THE final section of track on the Borders Railway was clipped into place yesterday by infrastructure secretary Keith Brown, who boarded the first train to travel the length of the 30-mile line.
The milestone ceremony at the Tweedbank station terminus, south of Galashiels, follows the completion of track laying last Friday, as The Scotsman revealed two days previously.
Building work on the £350 million project is due to be completed in June, with the line opening to passengers on 6 September after driver training.
The £294m construction contract, awarded by Network Rail to BAM Nuttall, has largely gone to plan since work started in 2013, but the overall project has been beset by years of delays and cost increases.
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Critics have also claimed the work has been cut to the bone, with the largely single-track line having insufficient capacity for extra trains, such as tourist steam specials, without regular ScotRail services being cancelled.
Network Rail has insisted there are sufficient passing loops for a reliable half-hourly ScotRail service to operate in each direction.
There has also been criticism that several new bridges are too narrow to allow a second track to be added in the future to enable more trains to run.
The rail which Mr Brown joined is one of more than 1,000 on the line, which rest on more than 90,000 sleepers.
The reopening of part of the Waverley Line between Edinburgh and Carlisle after 46 years is the longest new railway in Britain since High Speed 1 – the Channel Tunnel Rail Link – was built in Kent in 2003. It is also the longest “domestic” railway in more than a century.
Mr Brown said: “It is a huge honour to put the final piece of track in place and travel on the first train to run into the Borders in almost half a century.
“The reopening of this line offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver a major economic and social boost for the communities it will serve. We can expect the Scottish economy to benefit by tens of millions of pounds from its reopening, and the area around the railway line will be an exceptional tourist destination, with a steam railway service, National Mining Museum Scotland, world-class exhibition spaces, and the Great Tapestry of Scotland displayed at Tweedbank.”
Mr Brown echoed the former first minister Alex Salmond’s enthusiasm for views from the line. He said: “There will be few, if any, railway journeys anywhere in Europe to match the outstanding scenery along the route.”
Network Rail programme director Hugh Wark said: “The completion of rail installation is a major milestone for the project and keeps the line on-track to open for passengers in September.”
He added: “While we still have a significant amount of infrastructure to complete along the route – from installing signalling to completing the stations – we’re confident that this much-anticipated addition to Scotland’s railway will be delivered on schedule.”
Remaining work also includes spreading ballast under the track and track welding.