says:
“If, despite the reassurances given by Transport Scotland and Network Rail, reliability proves poor, we will expect urgent remedial infrastructure works to remedy the problem. Further relaxation of journey times to provide additional recovery time should not be contemplated…CBR would also ask Transport Scotland to set a clear aspiration for a 55-minute maximum journey time in both directions between Waverley and Tweedbank.”
CBR’s letter to Transport Scotland is attached.