Queen marks historic date by opening Borders Railway

The Queen officially opens the Borders Railway. Picture: Getty
The Queen officially opens the Borders Railway. Picture: Getty
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THE Queen said she had never aspired to become Britain’s longest-serving monarch as she officially opened the Borders Railway.

The milestone passed about 5:30pm yesterday, hours after the Queen travelled on the first steam train on the line for some 48 years.

Nicola Sturgeon greets the Queen. Picture: Neil Hanna

Nicola Sturgeon greets the Queen. Picture: Neil Hanna

She was accompanied by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who made “a simple but heartfelt thank you” for the 89-year-old monarch’s work.

After journeying between Edinburgh and the line’s current terminus at Tweedbank, between Galashiels and Melrose, the Queen said: “Prince Philip and I are very grateful for the warmth of your welcome on this occasion.

“Many, including you First Minister, have also kindly noted another significance attaching to today, although it is not one to which I have ever aspired.

“Inevitably, a long life can pass by many milestones. My own is no exception. But I thank you all and the many others at home and overseas for your touching messages of great kindness.”

The Union of South Africa pulling the royal train to the Borders. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor

The Union of South Africa pulling the royal train to the Borders. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor

Ms Sturgeon observed that Queen Victoria – whose reign the Queen has now surpassed – was also staying at the Deeside castle in 1896 when she took the title of longest-serving monarch from George III.

However, the exact moment the Queen will have taken on that mantle is not known as no precise time was recorded for the death of her father George VI, early on 6 February, 1952.

It is thought he probably died at 1am, so at around 5:30pm the Queen made history as Buckingham Palace calculated she would have reigned for 23,226 days, 16 hours and approximately 30 minutes, a few minutes longer than Victoria.

There was no mention of Victoria in the Queen’s address at Tweedbank, but she was wearing her great-great grandmother’s diamond bow brooch, which was handed down to her through the generations.

Ms Sturgeon said: “I think it’s a historic occasion, I think the Queen is clearly, as we saw there, very modest herself about it.

“Throughout her reign – supported at all times by the Duke of Edinburgh – she has carried out her duties with dedication, wisdom and an exemplary sense of public service.

“As a result, Her Majesty is admired and held in affection across the Commonwealth and around the world.

“The reception she has received today, demonstrates that that admiration and affection is certainly felt here in Scotland.”

The First Minister said the “most special bit of a very special journey” on the 35-mile line was when the train slowed through Galashiels station and the Queen got up from her seat to go to a window to wave to the crowds.

Earlier, the Queen made a brief stop in Midlothian to unveil a plaque to officially open Newtongrange Station. Some 1,000 people filled its car park and lined a bridge over the track.

Those witnessing the visit included Ruby Smith, 84, and Roma Costello, 81, from Bonnyrigg. They said: “It was very gracious of her to visit today. She is a wonderful woman. It is an honour to have her here.”

Mara Matthews, headteacher of St Andrew’s Roman Catholic Primary School in Gorebridge, who accompanied six pupils chosen to attend the opening, said: “It has been a thrill of a lifetime for the children.”

The monarch’s train was hauled by Union of South Africa – the last type of steam locomotive to haul Edinburgh-London expresses and the first on the Borders line since 1967, two years before its closure.

The Queen was greeted at Waverley Station in Edinburgh by shouts of “Congratulations” and “God Save the Queen” from a 1,000-strong crowd, and a rousing rendition of Scotland the Brave played by the National Youth Pipe Band of Scotland.

The 150 guests joining the Queen on the train included retired train driver and fireman Walter Bell, who worked on the Borders line before its closure.

Mr Bell, 88, from Edinburgh, who sat with the Royal couple for part of the journey, said: “She said to me we’ve both got a special day. It was out of this world to meet her, it’s a great honour.”