Borders Rail steam train tourism plan

First Minister Alex Salmond at Eildon Mill this morning. Picture: Johnston Press

First Minister Alex Salmond at Eildon Mill this morning. Picture: Johnston Press

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The long awaited Borders Railway will be operational from September 6 next year it was announced by the First Minister today, with plans for a steam train experience to operate on the line.

Alex Salmond announced future plans for a feasibility study of the Borders Railway, to look at how the railway will transform the tourism potential of the region.

The study, led by Scottish Enterprise in partnership with VisitScotland, Scottish Borders Council and Transport Scotland, will look at tourist opportunities from any future development of the line.

This includes the potential for a turntable and the creation of a permanent home at Tweedbank Station for the Great Tapestry of Scotland, the world’s longest embroidered tapestry, reflecting the textile heritage of the area.

Plans were announced to maximise the tourist potential of the line by introducing a steam train experience which could benefit the local economy by million of pounds a year.

The steam train experience will start as early as September 2015.

The intention is for a significant expansion as the tapestry centre opens in 2016.

Speaking from the site of Tweedbank Station, the First Minister said: “From September 2015 -- for the first time in almost half a century -- there will be passenger train services running on this track.

“For commuters and tourists alike, the reopened line will provide opportunities to enjoy the many fantastic attractions and experiences on offer in the Borders.

“We can expect the Scottish economy to benefit by tens of millions of pounds from the regular train line.

“The feasibility study will look at how the area can benefit from the railway. With a dedicated tourist service and the attraction of the Great Tapestry of Scotland to be based at Tweedbank, more people than ever will get to visit and enjoy Scotland’s stunning Borders.

“There will be few railway journeys anywhere in Europe to match the outstanding scenery along the route of the new Borders Railway.

“I have no doubt that Borders Railway will be profoundly successful and I will be one of the first in line for a ticket when the trains are running in September next year.”

Other measures have also been announced to help boost the potential tourism brought by the new railway, such as extending the platform at Galashiels Station to accommodate a longer train -- allowing passengers to alight and explore the town - as well as a path being constructed to connect Newtongrange to the National Mining Museum.

There will also be Wifi connectivity available at all seven stations on the route of the railway

A train will be covered in special livery advertising the tourist potential of the Borders.

Council leader, Councillor Owen Thompson welcomed the news that Transport Scotland is to fund a path directly from the new station at Newtongrange into the National Mining Museum Scotland.

He said: “The 5 star mining museum is just one of scores of attractions here in Midlothian.

“We sit just 10 miles south of Edinburgh city centre and the county is steeped in history, picturesque villages and wonderful scenery.

“The station itself will potentially bring enormous economic benefits to the area and to hear Transport Scotland is now funding a path straight to one of our most fascinating museums is great news for the museum in particular and tourism in general.

“I am looking forward immensely to the re-opening of the railway when the museum and lots of local businesses will be making visitors, new and old, very welcome.”

Catherine Maxwell Stewart, Tourism Business representative on the Scottish Borders Community Planning Partnership said: “The Borders Railway offers a fantastic opportunity for local tourism businesses to attract new visitors to the area and to offer them exciting, new experiences.”

Mike Cantlay, Chairman of VisitScotland said: “The scenery from Edinburgh through Midlothian down to the Scottish Borders and back again is remarkable and I have no doubt that visitors will make the journey just for the experience as well as to visit the many attractions along the way, including the National Mining Museum Scotland at Newtongrange and Abbotsford House.

“The romanticism captured by steam trains will give the route added value, following in the tracks of the Jacobite steam train journey from Fort William to Mallaig which welcomes thousands of visitors every year.

“We are excited that we are moving ever closer to the launch of this magnificent new line and will be working with partners over the coming months to ensure the tourism potential of the Borders Railway is fully realised, encouraging visitors to explore yet more of Scotland’s beautiful urban and rural landscapes.”

Alistair Moffat, co-chairman of the Great Tapestry of Scotland Trustees said how it would be “fitting and satisfying” to see the tapestry return to the Borders, where it was started, after it has been “stitched by a thousand Scots”.

The first rails of the Borders Railway were laid last week in Bowshank Tunnel near Galashiels.

The project is set to cost £350 million.