Passengers hit out at Borders Railway ‘shambles’

Campaigners say cuts to double-track sections, enabling trains to pass each other, have hit reliability on the Borders Railway. 
Photograph: Ian Rutherford

Campaigners say cuts to double-track sections, enabling trains to pass each other, have hit reliability on the Borders Railway. Photograph: Ian Rutherford

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Train punctuality on the Borders Railway has sunk to a new low as Scotland’s newest line prepares to celebrate its first birthday.

Campaigners have condemned “shocking” recent performance and said delays and cancellations had reached “epidemic” proportions.

ScotRail figures show only about one in four trains – 28.4 per cent – arrived on time at the start of this month.

In addition, at least 70 trains were cancelled over the first ten days of August. These have been blamed on track and train faults, a driver on sick leave and a fallen tree.

The misery for commuters comes as ScotRail shows off the £350m Edinburgh-Tweedbank route with a series of special Sunday steam-hauled services in August and September.

The poor performance is also hitting more passengers because the line is expected to notch up 300,000 more trips than its target of 1.3 million by its first anniversary on 6 September.

Rail consultant and author David Spaven said cuts to double-track sections, enabling trains to pass each other, had hit reliability.

Spaven said: “The Borders Railway has proved to be a classic penny-wise, pound-foolish project. Poor official traffic forecasts have proved to have underestimated passenger numbers by nearly 900 per cent.

“The ludicrously pessimistic forecasts contributed to a supposedly poor ‘business case’, which in turn led to the Scottish Government’s accountants chopping back the infrastructure specification – and we are now reaping the whirlwind.

“Taken together with the poor performance of the Class 158 trains, and frequent failures of track and signalling equipment, there is now a clear case for an official inquiry to find out how this shambles was allowed to develop, who the culprits were and why the concerns expressed by rail campaigners years ago were ignored.

“In the meantime, the Scottish Government, Network Rail and ScotRail urgently need to produce a robust recovery plan before large numbers of rail travellers abandon this seriously unreliable railway.”

Former Campaign for Borders Railway treasurer Bill Jamieson, who monitors its performance, said: “The most worrying aspect is the unreliability, both in terms of the number of cancellations which occur and the way the delays from one late-running train can be propagated for hours thanks to the high proportion of single-track.

“My gut feeling is I’ve suffered more cancellations in less than a year of the railway being open than in the previous 20 years of using the X95 bus service.”

A ScotRail spokeswoman said: “As with other parts of the network, the Borders line is subject to occasional technical faults. As always, we do everything we can to keep customers moving when things go wrong and we’re working to ensure reliability matches the demand for services on this new line.”

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “We are committed to ensuring ScotRail delivers a punctual and reliable rail service across the network and that they address issues around punctuality to give passengers the very best service possible.”

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