Robert Drysdale: Borders Rail upgrade would improve confidence

Delays are too common on the Borders Railway. Picture: comp
Delays are too common on the Borders Railway. Picture: comp
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USING modern trains and extending the tracks could help end the frequent disruption on an otherwise wonderful facility, says Robert Drysdale

THE Campaign for Borders Rail (CBR) spent more than 15 years arguing the case for the reopening of the railway from Edinburgh into the Borders, before trains finally began running as far as Tweedbank in September 2015. Little wonder, then, that CBR is delighted that all the hard work eventually paid off and the people of the Borders can once again catch a train to and from the Capital, with trains running from early morning until after midnight.

Yet all has not been well with the new railway. The decision of Transport Scotland to cut construction costs, by reducing the lengths of double track on the route from 16 miles to 9½ miles, means that the rail service is prone to disruption and delay. This is because trains cannot pass each other on the single track sections of the line, so a late-running train inevitably causes other trains on the line to run late too.

Another disappointment has been that the trains allocated to run on the new railway are more than 25 years old and have a reputation for breaking down – a problem which has been experienced a number of times on the Borders Railway. On April 1 the 14.24 train to Tweedbank left Edinburgh on time but, because of mechanical problems, reached Tweedbank 55 minutes late – and caused delays and cancellations to subsequent trains. On April 19 the 12.59 from Tweedbank was an incredible 88 minutes late arriving into Edinburgh. One day later an evening train broke down at Gorebridge, leaving passengers marooned in the station for an hour before the next train arrived.

There were many other instances of disruption during April, including several signal failures which brought all services to a standstill. During the first week of April a total of 34 trains were cancelled, and another 23 trains were cancelled in the fourth week, with many others delayed. On some occasions ScotRail ran trains non-stop through intermediate stations in order to make up for lost time, leaving some passengers stranded. And on Sunday, May 1 there were yet more train cancellations.

Because of the recent disruptions, many passengers using the line will be wondering whether they can still rely on the new railway for important journeys, particularly to get to work or to make onward connections.

What can be done to restore confidence in the Borders Railway? CBR wants to see more modern reliable trains introduced long before ScotRail’s proposed date of 2018. The causes of the recent signal failures must be thoroughly investigated and resolved. And plans need to be prepared to extend the short lengths of double track along the route, to provide more scope for trains to pass each other. There is also an urgent requirement for more tracks to be installed on the very congested approach from Portobello into Edinburgh Waverley.

The Borders Railway is a wonderful new transport facility, but these improvements would greatly help its long-term reliability and reinforce passengers’ confidence in the service.

• Robert Drysdale is vice-chair of Campaign for Borders Rail