In Summer 2015 the Borders Railway will end the line’s unique existence as the sole local rail service coming East out of Waverley station. But while the line to Galasheils could open up the Central Borders the existing service into East Lothian has at least as much potential that could be tapped for a lot less than the Borders’ £300m.
From a skeletal two trains each way in 1970, our existing line was revived by steady patronage, resulting in two new stations, an hourly seven-day service and modern 4-car class 380 rolling stock. It’s a huge success story, carrying millions of passengers, with North Berwick recently exceeding 250,000 passengers for the first time. Having tourists and QMU students travel counter to our commuters and a steady number of shoppers filling daytime trains, the line is among ScotRail’s most profitable.
Recent community rail meetings have shown the industry appreciates this and focus is now on the undeveloped potential of the East Coast Main Line past Drem. Dunbar is an anomaly—a local station run by a long-distance operator: East Coast. ScotRail has already started serving Dunbar by filling in gaps in the East Coast/Virgin trains that stop. But the real secret to unlocking the other ‘half’ of East Lothian’s potential is to see Dunbar as the other ‘arm’ of a rail ‘Y’ and run a single half-hour service to Drem, then alternating trains to there and North Berwick, giving Dunbar a regular hourly service as well.
This would serve the huge growth in Dunbar’s population and make the re-building of an East Linton station logical to cater for planned growth there. Such a step is embedded in the new ScotRail franchise and would provide ELC a solid regular transport ‘backbone’ on which to re-base bus services, Rages and Relbus plus the just-formed Community Rail partnership already advocate.
This also forms the basis for further improvements—local services to Berwick; re-opened station at Reston; more passing loops to separate local and high-speed trains. Such coherence offers the chance to market our public transport as a seamless service covering the whole county.
Extending the present community involvement in station flowers and decoration to signage, information and other facilities like kiosks and toilets would give it character and identity. Since it would offer eight dispersed points to access the John Muir Trail I will be lobbying to market the whole thing as the ‘John Muir Line’.
First published in the East Lothian Courier, April 2014