A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Hooptedoodle #190 - A Grand Day Out

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?).


  1. ...an excellent thing, but the downside will probably be that all those delightful little villages on the line will now become ever more expensive dormitory towns for the Edinburgh workers.... (??)

    1. That's probably true, but a lot of people commute to Edinburgh already - property in Galashiels and Stow (and Melrose) will probably increase in value a bit. Some of the towns nearer Edinburgh - notably Newtongrange and Gorebridge - are pretty tough, ex mining places and less delightful than you might think!

      Certainly house prices in Dunbar have benefitted from a commuter train service to Edinburgh, and building a new station at East Linton (which is on the line from Dunbar) is expected to be a big boost to that area too. Trains are the business - at least up to a certain population density.

  2. Having just come back from Germany and its excellent train system, and seeing the UK starting to rethink rail again ( first line in 100 years - startling but promising) only makes me more embarrassed at my own country. Canada was built on the railroad but now, except for commuter rail in the Greater Toronto area, which isn't bad, our passenger trains are a joke.

    1. To demonstrate our (my?) total ignorance of the facts, I think it's always assumed here in the UK that Canada is an example of a country that works hard at its infrastructure. I think comparison of anywhere with Germany is a bit harsh in this respect, though I was on a train from Dusseldorf to Vienna which was delayed by fog just a couple of years ago - the locals were shocked and outraged, and demonstrated a surprising lack of ability to cope with such an event - they rather take their transport systems for granted.

      Only Canadian train I was ever on was a rather homely effort from Victoria to Nanaimo, which I enjoyed hugely, but I assumed that wasn't representative of the national system!

  3. You lucky chap. I will add this line to my list for a visit to Scotland. Is it on the OS maps yet?

    1. My OS sheets for this area are so old that they may well show the pre-Beeching lines still in place! I don't know, to be honest, though there is no sign of the new line on my shiny 2015 Collins atlas.

      One of the passengers on the commemorative trip was a lady named Ann Glenn, who is the author of a forthcoming book on the history and rebirth of the Waverley Route (I think she has an engineering background?) - she told me that a great many of the original "hump" bridge sections from the old railway were incorporated in the new line, and if they had not still been in good shape the project might not have gone ahead. Her book sounds interesting, though Amazon show it is unavailable as yet - can be obtained from the publishers, I believe.

      The building of the line has gone ahead remarkably quickly - there is some disappointment that some sections are single-track, which will involve halting trains to allow them to pass each other, but it is not a long journey time.

      One story I especially liked is that of Mrs Madge Elliott, of Hawick, who has campaigned tirelessly to have the Waverley Line reopened ever since the 1970s, and has now been awarded the MBE for her efforts, and has even had a new freight loco named after her! The line hasn't reached Hawick yet, of course, but I hope she lives to see that happen, as well. Amazing how in time someone who was just a nuisance becomes an inspiration and a celebrity. Draw your own parallels from history...

  4. The wholesale destruction of the railways around the world is a crying, short sighted shame. And now of course any proposal to build a new rail line around here is met with thirty year timelines, billion dollar budget projections and other stupid reasons why it's just too hard. A honking big toll road we can have yesterday.

    1. Agreed. We seem to be entering something of a new era in the UK with the proposal for new, high-speed rail systems - I am not familiar with the latest state of play on the arguments concerning these. I do know that the original plan was for a set of new lines to be built so that people from The Provinces could get to London even faster, but some unusually far-sighted bod came up with the remarkable idea that it might be possible for travel between provincial cities to involve new lines which did not go to London at all - the rattling of teacups must have been audible all the way to Australia.

      Good for them - someone must have discovered that there are some Conservative voters up north after all. Not in Scotland, though...

  5. So did you turn out to see HMtQ(G'E) officially open the thing? Did she do a little dance and yell "Suck on that Vickie" or somesuch? Or was she her usual dignified self?

    1. Hi Steve - no - I left them to get on with it - I was confident they would manage without me. In truth, my interest in HM is almost as small as her interest in me, not that either of us wishes the other any ill, of course.

      I understand that HM was wearing a nice blue coat, and a special steam train was laid on - which is also nice - and there was a ceremony at Galashiels. It was a dull, chilly day, so the blue coat would be necessary. I don't really wish to know what the ceremony consisted of, but I suspect that it would involve HM meeting members of the Borders Council, being entertained by a party of tone-deaf schoolchildren and possibly the Police Pipe Band, and more of the same - the bouncy castle was probably omitted on this occasion.

      I keep meaning to check this out - we now know that Eliz II has just overtaken Victoria in the frantic Longest Reign competition, but I don't know who is now in bronze medal position - I rather thought that BT Yahoo's unspeakable news overlay would have offered me a list of the 10 longest-serving monarchs, to go with the list of 10 kinds of exercise which actually make you put weight on, but so far no joy. I realise this might be a tricky thing to judge, since some of these monarchs might be debatably Scottish and/or British and/or English, and it is certainly true that there is a decent sprinkling of Germans in there, and there are some serious candidates who are not officially recognised as monarchs at all. On further consideration, I can see this would all come down to small print and drug tests and stuff, so I'll forget about it unless anyone has an authoritative suggestion.

      I am certain it isn't Edward VIII, anyway.

    2. All right, all right - I looked it up - it was George III. After that it does get messy, because next up on Wikipedia is James VI, so it's lucky he isn't on the podium.

      Obviously Eliz II is not going to send herself a telegram, but it would be nice if she got one from Victoria.

    3. Old Jimmy VI/I pipped at the finish line. That would get very technical, wouldn't it?
      I would definitely turn out to see a nice old steam train, but it would get annoying if a cluster of old Jobsworths and someone's badly dressed grandma kept standing in the way.

    4. The problem with Jimmy VI/I is that he only gets in there if you include his Scotland-only period - that's definitely outwith the spirit of the competition - it could be argued that he started the 200 metres and ended up in a different event by accident.

    5. It's all a bit of a muddle really. You've got your Kings of Wessex and all them, monarchs of England, monarchs of England and Wales, of England and Scotland, of the United Kingdom plus Ireland, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, or of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Then there's all the bits HMtQ(G'E) owns that aren't bits of the UK. Just which course is the race even being run on?
      To be fair though, your constitution is still less confusing than Australia's, which may or may not be one country or a federation of sovereign dominions depending on whether you squint or it's a Thursday.

    6. The longest reigning monarch of England and Scotland (both at same time so none of the arguments around Jimmy I/VI) is the Jimmy III (and VIII) (the Old Pretender). He became the rightful* monarch in 1701 when James II/VII died and lived until 1766.

      * let's ignore for a moment the fact it's all based on whose any is bigger anyway

      Also, the gold, silver and bronze medallists are all disqualified for being descendants of the usurper from Hanover. So Liz can't overtake Jimmy even if she does last a couple more years.

    7. This is good stuff, but it's based on whose WHAT is bigger...? Bated breath time...

    8. His ANY, as in "any how, have you met Roger?" Once the any's have been weighed and measured, everyone knows where they stand, so to speak. The measuring of the any's is an ancient Australian tradition, not dissimilar to the gathering of the clans, used in olden times to resolve disputes between high country cattle men. Properly understood, Banjo Paterson's Man From Snowy River is an account of just such an event.

    9. "Any" is old usage for term meaning a host of warriors. Usually written as "army" as in "you and whose army".

      [To self: Appear confident Chris, and you might just get away with it].

  6. It does indeed look like it was a very pleasant day. May I be so bold as to ask how you came by your 'golden ticket' ? Or I'd that all a bit 'hush-hush'?

    1. It would be gratifying to claim that I was invited because of my standing in the community, or because it was felt that the presence of a Count of the French First Empire would add dignity to the event, but it would be a falsehood. In truth, I was there because my wife managed to win the tickets as a prize for a competition in the local newspaper, so I was merely a party-crasher with no qualification at all, though I possibly had as much as the guys from the marketing company who were at the next table.


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