AS BEECHING’S cuts are finally healed, communities along the reborn route are looking forward to reaping the benefits
It’s almost 50 years since the old Waverley Line closed, leaving vast areas without a rail link.
It was a loss that sparked protest and outrage. Without a rail link, communities feared for their future.
Which is why today’s new Borders Railway line trains carry more than just passengers… they are laden with new hope for the areas they travel through.
According to city council leader Andrew Burns, the railway’s impact will be felt all along its 30-mile stretch.
“The reintroduction of a proper rail link between Edinburgh, Midlothian and the Borders will be a real boost for the three authorities, who have worked in close partnership for the years leading up to this event.
“It will play an important role in increasing connectivity to and from the capital, providing a convenient route for visitors and commuters.
“Not only will it ease the journey for those working in and outwith the city but, with the last train leaving Edinburgh just before midnight, it will allow those from Midlothian and the Borders to enjoy everything the city has to offer.”
And Edinburgh College principal Annette Bruton agrees the new link will bring a host of benefits there too.
“It’ll mean a quicker, easier and greener journey to our Midlothian Campus for many of our students, as well as more travel options to our Milton Road site,” she says.
“Opening up this regional connection can only make us more effective in collaborating and connecting the learning communities across south-east Scotland.”
According to George Archibald, chief executive of the Midlothian & East Lothian Chamber, the railway can only bring new business opportunities. “The opening of the Borders Railway is an exciting prospect and we hope it will provide a lasting boom,” he says.
Rail travel through the heart of Midlothian on to the Borders is finally in place.
So what difference might it make to the communities around the Midlothian stations it passes through?
Shawfair has been decades in the planning and will eventually transform waste land into one of the most futuristic towns in Scotland.
The scale is phenomenal: 4000 homes, one million sq ft of commercial and retail space, combined in a £200m plus development which will help to secure 4000 jobs. Picture a town similar in size to Dunblane or Linlithgow, with commercial space twice the size of the existing St James Centre, served by a half hourly train that will speed residents into Edinburgh in under 15 minutes.
Shawfair will spring up on disused land between Danderhall and the City Bypass, on land once occupied by Monktonhall Colliery.
According to Nick Waugh of Shawfair LLP, the joint venture between Mactaggart & Mickel and Buccleuch Property behind the development, the Borders Railways is a key component of the plans.
“The project is hugely significant for the Shawfair development, allowing quick and efficient travel for future residents to Edinburgh city centre, the Borders and beyond, and marking another important milestone for the project,” he says.
Shawfair LLP will release land to potential house builders this month at the first site near Danderhall South.
“This first phase of development at Shawfair, which includes Danderhall South and Millerhill, will see an estimated 600 homes built over the next five years, linking the existing area to a new urban community set in green and landscaped surroundings.
“Construction work will begin very shortly, with the first houses at Millerhill due to be available in autumn 2016.”
Dalkeith councillor Jim Bryant, Midlothian’s planning chair, says Shawfair will become one of the nation’s most modern in design. “It’s going to be a very futuristic town. We are hoping that the mineworks will supply some of the heating using water from underground. It could mean heating bills for people living there may be as low as just £300 a year.”
Restaurateur Gerry Goldwyre has the perfect view of the new Borders Railway – his home overlooks one of the marvels of pre-Victorian bridge engineering.
The Glenesk Viaduct is one of Scotland’s finest, standing 18.3m high and spanning the River North Esk. And Gerry, a former Masterchef winner who runs the exclusive Water Tower restaurant, is convinced the railway will encourage people to spend time and money in an area they might have otherwise bypassed.
“There are fabulous walks around here, places to cycle, so many places to visit,” he says. “Eskbank is a gateway to the countryside, a buffer between the more built up areas and the rural.
“And I’m sure this new railway station will breathe life into Eskbank.”
While some new houses and shops have sprung up, it’s expected the greatest boost will come from tourism.
Ian Gardner, chairman of Midlothian Tourism Forum and director of Rosslyn Chapel Trust, agrees. “The railway will open up more awareness of what is here and push the profile of the area significantly,” he says.
“Anything that makes it easier for people to get somewhere will create a natural increase in business opportunities.”
Eskbank is stopping off point for visitors heading for Rosslyn Chapel. “It’s down to local businesses to see the opportunities and make the most of them,” adds Mr Gardner.
The Lothianbridge viaduct – also known as Newbattle viaduct – has towered above the Sun Inn since the middle of the 19th century.
Now it’s back in use, the Sun Inn’s Gill Stewart hopes it will bring a business boom not just for the gastropub but for the area.
“We’re just a short walk from the stations at Eskbank and Newtongrange – pretty much half way. We all feel that the line’s reopening will bring benefits for us.”
Already the viaduct’s resurrection has meant work for Bonnyrigg stonemasonry company Forth Stone, who won the contract to replace its defective masonry.
Looking ahead, there are hopes that hundreds of families moving into the area will create demand for new services and facilities, bringing a fresh vibrancy to the area.
“More people coming to the area to live, means a larger consumer base. You can only hope there will be jobs created for them,” says Jason Ferry, chair of Newtongrange Community Council.
There is a price, of course. Housing developments will cut through green spaces and there’s some concern the natural boundary between Gorebridge and Newtongrange will be lost.
However, staff at the National Mining Museum in Newtongrange are enthusiastic. “The railway will really put National Mining Museum Scotland on the map and we are certain it will help to increase visitor numbers in the future,” says spokeswoman Gillian Rankine.
To help, a new £6.5m theatre space is planned for empty workshops near the museum. It would be the first theatre in the county for 100 years and yet another new chapter in the story of the area’s rebirth.
Jack Maton has seen many changes since he watched the last Waverley Line train trundle past his Gorebridge home.
Now he’s a grandfather and the long wait for the next train to arrive at his local station is finally over.
“I think it will be positive not just for us but for lots of businesses,” says Mr Maton, who runs the Ivory House Bed and Breakfast on Vogrie Road. “There’s a new tearoom opened up recently near the station which probably wouldn’t have been there if not for the railway.
“And the village is starting to look so much better. It’s got to be a good thing.”
He’s lived in Gorebridge for over 45 years and already seen the population grow from around 3500 to today’s 5500.
Soon it will swell further when new housing estates around the village outskirts finally come together.
One major development is at Redheugh, south of Newtongrange and east of Gorebridge, which will create a new community of around 1300 homes.
Spaces for a further 1000 homes have been earmarked at other spots around the village.
In addition there will be a new school and health services, shops and community facilities are also expected.
Recently money has poured into upgrading Gorebridge’s conservation and a new village “hub” is being created with meeting halls, office spaces, café and childcare facilities.
• Find out more about the stations along the Borders Railway route by visiting www.bordersrailway.co.uk