STEAM trains are to return to the Borders Railway, offering passengers an “unforgettable experience” when it reopens in two years.
Iconic engines will be chartered to carry passengers on the route between Edinburgh and Tweedbank to increase tourism and take maximum advantage of the beautiful setting of the new track.
First Minister Alex Salmond announced the plan as he visited the Borders for a meeting of the Scottish Cabinet in Hawick.
He said: “There can be few railway journeys anywhere to match the stunning scenery that will line the route of the new Borders rail when it opens in 2015, more than 40 years after the last rail service to the region closed.
“As well as a vital commuter route, the reopened line will provide outstanding opportunities for tourism in the Borders, with passengers expected to flock to see the many fantastic attractions and experiences on offer here, not to mention the attraction that the new line will have for railway enthusiasts.” Talks are still under way the with charter firms to secure the use of symbolic trains to run on the 30-mile line. The steam engines will not be used for the normal scheduled services, but it is hoped to organise frequent tourist excursions.
Mr Salmond said the Scottish Government had already announced plans to expand the proposed new station at Tweedbank to cope with the influx of tourist trains expected on the line after its completion.
He said: “I hope that the glorious thought of some historic and symbolic trains winding their way down the new 30-mile track will be enough to tempt even more people to spend some time in the Borders.
“It’s important that we maximise these opportunities, offering passengers every reason to travel on the new line, and I am delighted to announce that talks are now under way with charter train firms to ensure that people have an unforgettable experience travelling along this incredible rail route on some iconic rail engines.”
Meanwhile, rail campaigners are urging the Scottish Government to extend the line by another 18 miles to Hawick.
The Campaign for Borders Rail argues the town was the biggest loser when the Waverley line from Edinburgh to Carlisle closed in 1969. Hawick’s population has declined and the bus takes two hours to Edinburgh. The campaigners accept the new line will mean a “significant improvement” in journey times, but argue the town will not experience the same “step-change” as Galashiels, Stow and Tweedbank.
Transport Scotland said the possibility had previously been examined but was not recommended to be taken forward.