The Anonymous Widower

Where Now For Rail In The Border Country?

In this post I use the term Border Country to describe the Scottish Borders and the area of England that adjoins the actual border. The two sides of the border have a long association with fighting on the one hand and co-operation on the other.

But whatever happens on one side has a direct effect on the other.  It has been thus, ever since England and Scotland first became nations.

So you understand what area I’m talking about let’s define the Border country as any part of Scotland South of a line drawn south of the Greater Edinburgh and Glasgow areas and in England anything North of say a line from Middlesbrough to Penrith. Apart from the main north-south, East Coast Main Line and West Coast Main Line, there are not many  major railways, except for.

!. The Waverley Line, from Edinburgh to Carlisle, the Northern part of which is being rebuilt at the Borders Railway.

2. Carlisle to Newcastle, which has recently been prioritised for electrification and is very much a scenic line.

3. Settle to Carlisle is another down for electrification, which is also an important diversion for freight from the West Coast Main Line.

4. Cumbrian Coast Line that encircles the Lake District is another line on the electrification list.

5. The various lines linking Newcastle, Sunderland, Middlesbrough, Saltburn, Whitby and Darlington are a set of lines that will be electrified to create the Tees Valley Metro.

Most of them are scenic lines, with lots of Listed structures, good walking country and excellent food and drink.

So what factors will effect how the railway network develops in the Border country?

1. The Success Of The Borders Railway

I can’t see the new Borders Railway between Edinburgh and Tweedbank, being anything other than a big success. Virtually, every new train or tram line built in the UK and the wider world in the last few years except for the Dutch High Speed Line; HSL-Zuid has been a rip-roaring success.

My only worry about the Borders Railway is that they have decided to open on September 6, which was the day chosen by HSL-Zuid.

This success will lead to demands to extend the railway all the way to Carlisle. Some politicians have stated this is an aim. This extract is from Wikipedia.

In April 2014, Alex Salmond said the Scottish government would consider reopening the entire length of the Waverley Line to Carlisle; he said, “the success of the 30-mile stretch to just south of Galashiels would ‘calibrate’ a feasibility study into rebuilding the remaining 70 miles”

It could also lead to pressure for the reopening of other lines in the Border country.

2.Increase In Anglo-Scottish Traffic

Last week,according to this report in Modern Railways, First Group have applied to run a one-class rail service between London and Edinburgh to compete with the budget airlines.

If more services are sanctioned it will put pressure on both the East and West Coast Main Lines and it is unlikely that HS2 will be built within a few years. More likely this will only happen in a few decades!

And it won’t just be passenger trains, as when the economy gets better on both sides of the border, freight trains will increase too!

The only hope to increase capacity in the short term is to get passenger services on the two current main lines running at 140 mph, selectively add another track and hope by the use of ERTMS you can create a enough paths for the extra trains.

Somewhere there is an ambition to run trains between the English and Scottish capitals in four hours. When this happens, I suspect it will further increase the number of Anglo-Scottish passengers.

At a pinch, I suppose you could move freight trains to an uprated and fully-rebuilt Waverley Line, which could reach the English Midlands, via the Settle and Carlisle Line, to further eke out capacity, but it just goes to show how much HS2 will be needed all the way to Scotland.

3. Electrification In The North Of England

If this goes as far as the report of the North of England Electrification Task Force suggest, this could increase the number of lines in the Border country that get electrified. According to the Borders Railway web site, the new railway is being created so that electrification could be added reasonably easily.

You would hope that as they do more electrification, the engineers will get better at putting up the wires and keeping costs down. They may also come up with less obtrusive ways of electrification.

4. Improvements In Central Scotland

It seems that the railways between Edinburgh and Glasgow are very much like the railways between Liverpool and Manchester. There are several routes and they should have been electrified forty years ago.

In Glasgow too, you have the problem that trains can’t run between the West Coast Main Line and Perth, Aberdeen and Inverness. Passengers have to take a bus, taxi or walk across the city centre.

Hopefully, with the completion of the Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme and the final implementation of Glasgow Crossrail, things will get better in a few years.

One outcome will be that more tourists will treat Glasgow and Edinburgh as one destination and will perhaps stay longer and explore the area more. So properly marketed they will take trips down into the Border country.

5. Track And Station Innovation

When I traced the Borders Railway on Friday and then when I looked up some of the visualisations of the track and stations, I was surprised how different some are to your typical station. Most on the Borders Railway are simple bi-directional stations on a single line, just like James Cook station in Middlesbrough.

As Network Rail and their appointed architects and engineers improve the design, this will mean that more lines can be reopened for an affordable cost.

I suspect too, that the designs will be used to create new stations in new developments all over the UK.

One good thing about the Borders Railway, is that there are no level crossings, with all of their adverse safety implications.

6. Train Innovation

Over the last few weeks, I’ve ridden battery-powered trains in Essex and tram-trains in Germany and France. So could innovation in train design mean that designers come up with a train that offers serious advantages over today’s trains for running on both heavy rail lines and perhaps on-street? And could it use a battery so that it doesn’t need to have fully-electrified lines?

I’m not sure yet, but something less capital intensive than today’s trains will be developed for use off the main electrified network.

Perhaps the ultimate train would be a variant of a Class 379 train or Class 399 tram/train, that could run on any voltage, but had a battery capability giving a range of perhaps sixty miles. Such a train could probably be used on the line between Carlisle and Newcastle with ease, as because both ends are electrified, it could charge the batteries fully at both ends.

The battery option would give all the speed and comfort of an electric train on rural lines, but without the cost and hassle of putting up electric wires.


A lot of the lines in the Border country are fairly simple, so ERTMS may make life even simpler as there will be no signals at the track-side to maintain in remote locations. In fact the Cambrian Line in Wales, which is very much a remote line has been working under ERTMS since 2010. This article from ERTMSOnline says that after a couple of teething problems things are going well now.

I don’t know whether the Borders Railway will run under ERTMS, but from what I’ve read, it would be more efficient if it did.

Certainly if you were opening a new line in a few years, ERTMS would be used and there would be no line-side signals.

8. Leisure Opportunities

If the Border country has lots of decent railway lines connecting small towns to major stations on main lines, it can’t help but encourage more people to explore the area.

The Borders Railway may well be opened with a steam train, although the design of Tweedbank station has not been designed with a run-around loop, so the engine can change ends.

Abellio ScotRail, who are the new franchise operator for Scotland are reported under their Wikipedia entry like this.

The franchise agreement requires the introduction of ‘Great Scottish Scenic Railway’ trains on the West Highland, Far North, Kyle, Borders Railway and Glasgow South Western lines. Steam special services will also be promoted by Scotrail.

As Abellio ScotRail are also committed to running shorter InterCity 125s between the major cities in Scotland, could we see a regular service to the Borders using one of these iconic trains?

When the Borders Railway is extended to Carlisle, as it surely will be, I suspect that these trains would take the Settle and Carlisle route all the way to Leeds.

If the trains were given a Chiltern-style spacious refurbishment, the finest and fastest diesel train, the world has ever seen, will have found a mission for a long and happy retirement.


All of these technical developments will mean that in a decade or so, the Border country will be criss-crossed by railways, where modern electric trains and a few heritage trains will speed passengers comfortably about their business.

It can’t but help to secure a prosperous future for the area.

March 15, 2015 - Posted by | Transport | , ,

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