Borders Railway cuts ‘could hold back development’

NETWORK Rail warned Transport Scotland that cuts to the Borders Railway project could hold back its future development, The Scotsman has learned.
Workmen tend to the Newtongrange Viaduct, which will form part of the Borders Railway route. Picture: Neil HannaWorkmen tend to the Newtongrange Viaduct, which will form part of the Borders Railway route. Picture: Neil Hanna
Workmen tend to the Newtongrange Viaduct, which will form part of the Borders Railway route. Picture: Neil Hanna

The news comes as campaigners today criticised the Scottish Government agency for failing to “future proof” the mainly single-track line by building new road bridges which will hamper the later addition of a second track for more trains.

The Campaign for Borders Rail (CBR) also fears knock-on delays to passengers will be caused by the shortening of passing loops on the 30-mile line between Edinburgh and Tweedbank, near Galashiels, which is due to open in September next year.

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The Scotsman has been told that Network Rail officials raised concerns about the failure to “optimise” the project to accommodate future growth.

This is understood to have happened before Network Rail agreed in 2012 to construct the line, following a failed attempt by ministers to have it built and maintained by the private sector.

Scottish train travel has doubled in the last two decades, reaching nearly 90 million journeys in 2012-13, with transport minister Keith Brown referring to a new “golden age” for rail.

First Minister Alex Salmond said last week he expected the Borders Railway would be “one of the most enormous tourist line successes we have ever seen”, and held out the possibility of the entire former Waverley line being re-opened to Carlisle.

Eight bridges have been built over the Edinburgh-Tweedbank section, which campaigners claim would have to be remodelled at ten times their original cost for a second track to be laid.

The line’s three passing loops have also been reduced from a total of 16 miles to 9.5 miles.

Rail consultant David Spaven, the author of Waverley Route: the life, death and rebirth of the Borders Railway, said while the project was being cut back, the roads element of it was being “gold-plated”.

He said: “By contrast to the skimping on rail infrastructure, the new road overbridges are being built to the highest standards, often becoming the widest section of a local road – and all paid for by the rail project.

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“Even more perversely, for the Edinburgh City Bypass, a longer rail tunnel than required is being constructed under the bypass – to cater for possible future extra road lanes to accommodate growth.”

CBR chairman Simon Walton said: “With shorter double track stretches for trains to pass in, even a few minutes’ lateness would cause knock-on delays to trains travelling in the opposite direction.”

Mr Walton also called for the upgrading of existing tracks into Edinburgh which the new line will join at Newcraighall, such as a 15mph speed limit at a junction in Portobello.

He said: “These upgrades could also be the key to delivering greater reliability and may partially compensate for the reduced capacity on the newly re-built Borders Railway itself.”

Network Rail said it had discussed the scope of the project with Transport Scotland at various points and had highlighted things for consideration.

Its spokesman said: “The new Borders Railway has been robustly designed and engineered and we are confident the line will deliver an excellent service for passengers for years to come.”

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “Transport Scotland and Network Rail are working together to bring rail services back to the people of the Scottish Borders and Midlothian for the first time in almost half a century.

“Construction of this new, £353 million, 30 mile and seven station strong railway was agreed by Transport Scotland and Network Rail and is well underway all along the route.”