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Tourist traffic ‘key to Borders Railway success’

Published 28 May 2015 by Colin Howden

Press release from rail author David Spaven – not for publication until Thursday 28 May 2015


Tourist and leisure passengers – originally dismissed as of marginal importance – may now be a crucial factor in the success of the Borders Railway [1] opening in September, according to the author of a new edition of his book reviewing the history of the project. In Waverley Route: the battle for the Borders Railway [2], David Spaven [3] contrasts the downbeat verdict on tourist potential in the original railway feasibility study for the Scottish Executive with the more recent endorsement of this important market and the scenic qualities of the route by the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary, Keith Brown, and former First Minister, Alex Salmond. Launching the new edition of his book published today, Spaven commented:

‘The original feasibility study in 2000 by consultants Scott Wilson, which has largely determined the kind of railway we will be getting, was incredibly lukewarm about tourist potential, despite the Borders being renowned for Sir Walter Scott’s home at Abbotsford, several historic abbeys and delightful scenery. It said that ‘existing tourist attractions are not likely to benefit from the proposed rail service’ and that ‘south of Gorebridge the line runs through moderately attractive scenery…some tourists will travel out from Edinburgh “for the ride” on the line, but there is no reason to believe that they will spend significant amounts of money in the Borders.’ ‘

Spaven argues that the combination of half-hourly ScotRail services from Edinburgh to Galashiels and Tweedbank, and the timetable provision for tourist charter trains from further afield – plus Scottish Borders Council’s strong promotion of rail-related opportunities for local tourist businesses – could in fact be key to the new railway exceeding patronage expectations:

‘The official traffic forecasts for the line are very conservative, equating to fewer than three passengers per train at Galashiels and at Tweedbank, and traffic modelling techniques really haven’t been able to address the non-commuting markets adequately.

‘Unfortunately, there are real concerns that commuter use of this largely single-track line will be inhibited by longer journey times and reliability problems caused by the Scottish Government cutting back the amount of double-track from 16 miles to just 9½ miles [4]. Arguably, however, the tourist market will be more tolerant of slower journeys or any service unreliability than will regular rail users, and with the added attraction of the Great Tapestry of Scotland visitor centre to be located adjacent to Tweedbank station, my feeling is that tourist and leisure passengers to the Borders stations and to Newtongrange – for the National Mining Museum – could be the key to the railway exceeding its patronage forecasts.

‘It will be ironic indeed if this market – which was largely dismissed by the original Scott Wilson feasibility study – proves to be a critical traffic generator. Sadly there is also some irony in the contrast between Scottish Ministers’ eulogies to the scenic qualities of the Borders Railway and Network Rail’s at times brutalist structure designs – typified by Stow, where the rural architectural charms of the original 1849 station building are swamped by a sea of uncompromising concrete ramps and utilitarian bus shelters. And the intrusive 1.8m-high metal mesh fencing along various stretches of the line makes the rail corridor look like a prison perimeter in places, rather than blending into the surrounding landscape.’

The author – himself a long-standing rail campaigner – praises the role of the Campaign for Borders Rail (CBR) in persuading the political establishment that tourism should be a key factor in the promotion of the railway:

‘CBR campaigned long and hard for a bigger role for the railway to be acknowledged, and its research and lobbying was crucial to then Transport Minister Keith Brown’s eleventh-hour decision in late 2012 to authorise extension of the platform and tracks at Tweedbank to accommodate 12-coach tourist charter trains. It would be good to see the key successes of Borders rail campaigners [5] – largely unsung over the years – properly acknowledged during the re-opening celebrations on 4th to 6th September [6].’

The new edition of Spaven’s book – first published in 2012 as Waverley Route: the life, death and rebirth of the Borders Railway – charts the progress of construction work between 2012 and 2015, and reveals new insider insights into the political tensions and stand-off between the railway promoter and campaigners in the years leading up to the authorisation of the new railway by the Scottish Parliament in 2006 and thereafter [7].

MORE INFO: David Spaven on 0131-447-7764 or 07917-877399


[1] The Borders Railway from Edinburgh through Midlothian to Galashiels and Tweedbank – a distance of 35 miles – opens to passengers on 6th September 2015.  With 30½ miles of newly constructed railway, it is the longest line to have been built in Scotland since the Fort William-Mallaig railway in 1901 – and the longest stretch of rail re-opening in British history.

[2] Waverley Route: the battle for the Borders Railway is published by Argyll Publishing on 28 May (paperback, 272pp, price £14.99). It is a revised and updated 100,000 word edition of Waverley Route: the life, death and rebirth of the Borders Railway published in 2012 by Argyll Publishing. See:

[3] David Spaven is a rail consultant and author by profession. A railway enthusiast since childhood, and a geographer by training, he has spent his working life in and around the rail industry. His other books include the award-winning and best-selling Mapping the Railways (Times Books, 2011) and the forthcoming Railway Atlas of Scotland (Birlinn, September 2015).

[4] In its December 2009 Prequalification Document for the Borders Railway Design, Build, Finance and Maintain Contract Competition [Appendix A], the Scottish Government agency Transport Scotland stipulated “49.4 km [30½ miles] of single bi-directional track with three dynamic passing loops from the point of connection to Great Britain’s national rail network at Millerhill to Tweedbank station; Track layout consists of 23.6 km [14½ miles] of single plain line track and 25.8 km [16 miles] of double plainline track”. The Borders Railway as built has just 9½ miles of double track.

In Appendix B, Transport Scotland stated: “The railway and station infrastructure shall be capable of accommodating a maximum 55 minute timetabled passenger train service of two trains per hour in each direction between Edinburgh Waverley and Tweedbank for an around 19 hour, 7 day timetable calling at all stations”. The Borders Railway timetable commencing on 6th September 2015 has a minimum journey time of 55 minutes from Edinburgh to Tweedbank, with 29 out of 33 trains (Monday to Friday) taking longer than 55 minutes. The maximum journey time is 66 minutes from Edinburgh to Tweedbank, and 62 minutes from Tweedbank to Edinburgh.

[5] Key supporting successes for campaigners from the Campaign for Borders Rail, Stow Station Supporters Group and the Waverley Route Trust – over and above the core strategic achievement of getting the railway re-opened – include:

·      first coining the ‘Borders Railway’ name (in 2004)

·      incorporation of a station stop at Stow

·      saving of the original 1849 station building at Stow

·      the Tweedbank track layout redesigned to take 12-coach charter trains

·      the new ScotRail franchisee required to accommodate train paths for charters in the service timetable

·      maximum waiting time at the pedestrian crossing of the A7 from the bus to rail stations in Gala cut from 90 to 30 seconds

·      the first train of the day to Edinburgh retimed to provide a robust connection into the 06.25 service to London

·      Class 158 trains to be refurbished to provide better window/seat matching and enhanced luggage/cycle space.

[6] Celebrations and special trains to mark the opening of the Borders are scheduled for Friday 4th and Saturday 5th September, with ScotRail services commencing on Sunday 6th September. Those of a more superstitious nature may pause to reflect that the number 6 has a particularly strong relationship with this railway. The Waverley Route closed on 6th January 1969, the Borders Railway contract between the Scottish Government and Network Rail was signed on 6th November 2012, Network Rail’s rail-laying train started work on the Borders Railway on 6th October 2014, and ScotRail trains will begin operation to Tweedbank on 6th September 2015!

[7] With newly-unearthed archive material from the late 1960s, the book also sheds further light on the flawed political processes which led to the closure of the Waverley Route through the Borders in 1969. For rail enthusiasts, Spaven reveals details of the locomotives which have survived from the final days of Waverley Route operation in January 1969, and the book also has over 100 illustrations, including a revised selection of photographs and a new map of the Borders Railway infrastructure, to illustrate the contrasting fortunes of the late 1960s’ Waverley Route and the new line which will put the Borders and Midlothian back on the railway map in September.