Borders Railway fails to meet expected first-year growth

The initial surge in passengers on the Borders Railway was reversed in the second half of its first year, official figures showed today.

Friday, 2nd December 2016, 1:38 pm
Updated Tuesday, 6th December 2016, 5:02 pm
ScotRail parent firm Abellio UK managing director Dominic Booth celebrates the line's first birthday in September with transport minister Humza Yousaf and ScotRail managing director Phil Verster. Picture: Greg Macvean

They reveal the 22 per cent more journeys than expected in the new line's first six months was cancelled out by its first anniversary in September.

The Edinburgh-Tweedbank route was plagued by disruption this summer caused by train conductors' strikes, trains breaking down and signalling faults.

A total of 1.3 million journeys were made on the line in its first year, which was in line with original projections before it opened.

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The news will come as a setback to the Scottish Government, which had predicted the first-year total would be 21 per cent above forecasts - or 1.57m journeys.

The Borders Railway Blueprint partnership, which also includes Scottish Enterprise, Transport Scotland, VisitScotland, ScotRail and local authorities, had said in May: "It is estimated that passenger trips will be maintained at 21 per cent over expectations through to the end of the first year of operation."

David Spaven, of the Borders Rail Monitor group, said: “The big story here is the shocking failure of rail forecasting.

“All three Borders stations have performed massively better than forecast – more than 900 per cent better in the case of Tweedbank, and more than 400 per cent better at both Galashiels and Stow.

“But three of the four stations in Midlothian have had substantially fewer passengers than expected.

“This is in part a reflection of the poor levels of reliability, with Midlothian stations being particularly affected by trains which skip intermediate stops to catch up time.

“It is encouraging that Transport Scotland is now – at long last – reviewing its rail forecasting techniques.

“If we had had robust forecasting five years ago, the Borders stations’ forecasts would not have been so ludicrously pessimistic, the rail project’s business case would have been far better, double tracking would not have been cut back from 16 miles to 9.5 miles, and the railway would have been much more reliable than it has proved to be in practice.’

ScotRail Alliance managing director Phil Verster said: “Projections are just that - assumptions made about how many people are likely to travel at different times of the year.

"We now have a much clearer picture of what to expect in future years and will incorporate these learnings into our business planning and marketing.”

A Transport Scotland spokeswoman said: “The popularity of the Borders Railway is undisputed.

“Almost 1.3 million passenger journeys have been made in its first year, largely in line with the original forecasts.”

Meanwhile, ScotRail also announced today that two of the busiest trains on the route would be doubled in length from Monday, 12 December, to ease overcrowding.

The 7:58am from Tweedbank to South Gyle and the 4:52pm Edinburgh to Tweedbank will operate with four rather than two carriages.

Four daily off-peak trains will be similarly increased in length.

ScotRail will also operate more three-carriage Class 170 trains on the line instead of two-carriage Class 158s.

Mr Verster said: “The Borders Railway is now firmly established as an attractive and convenient public transport option, with strong demand, particularly at peak times.

"We have responded by making a number of changes to add capacity when it is most needed, providing our customers with more comfortable journeys to and from the capital.”