ONCE complete, it will become the longest stretch of once-defunct rail to be reopened in modern British history.
More than 400 new jobs are being created to get the £300 million Borders Railway link up to scratch in time for trains to start running in summer 2015.
Seven new stations – at Shawfair, Eskbank, Newtongrange, Gorebridge, Stow, Galashiels and the end of the line at Tweedbank – will be built along the 35-mile route from Waverley to the Borders.
Site clearances, ground investigations and mine remediation works are already under way as part of the major engineering project.
The News revealed on Saturday that a huge tunnel will be built beneath the City Bypass this summer, with up to 50,000 commuters diverted each day along a temporary two-lane carriageway to allow for a 130ft wide section of the road to be removed.
This will allow a double track section of rail to pass under the A720, at a site just 200 metres east of Sheriffhall Roundabout.
Network Rail project director Hugh Wark said: “The mobilisation for the main works is now under way, with the first earth moving and bridge works set to begin in spring this year.
“We expect to directly employ over 400 people during the construction stage, and that’s perhaps unsurprising when you consider that there are literally thousands of tonnes of earth to be removed from the line of route in numerous locations along the line.
“We’ve split the construction of the route into three sections – north, central and south – and we’ll be working simultaneously in all locations. While the earth works are progressing, we’ll also be working on the big civil engineering challenges such as the bridge under the City Bypass, a large viaduct at Hardengreen and major new road configurations in Falahill, Heriot and Fountainhall.
“Our on-site teams are currently focused on the advance works in preparation for the start of the main works later this year. The advance works have included tree and vegetation clearance from the line of route, ground investigations and mining remediation.
“The bulk of the mine works have been carried out in the Midlothian area, where miles of historic mine works run just a few metres below ground. Filling in these voids will reduce the risk of subsidence in years to come.”
After the bypass tunnel is completed, the project’s second major engineering feat will involve constructing a flyover bridge at Hardengreen Roundabout to allow the railway to cross the busy A7.
A single column in the centre of the roundabout will provide support for a 190-metre structure spanning the road.
Out of 100 structures along the route, only 40 will have to be newly constructed – the remainder will comprise both Victorian and modern day viaducts and abutments which have suffered very little degradation since the closing of the Waverley Line in 1969.
One such structure will be the picturesque Newbattle Viaduct built in 1821 – a single track will run along the top of this 22-arch bridge spanning the River Esk and a ravine.
Work on bridges and viaducts along the route is due to begin in the coming months.
Network Rail insists that “detailed planning” and “extensive traffic modelling” have been carried out ahead of the project, but disruption is unavoidable.
Mr Wark said: “From this spring until summer 2015, there will be an intensive level of work right along the route. This major engineering project is one of the largest currently under way in Scotland and I’m sure that it’s going to be well scrutinised.
“Our team has learned a great deal from its work building the Airdrie-Bathgate line and we will be doing everything we can to keep road closures, construction traffic and construction noise to a minimum, but it’s inevitable that there will be some unforeseen challenges ahead.
“To date, we have a lot of support from the public and we hope it will stay that way. Over 1200 people turned up to the community drop-ins we hosted in November and December, and we’ll be repeating that process in April and May to provide more details of the railway designs.
“Our website has been well used, we will be issuing regular printed and e-mail newsletters and we’ll be maintaining local meetings throughout the course of the project.”
City transport leader Lesley Hinds said the rail link would have major benefits for the Capital and commuters.
Councillor Hinds said: “The new railway link will play an important role in connecting Edinburgh to the Borders and hopefully cut congestion by encouraging more visitors and commuters to use public transport.
“I look forward to more detailed information from Network Rail about the construction plans and we will work closely with them to ensure that any disruption is kept to a minimum, particularly in key areas such as the City Bypass.”
Midlothian councillor Jim Bryant, cabinet member for economic development, said: “The reintroduction of rail services to Midlothian has been a key priority for our council and we are delighted to be working in partnership with many organisations on such a prestigious project.
“We are proud to have been involved with the project since its inception and look forward to the first passenger train running through the county since 1969.
“Delivering good transport links to Edinburgh and beyond is essential for the local area to continue expanding its housing and economic developments, and its completion will also bring jobs and greater opportunities for local businesses.
“I also welcome the fact that it will give Midlothian residents a genuine choice when it comes to travel modes, reducing congestion and accidents on the busy A7.”
TRAINS will leave the Capital every half an hour for Tweedbank, just outside Galashiels.
It is expected to take around 55 minutes to travel from Edinburgh to Tweedbank, 50 minutes to Galashiels and 45 minutes to Stow.
Timetables are still being examined, but rail bosses have stressed that Brunstane and Newcraighall commuters won’t have any less frequent services to Waverley. Current services are not expected to be affected by any construction works.
Fares will be set by the train operating company.
Shawfair Station will eventually be at the heart of a new town centre. More than 2000 homes are expected to be built in the surrounding area with the station serving as a central hub. Facilities will include a park and ride and links to an extensive path and cycle network.
Labelled the “south-east wedge”, Shawfair sits on the site of the former Monktonhall Colliery. In November 2010, plans for the joint town-building venture between Edinburgh City Council and Midlothian Council were scrapped.
However, the process was revived last year with both local authorities in discussion with private developers over the sale of their land for £6 million.
This new station will offer a ten-minute rail link between nearby Jewel & Esk College and the campus at Brunstane – and will also provide access to the community hospital.
The station, which will feature a 24-hour customer help point on the platform, will be situated on land between the college and the nearby Tesco supermarket. This site also marks the spot where the new route runs into the old Waverley Line.
The Glenesk Viaduct, which was originally built in 1830 and restored in 1992 by Midlothian Council, will be brought back into use.
A 130ft-wide tunnel will be built beneath the City Bypass. The excavation will allow a double track section of rail to pass under the A720, 200 metres east of Sheriffhall Roundabout.
Up to 50,000 motorists a day will be diverted along a two-lane carriageway. The road will skirt the closed section of the bypass to allow workmen to excavate the tunnel.
Preliminary work is due to begin this June while the temporary diversion route will come into effect from September.
The entire project is expected to be completed by May 2014.
One of the most significant and challenging new structures to be built along the route will be at Hardengreen Roundabout, as shown in this artist’s impression. The railway will cross over the top of this busy junction at a diagonal angle.
The work involves constructing a flyover bridge spanning 190 metres. A single column in the centre of the roundabout will support the structure. The busy roundabout, which forms a six-way junction close to Tesco, is used by thousands of motorists each day.
This work may require occasional traffic diversions and regular updates will be provided as work progresses in the area.
THIS new station, on a former industrial site to the south of the town, should provide a real boost for the National Mining Museum.
A number of pedestrian crossings affected by the railway corridor will be maintained until new bridges are constructed. In particular, crossings will be kept open linking the town centre to Old Star/Victoria Road estate, adjacent to Edinburgh College.
THE 22-arch Newbattle Viaduct, first built in 1821, is expected to become the picture postcard image of the link.
Rail engineers have been “pleasantly surprised” by the condition of the landmark, with some repointing and minor repairs all that is needed to return it to use.
This spectacular bridge across the River South Esk allowed the Marquis of Lothian to extend the Edinburgh and Dalkeith Railway from Dalhousie Mains to his coal pits at Arniston.
‘I’d expect an overrun’
RAIL consultant and author David Spaven, right, has long campaigned for the reopening of a Borders rail route, but he has urged caution.
He said: “If you go back ten years, campaigners did argue for better specifications for the service – a more frequent, local service in Midlothian and a less frequent, express service for the Borders. I’m still not convinced that the current model is the best.
“Network Rail specialise in large infrastructure projects, so I am optimistic that they will complete the project without too much disruption. The Scottish Government has put Network Rail under great pressure to complete the project by 2014 but, in my opinion, this cannot happen.
“I feel summer 2015 is even a tad optimistic and I would not be surprised if there was an overrrun of a few months.”