The Anonymous Widower

Where Now For The Borders Railway?

On Monday I took a trip down the new Borders Railway to Tweedbank station.

It has been put together with care and no-one can say it will be falling apart in a couple of years.


According to Wikipedia, there have been three major criticisms of the new line.

  1. Infrastructure Capability – It’s just a basic railway.
  2. Timetabling – Critics think they can do it better.
  3. Failure to continue to Melrose – New lines always have the wrong route.

I think though that you have to allow the line to bed down and allow the operator to overcome any problems that might be thrown up.

My thoughts on the three areas will now be given.

Infrastructure Capability

It is a railway that is designed to handle two trains an hour in each direction taking just under the hour for the whole journey.

Critics have said, that it should be double-tracked and electrified. But if it was, this would probably double the capacity of the line and will there be enough passengers to fill an enhanced service?

If in the future, the line suffers from overcrowded trains, to which new lines in the UK seem to be prone, there is a simple way to increase the capacity of the line. And that is to run longer trains!

I suspect that as the line has been built to take steam specials, the line will have the capability of taking diesel multiple units of four carriages.

Hopefully, there’s enough platform capacity at Waverley. But I do have a feeling that Waverley will need to be given some extra capacity, as more and more trains go to the Scottish capital, of which the Borders Railway is just one of several planned new services.


In a few years time, the timetable will be very different, as the current one is only an initial estimate of what is needed.

Failure To Continue To Melrose

In my view they have done something much better by creating an integrated train-bus interchange at Galashiels, which serves the whole Border region.

It may be in the future, they need to extend the line to Melrose, but if any bus route from Galashiels gets overcrowded, it is a lot easier to add a few more buses, than build a new railway line. At least if you catch the bus from Galashiels you wait in a nice comfortable bus station, rather than on top of the North Bridge in the wind and rain.

Possible Improvements

Much of the improvement to the line will be organic and small.

  1. Shops and kiosks will appear in and around stations, driven by the needs of passengers creating business opportunities.
  2. If passenger numbers increase, then the trains will gain extra carriages. Electrification of other routes in the UK, may help this, as it will release some longer trains.
  3. Operational problems may show up limitations in the track and signalling and small changes may improve reliability, time-keeping and may even reduce the journey time.

I am basing these conclusions on what I have seen on other new and much improved lines in the country.

But bigger improvements will be possible.

Extension To Melrose

This will only happen, if indications are positive that the service will pay for itself. But it could be an expensive line to rebuild, as the Melrose by-pass has been built over part of the line.

A positive could be that any extension to Melrose, might serve the Borders General Hospital,

Extension To Carlisle

Strangely, I think this will be more likely than an extension to just Melrose, as it will be an English project as well as it opens up a new route up the West Coast to Edinburgh, which could be used by freight trains in addition to passenger ones.

When the equivalent rail lines in the North of England are modernised, a Borders Railway to Carlisle, would open up a large area bordered by Edinburgh, Carlisle and Newcastle for rail-based tourism, with excellent links to the large centres of population in the UK.

But until we see how successful, the Borders Railway will be, extension to Carlisle is a remote possibility.

Extension To Penicuik

The creation of a branch to Penicuik is raised in Proposed Extensions in the Wikipedia entry for the Borders Railway.

At present Heriot-Watt University is looking into the proposal for Midlothian Council.

Changes At Edinburgh

There could be changes to the line at the Waverley end of the line, as Network Rail and Scotrail improve services in the capital.

At present services from Dunbar and North Berwick go across the city to destinations in the West. There must be a very small chance that services on the Borders Railway might be extended past Waverley to at least Haymarket.

Trains or trams might also run on the Edinburgh Suburban and Southside Junction Railway in a loop across the South of the City. Although this will not directly affect the Borders Railway, train times may be adjusted so they connect better.

New Stations On the Current Route

Passenger numbers and patterns of use, property development, jobs and other factors will create a need for new stations on the route.

These could be totally new or opened up at places where stations used to exist in the past. If you look at the diagram of the old Waverley Route, there are several places, where stations have not been rebuilt.

If built these will add to the passenger numbers on the line and this could create the need for other improvements, like longer trains.

Remember too, that this line was designed down to a price in the mid-2000s, based on the assumptions of the time. Since then, there has been a big change in our attitude to railways with big projects like the London Overground being created from terrible lines and being tremendous successes and smaller ones in Birmingham, Lancashire and Scotland showing good returns, Government is much more likely to fund a properly costed rail project.

So I wouldnt be surprised to see a couple of new stations in the next few years on the Borders Railway.

Electric Trains

For the last few years, electric trains don’t necessarily mean those taking current continuously from overhead lines. Bombardier’s new Aventra electric multiple unit, has a battery variant called an IPEMU. Provided it can charge the battery on a convenient overhead line, it can then run for sixty miles on the battery.

As Edinburgh to Tweedbank is about thirty-five miles, I would suspect that an IPEMU would be able to manage the journey, charging the battery on the short section of the East Coast Main Line at Edinburgh, before the train turns off onto the Borders Railway.

These IPEMU trains are modern, environmentally-friendly four-car trains, that can run on lines that are partially electrified without any modification to the lines, if they can handle diesel multiple units, like those currently running on the Borders Railway.

They may be the best way of providing a higher-capacity service, that run the route slightly faster, due to their faster acceleration.

Knock-On Effects On Other Lines

If the Borders Railway is a rip-roaring success, this will add to pressure to reopen or substantially improve rail lines all over the country.

Don’t Underestimate Engineers!

Because of the unique status of Scotland in the UK and the good publicity the new Borders Railway has received, I have a feeling that as the ultimate objective of the Scottish Government to connect to Carlisle will be fulfilled, as so many other parties like Councils in the North of England, freight companies and Network Rail will give their support for all sorts of reasons,

And a lot of engineers, architects, engineering companies and train manufacturers will come up with innovative solutions for those dreams.

After all what better showcase is there for your new construction technique, train or rail-related product?





September 9, 2015 - Posted by | Transport | , ,

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