PASSENGERS will be able to travel on the Borders Railway again in September 2015 after a gap of 46 years, Network Rail has confirmed.
The builders of the 30-mile Edinburgh to Tweedbank line, south of Galashiels, said the opening date would enable training for ScotRail train drivers after construction is completed in June 2015.
However, David Simpson, the firm’s Scotland route managing director, told The Scotsman last November that even finishing the work by June was “challenging”.
Major work is due to start next month on the scheme, which has suffered a series of delays, while the cost has soared to £350 million.
It comprises one third of the former 98-mile Waverley route between Edinburgh-Carlisle, which closed in 1969.
The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency, which is in charge of the project, still hopes “to have the railway in place” by the end of 2014.
Campaign for Borders Rail chairman Simon Walton said: “The scope of the project is huge, not made any easier by decisions made many decades ago to dismantle the infrastructure and not fully protect the right of way.
“The Borders Railway is a vastly better engineered project than the old ‘Waverley Route’. This is not simply a case of relaying railway lines.
“It is inevitable that unforeseen challenges will arise, and I don’t doubt that the construction partners will have many issues to concern them before hand over.
“However, with the 50th anniversary of the infamous Beeching report later this month [which closed the line], I’d rather concentrate on the progress that’s being made already and the certainty that Midlothian and the Borders are on the brink of a great new social and economic opportunity.”
David Spaven, author of Waverley Route: The Life, Death and Rebirth of the Borders Railway, said: “Network Rail has been put under undue pressure by Transport Scotland to deliver the project in super-fast time, for political reasons.
“But transforming 30½ miles of abandoned line of route, 121 bridges and two tunnels into a fast, safe and sustainable transport link is a very substantial engineering task - in fact the longest rail re-opening project in modern British history.
“The key point is that the Borders Railway is coming, and late summer 2015 looks like a reasonable and robust target for the start of train services.”
A Transport Scotland spokeswoman said: “There is no change to the timetable for delivery of the new Borders Railway.
“Transport Scotland and Network Rail expect to see the line completed in summer 2015 and services operating soon after. The line will be complete in June of that year with services beginning three months later to allow for driver training on the route.”