HUNDREDS of passengers will today be among the first for nearly half a century to take a train to the central Borders, ahead of tomorrow’s historic line re-opening.
The winners of 480 “Golden Tickets” will board special services from the Borders Railway’s seven new stations as part of celebrations to mark its restoration between Edinburgh and Tweedbank. The original Waverley line – named after Sir Walter Scott’s novels – closed 46 years ago.
Lord Steel, who campaigned against the route’s closure and was on its last passenger train, will travel on the first train from Galashiels. In a speech in the town, the former Liberal Democrat MP is expected to say: “The loss of the railway in 1969 was the saddest disappointment in my 50 years in parliament and I am simply delighted we are here today to create an exciting new chapter in Borders history.”
Golden Ticket winners, nominated for their community service, include former Scottish Borders Tourism Partnership chairman Tom Burnham.
He admitted: “I burst into tears when I was told I had won a ticket. It is an enormous honour. My 12-year-old granddaughter is coming with me and she is really excited too.”
The pioneer passengers will be followed by the first of an expected 650,000 annual travellers on the line when the inaugural public service leaves Tweedbank for Edinburgh at 8:45am tomorrow.
The £350 million line – the construction costs were £294m – will be officially opened on Wednesday by the Queen, who will travel in a steam train on the day she becomes Britain’s longest-reigning monarch. A crowd of 3,000 is expected to greet her at Tweedbank alone.
A series of 17 sold-out steam specials starts the following day, with extra carriages being added to meet demand.
The 30-mile route, extending from existing tracks five miles from Edinburgh, is the longest to be built in Scotland since the Fort William-Mallaig line opened in 1901 and is believed to be the longest line re-opening ever in Britain.
However, historian Ann Glen, author of newly published The Waverley Route – Its Heritage and Revival, said rail travel could take time to grow in the Borders after such a long gap.
She said: “This is the seed corn stage, but I hope in a year from now people will not just have come to accept it but also see its benefits.”