The Borders Railway is on course to smash its passenger target after attracting nearly 700,000 trips in its first six months, it was announced today.
The 694,373 total since 6 September is 22 per cent ahead of the expected 568,023.
A total of 1.3m trips were forecast for the first year of the £350 million Edinburgh-Tweedbank line, with the busier summer season likely to mean the figure is far surpassed.
The first anual figure is now expected to be 21 per cent higher, at 1.57m.
Some of the seven new stations on the 35-mile route have handled nearly ten times as many passengers as predicted, with Tweedbank notching up 184,000 trips compared to a forecast 19,000.
Galashiels’ total was 105,000 against a forecast 21,000, while Stow saw 24,000 rather than 5,000.
However, Gorebridge saw only half its expected patronage - 40,000 trips rather than 79,000.
Shawfair (9,000, forecast 54,000) and Eskbank (66,000, forecast 115,000) also fell below expectations, but Newtongrange was just ahead (50,000, forecast 46,000).
The high numbers of trips on the southern section of the line confounds original claims that most passengers would come from stations in Midlothian such as Gorebridge - where some critics of the project wanted the route terminated.
Trains on the line have also been dogged by poor punctuality, with just 45 per cent of services reaching Tweedbank within one minute of schedule last month, although that was 2 percentage points better than in March.
There have also been complaints about the lack of seats, with most services being operated by two-carriage trains from ScotRail’s least reliable fleet of Class 158 diesels.
Allan McLean, chair of the Campaign for Borders Rail, said: “The Borders Railway has proved to be a huge success. Some of us always knew it would be. Others took a negative view and they have been proved wrong.
“Confirmation that trains have attracted much larger numbers of passengers than forecast proves that more people are travelling to, from and within the Scottish Borders by public transport.
“This should be good news for bus services, especially those that connect with trains.”
Transport minister Humza Yousaf said: “There has been a surge of interest in the Borders Railway since it reopened last year - this is evident in the number of people who have travelled on the line over the first six months since opening.
“These figures are fantastic news for the region, further justifying the decision to bring a railway line back to the Borders for the first time in over 40 years.
“Far from resting on our laurels, the Scottish Government is now continuing our work with others, through the Borders Blueprint, to ensure we build upon this positive start to support new opportunities, such as housing, commercial and leisure development along the Borders Railway corridor.”
Phil Verster, managing director of the ScotRail Alliance, which includes line builder Network Rail, said: “We are incredibly proud to operate services on the Borders Railway – a route which, as the numbers show, is hugely popular with our customers. “The extremely positive first six months is a wonderful start, and gives us a solid foundation on which to continue to attract new visitors to and from the Borders.
“We are committed to ensuring the lasting legacy of the Borders Railway.”
The route was officially opened by the Queen on the day she became Britain’s longest reigning monarch, and hosted a trip by the Flying Scotsman locomotive two weeks ago, to huge acclaim.
The SNP has pledged to investigate the feasibility of extending the route, which closed in 1969, to Hawick and Carlisle.