|The new trains have pictures of the countryside painted on them - maybe this|
is to render pointless the efforts of graffitti artists
This morning my son and I went on something of an adventure – the first day the new Scottish Borders Railway was open to the public.
Well, “open” is not quite accurate. The service will be open for fare-paying passengers as from tomorrow, and the official opening will be on Wednesday, when HM the Queen is to travel on the line. We were lucky enough to be guests on a special “Golden Ticket” day, which was mostly by invitation (for those and such as those), and included a contingent of guests of the local authorities and the people who had been involved in the construction of the new line.
|Early start from our local station, to get to Edinburgh|
|First surprise of the day was that the train, which at certain times of day|
goes on to Glasgow Central, now goes to Ayr, on the West Coast. We have no idea
what day it arrives, but it must be a slow run - good though - must go there one day
|Chairman of Edinburgh Council performs the unveiling of a plaque bearing his|
name in the same sized font as that of the name of the railway - as usual, he
includes his popular "Le Petomane" impression
|There may be festive bunting, but this is grubby old rolling stock - not a problem|
|The Edinburgh Evening News saw fit to complain that the scenery was not up to|
the standards of the West Highland Line - erm - that's probably true
- not many Alpine ranges, either
|Somewhere near Stow|
|The northern suburbs of Galashiels - the A7 winding up into the hills|
The new railway is 30 miles in length, which sounds laughable in view of the publicity given to the opening, but it is the longest new stretch of domestic railway line built in the UK for over 100 years. Read that last bit again, if you will, for emphasis. The line has seven stations, and runs between Edinburgh and the village of Tweedbank, which is between Galashiels and Melrose in the Scottish Borders, and in part it follows the old Waverley route which was built in the 19th Century, and which was closed around 1969 as a result of the infamous Beeching Cuts.
It is a very pleasant, quick run, and it provides an alternative to a fairly slow, arduous drive up the A7, so it really might get a few more cars off the roads, and the commercial, social and tourist benefits of having better access to the Borders are significant. Beeching gets a bad press these days, it’s hard to tell how botched his programme of cuts was – his main offence, if there was one, was that his assessment of the viability of particular lines was cost based; whether or not the various rural areas would thrive without their local railway was a lesser issue. The remit he was given by the government of the day has a lot to answer for; there are suggestions that the calculations were flawed, or that the answers were already in a separate envelope. Certainly poor old Dr Beeching did not have the correct quality of crystal ball available – subsequent improvements in railway technology, the long term effects of increasing oil prices and environmental damage make the idea of cutting back on public transport rather strange now, but we have to remember that the (nationalised) railways of the 1960s were very inefficient, provided what was regarded as a poor service and were paralysed by restrictive practices by the Trades Unions.
It is apparent now that we could have made excellent use of some of Beeching’s closed lines over the decades, but it would be stupid to believe that this new railway is a direct replacement of what the old Waverley Line would have become. Let us just be pleased that, if this initiative works, it may lead to more of the same.
Let it also be admitted that I am old enough – just – to have travelled on the Waverley Line. When I was a student, Sunday rail travel was a lengthy and sometimes surprising business, as repairs to the line caused some re-routing (in fact, I think Sunday tickets were cheaper as a result). The official run for Liverpool to Edinburgh in those days was, as at present, via Preston, Carlisle, Carstairs, but on a Sunday anything was possible – I remember passing through exotic places like Kirkby Stephen, Blackburn and Galashiels. I also once – with my bicycle – caught a train from Kelso to Edinburgh, which joined the Waverley Line near Galashiels. The Scottish Borders area contains many towns which have a Station Road, but in which there are very few people old enough to remember a station.
Today’s train was not one of the new machines supplied – since the special trip was to carry many more passengers than the normal timetabled run, some rather elderly diesels were called into service for the day. They did the job nicely, of course, though it took a little of the shiny newness off the experience. No complaints at all, though – it’s a nice, useful little railway, and it should prove invaluable to people commuting between Galashiels and Edinburgh. I think it’s a positive move, and hope to see more along the same lines (see what I did there?).