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Paul Tetlaw’s rail update, July 2015

Published 31 July 2015 by Colin Howden

Paul Tetlaw’s rail update, July 2015

There has been a lot of activity on the rail front in recent months and this feature sets out some of the key developments as they affect us in Scotland.

Scotrail franchise
From April Abellio took over the operation of the main franchise with Serco taking over the sleeper services to London. Many new initiatives are planned by both operators and we have met with both of them. It is still early days and there is a clear sense that both are going through a settling-in period.

The electrification programme across Central Scotland is now gathering momentum and regular travellers may have noticed support poles for the overhead wires starting to appear along the route. Work has also started on Edinburgh Gateway station. This is adjacent to the Gogar tram depot and when completed in 2016 it will provide direct interchange between trains on the Fife line and Edinburgh trams. During the period 30 May to 26th July Winchburgh tunnel is closed to make preparations for electrification through the tunnel. Trains are being diverted via Dalmeny and through travellers between Edinburgh and Glasgow are being advised to use either the Bathgate line of one of the two routes to Glasgow Central.

Electrification of the route through Winchburgh will allow for the construction of a new station to serve the substantial housing developments planned for the area. The new station is likely to be served by trains on the Edinburgh to Dunblane route and will be open by December 2018.

East Coast Main Line
The East Coast franchise is now being run by a Stagecoach /Virgin partnership. Whilst Virgin only have a 10% stake in the franchise the route is being marketed as Virgin Trains East Coast. New IEP trains built by Hitachi will be introduced onto the route from September 2018 and many new and faster services are promised as part of the franchise. Similarly, the new Scotrail franchise allows for a new service between Edinburgh and Berwick upon Tweed with new stations at Reston and East Linton.

However these all require approval from the ORR (Office of Road and Rail) as there are a limited number of train paths currently available on the East Coast Main Line(ECML). Two Open Access Operators also have ambitions to run more trains on the route and we have been contacted by both of them – First Group  and Alliance Rail. First plan to run 5 trains a day between Edinburgh and London whereas Alliance have more ambitious plans and hope to introduce an hourly service using new tilting trains and reducing the journey time to 3 hours 43 minutes.

On top of this the new TPE franchise bidders have been invited to submit proposals for extending Newcastle trains to Edinburgh. However this latter proposal now seems unlikely to happen for a good number of years as the Dft have just announced that the trans- pennine electrification is to be delayed. What will certainly happen is the opening of the new Borders Railway on 6 September. Whilst this is very welcome and enjoys our full support we remain concerned about the severe cutbacks made to the scheme by Transport Scotland which leaves the new route largely single track. Trains to and from the Borders have to negotiate the East Coast Main Line at the single track junction at Portobello and leave or approach  Waverley Station via the single track Calton tunnels. There is very little scope for any delays to trains on the Borders Railway and disruption to ECML trains and cancelled trains to the Borders may well be a consequence of the cutbacks made by Transport Scotland.

The railway in general is booming with passenger numbers at record levels but the cutbacks of the Beeching era have left us with insufficient capacity to meet the demand for existing and new services. Significant upgrades to the route are clearly required and meantime we await with interest the ORR’s decision on the competing proposals for extra services on the ECML.

Borders Railway
As discussed above the new railway opens to passenger services on 6 September and the timetable and fares are now published. The new railway will enjoy 33 trains a day in each direction with trains from Tweedbank starting as early as 05.20 and last trains from Edinburgh leaving as late as 23.55. We expect huge media and passenger interest in the opening from all across the UK and beyond and tickets are now on sale. Ministers, Transport Scotland and Abellio will be hoping for a smooth operation free from delays and cancellations.

Edinburgh Trams
At the end of the first year of operation passenger numbers were almost 5 million – some 370 000 ahead of projections. Edinburgh Council have commissioned a report on extensions to the route and options for funding are being explored. We are confident that extensions will be built as has been the case with new tramways across the world – it is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’.

More Rail News
Looking ahead we envisage further rail re-openings with Levenmouth perhaps being the first, further electrification and City Deals which will provide opportunities to enhance rail services. We’ll report on these in future newsletters.