Border Rail: Cheap as (Ballast) Chips?

For decades now, East Lothian’s economy has been driven by Edinburgh’s. While the council, electricity generation, tourism and agriculture all provide local jobs, these are dwarfed by the 25,000 people who choose to combine East Lothian’s high quality of life with jobs in the capital and its suburbs. Though most drive, one third of those coming from North Berwick do use the train—in part because car commute is slow on the congested Milton Road/A720. Despite rush-hour crowding and overflowing car parks, pressure to expand both residents and commuters remains strong.

On the other hand, rural Eastern Berwickshire has barely 2% who work in Edinburgh because neither car nor rail commuting is easy or fast. As a result, it has less growth and more poverty: Eyemouth is actually losing population. A 2011 study that showed a business case existed for trains through East Lothian to Berwick. As a start, ScotRail trains filled in gaps in Cross-Country/East Coast services to Dunbar to cobble together an hourly service that far.

Now, a second study published last month strengthens the case for a service all the way to Berwick as part of the next ScotRail franchise. A stopping service from Waverley, adding new stations to be built at East Linton and Reston, as well as Dunbar on the way to Berwick, is rated as having a Benefit/Cost Ratio (BCR) of 1.52 (if run jointly with the North Berwick service and up from 1.10 in the 2011 study).

It appears possible to run an hourly service, which would benefit East Lothian directly by doubling train frequency to 30 minutes between Drem and Waverley. But it would also provide a huge economic boost to Berwickshire, slashing travel times and making major house building viable, taking some pressure off East Lothian.

Operating details like timetable, how many trains of what type and service beyond Waverley are not yet defined. Costs are calculated around £57m, including two new stations and annual subsidy of £1.7m. Given that takings on the North Berwick line have doubled since modern rolling stock arrived in 2005 (Musselburgh is up 126% in four years, thanks to QMU)

The single-station Alloa service cost that much and is seen as a success, so the Scottish Transport Minister should see this option as a good deal. The basic service could be running as early as 2015, with new stations taking a couple of years more to complete.

First Published in the East Lothian Courier, January 2014

About davidsberry

Local councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Stood for the Scottish Parliament 2011; lost by 151 votes.
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