The Other Borders Railway

Most people around Edinburgh know that there will be big fanfares this September when the long-awaited Borders Railway re-opens as far as Tweedbank, linking the Central Borders, Galasheils, Gorebridge and Dalkeith back into the ScotRail network at Waverley. It’s not quite the Waverley route that once went on through Hawick to Carlisle but it’s a start.

But there is a second such key link in the works that is likely to provide just as big a boost to Borders business and quality of life—but at far less cost than £294m the Institute of Economic Affairs called ‘insane’ because of its cost-benefit ratio of only 0.5 (50p return for every £ spent).

For ten years, the local Rail Action Group East of Scotland (RAGES), backed by East Lothian Council has been lobbying for a return of a local service from Edinburgh to Dunbar and beyond. Until recently, all such services were provided by long-distance trains from East Coast or Cross Country and had led to the ridiculous situation of Dunbar station being run by East Coast and their train service being driven by East Coast Main Line (ECML) planning based in London.

A Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance 1 (STAG 1) was undertaken and released in October 2005. It identified various points as worthy of further examination. When the SNP administration took over ELC in 2007, they put the project into high gear, asked for the more detailed STAG 2 analysis (completed in 2013), lobbied Keith Brown MSP as Transport Minister and persuaded ScotRail to experiment with an interim local service to Dunbar (stopping only at Musselburgh for QMU) in 2010.

A full service with new train stations for East Linton and Reston came a step closer after services for the stops were written into the new ScotRail franchise. This involved a two-hourly service between Edinburgh and Berwick, with timing for stops at East Linton and Reston as part of the new planned timetable. Recently this local service to Berwick was priced by Abellio and accepted by Transport Scotland.

Although originally planned to be introduced as early as December 2016, operational requirements meant that even the newest  class 380 trains used on the North Berwick service did not have adequate acceleration to adhere to the proposed timetable stopping at all stations in the busy ECML schedule. This means that service introduction is delayed until the new Hitachi-built trains are available, which means December 2018.

By then, considerable progress will have been made in providing a new station at East Linton some 300m to the West of the old one with vehicle access from the North (Brown’s Place) and pedestrian from the South (Orchardfield). Such a station will provide an easier access for people in Spott/Stenton and relieve congestion at Drem. Work should also have begun on a station at Reston, accessible from Eyemouth, St Abbs, Ayton and much of Eastern Berwickshire.

And because it is included in the ECML timetable, we know when the trains will run. Apart from an 07:00 train to Waverley starting at Dunbar, the 2-hourly service is as follows:

  • Weekdays leave Edinburgh at 06:31, 08:36, 10:33, 12:33, 14:35, 16:34, 18:34, 20:22 and 22:33
  • Sundays leave Edinburgh at 08:36,11:36, 14:36, 17:36 and 20:36
  • leave Berwick at 07:41, 09:47, 11:50, 13:47, 15:47, 17:48, 19:47, 21:47 and 23:44
  • Sundays leave Berwick at at 09:47, 12:47, 15:47, 18:47 and 21:51

Journey times will be at least as fast to existing stops (Edinburgh-Drem in 23 minutes) with the following journey times on the extended service:

  • Edinburgh-Dunbar in 35 minutes
  • Edinburgh-Berwick in 58 minutes

While not quite as fast on either stretch as the Cross-country trains, this will beat any driving time to Central Edinburgh and may prove serious competition to Perryman’s excellent bus service on both ( currently 1hr from Dunbar and 2hrs 10 mins from Berwick), as well as linking Berwick with Dunbar by rail for the first time in decades.

Besides convenient access into Edinburgh, this also opens up a number of options for East Lothian and Berwickshire residents. Access to/from QMU will now be easy for students in Eastern Berwickshire and better for those around Dunbar, avoiding any need to go into Waverley then back out on a North Berwick train.

But this also opens up options for residents along the line to pick up both East Coast or Cross Country trains at whichever between Dunbar and Berwick they stop, again avoiding the need to travel all the way in to Waverley. Even North Berwick residents can change at Drem for a 15-minute wait to head South but coming North you’ll need to dash over the bridge because the two trains will arrive around the same time.

Including Dunbar and its hinterland, the population opened up by the other Borders service is as large and economically important as the main Borders Railway. And, at under 10% the cost (with most of that going to provide two brand new stations). With a BCR of over 2 already calculated for this service, positive lessons from electrification of the North Berwick service and huge unexpected ridership on new services like the Alloa line means this may be some of the money best spent on Transport anywhere in Scotland—with a bonus for our Northumbrian friends.

About davidsberry

Local ex-councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Retired in 2017.
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