Borders rail line relaunch builds up head of steam

A Borders-bound train (with a trainee driver on board) at Shawfair station. Picture: Julie Bull
A Borders-bound train (with a trainee driver on board) at Shawfair station. Picture: Julie Bull
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A BUZZ far beyond the Borders is being created by the ­re-opening of Scotland’s most-missed rail line, with worldwide interest – and even a university course being held about the route.

With five weeks until passenger services resume between Edinburgh and Tweedbank after nearly 50 years, fans from 181 countries have visited the project website – most from outside Scotland.

The last train on the old Waverley Line in 1969. Picture: Joe Steele

The last train on the old Waverley Line in 1969. Picture: Joe Steele

Golden tickets for special trains the day before the 6 September opening have been over-subscribed, while extra carriages are being laid on to cope with expected first-day passenger demand.

The line – part of the former Waverley route to Carlisle – is the longest and most ambitious rail project in Scotland for more than a century.

The restored 30-mile section between the current tracks to Newcraighall, on the edge of Edinburgh, and just south of Galashiels, is seen as the potential catalyst for other re-openings across the country.

Overseas interest has been greatest in the United States, with more than 10,000 website visitors, with 5,000 from Australia and 4,000 from Russia.

Germans, Canadians and the Dutch have also proved curious, but interest has come from as far as South Africa, India, Korea and New Zealand.

Edinburgh University is running a three-day course on the line this month, with many students on it coming from south of the Border.

Course leader David Spaven, author of Waverley Route: The Battle For The Borders Railway, attributed interest in the re-opening to its history.

Spaven, who is also a rail consultant, said: “Unlike other reopenings, this one started as a grassroots campaign. It is also a rural railway to an area of historic and literary interest, such as that in Sir Walter Scott. It’s not what you get on the Airdrie-Bathgate line.

“People know it’s an attractive area. The line’s restoration has also been a very long time coming, after being the most controversial of the Beeching cuts when it closed in 1969.”

One of the students, who came from Liverpool to study at the university in the steam age, said: “The excitement of train travel and arriving in ­Edinburgh Waverley has never left me.”

Course organiser Sally Crumplin, of Edinburgh University Short Courses, said it had been fully booked and may be repeated next year.

Network Rail, which is responsible for construction of the £350 million project, said there had been “overwhelming” demand for tickets for the special “first trains” which will run from each of the seven new stations on 5 September.

A ScotRail Alliance spokesman added: “On opening day, trains will be extended to six carriages if need be and there may be queuing systems.

“A lot of people will be desperate to get on.

“The reopening of the line has drawn huge interest, both within the UK and from across the globe.”