Document 1253

Scottish Parliament: Research Briefings: RN 00-39 Borders Rail Link

Author(s): Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body

Copyright holder(s): Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body: © Scottish Parliamentary copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Queen's Printer for Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.


Research Note 00/39
31 May 2000


On Thursday June 1 2000 the Parliament will debate the possible reestablishment of a Borders rail link, in response to a motion tabled by the Rural Affairs Committee1. This states: ‘That the Parliament recognises and endorses the case for the establishment of a railway linking the Scottish Borders to the national network at Edinburgh and Carlisle and urges the Scottish Executive to consult with the Strategic Rail Authority and others to facilitate its establishment’.

The former Waverley rail line through the Borders closed 30 years ago. It ran for 90 miles from Carlisle to Edinburgh (2). In April 1999 the Scottish Office commissioned a feasibility study into reopening a rail link to the Borders, following on from recommendations made in the Interim Report of the Borders Working Party set up by Lord Macdonald in August 1998.

This has always been more than a purely transport issue, with economic, social and environmental implications for the Borders. Announcing the study, Donald Dewar said;

“This study will show clearly the costs involved in reinstating the Waverley line, or parts of it, and the potential benefits to the Borders and Midlothian. It will be a comprehensive and independent study, providing robust information on which to base a decision on whether to go ahead with any new rail links.

"This will be more than an engineering study. The economic, social and environmental costs and benefits for the Borders will all be closely examined. A robust financial appraisal will be at the core of the project so that we can compare the potential costs of developing rail links and those of alternative forms of public transport.

"Tourism will play an important part in the economic development of the area over the next few years, and a rail link could provide a new tourist route into the Borders. A rail link may also be a useful freight route, and could make commuting journeys to Edinburgh quicker and safer. These potential benefits will be fully taken into account in the study.

"Whatever its results, this study will inform debate and help to provide a clear answer on whether the reopening of a Borders railway is viable."

While a number of earlier reports had looked at reopening stretches of the line, the Scottish Office considered a full study was needed. The Executive, Scottish Borders Council, Scottish Borders Enterprise and Midlothian Council commissioned Scott Wilson to carry out the work, and Virgin Trains and Railtrack provided sponsorship.

The Scottish Borders Railway Feasibility Study by Scott Wilson for the Scottish Executive was published in February 2000. It is available in the Parliament Information Centre (Reference Centre) for consultation. Some of its findings are as follows;

• Much of the track and structures could be re-used, with speeds of 70-90 mph feasible on a single line. A number of major constraints on the route would need capital investment to overcome. These include, for instance, the Edinburgh City Bypass, the A7, some housing and car parks built on the land where the rail link ran, and some demolished or damaged viaducts. The track would be more suitable for local or regional type diesel multiple units than for high speed Inter City type trains or freight.

• Reinstating the entire Waverley route (Edinburgh-Carlisle) would be expensive (over £100m capital costs for basic infrastructure) because of such gaps in the infrastructure, especially south of Tweedbank. The train operating companies and Railtrack see few benefits to such a through route because it would be relatively slow for passengers, with too many steep gradients to be attractive to through freight, compared to the East and West Coast main lines.

• A frequent (half hourly) passenger service between Tweedbank (Central Borders) and Edinburgh could cover its own direct operating costs, with a slight operating surplus in its first year of operation (assumed 2006) of £0.68m in 1997 prices. There could be stations at Galashiels and elsewhere. The capital cost of providing such a service would be around £73m.

• A frequent passenger service from Gorebridge to Edinburgh could also cover its direct operating costs with a similar level of service, at an estimated capital cost of £27m.

• Users would be drawn from existing car and bus users. Journey time from the Borders to Edinburgh by train might be around 45 minutes compared to 90 minutes by bus or up to 55 minutes by car at peak times.

• There is potential for a freight railway based on the southern section of the former Waverley route. In particular, this could carry timber on the branch line from Kielder Forest. While there is no economic case for this at present it would straightforward to reinstate this line at a cost of £26m.

• There are no insurmountable planning or environmental constraints. The potential reduction in car traffic could benefit Edinburgh and elsewhere.

• The Borders economy would become more integrated with that of Edinburgh, raising housing demands in Midlothian and around the stations in the Borders, and up to 900 new jobs might be created or retained in the Borders area as a result of a rail service to Tweedbank.

Announcing publication of the Scott Wilson report, Sarah Boyack said that (3)

"Whatever option the key stakeholders in the Borders choose to promote, the public purse would have to bear most of the cost of construction. The study finds that both preferred passenger options (Galashiels (Tweedebank) - Edinburgh and Gorebridge and Edinburgh) are likely to be viable – if the railway was already built. This means the challenge is to present a sound case for public funding and I call on Borders Railway backers to use this study and make that case.

"The Scottish Executive has the Public Transport Fund and the Rural Transport Fund, both of which have already supported significant integrated transport initiatives. The shadow Strategic Rail Authority administers the Rail Passenger Partnership scheme.

"This report is now available for all interested parties to consider and for the keys stakeholders to put forward proposals to attract the necessary funding."

Volume 3 of the Scott Wilson report deals with funding and possible ways to raise the £73m capital costs needed for a Tweedbank link. Operating surpluses might provide up to £5-10m of this but the possibility of private sector funding (from developers, existing businesses etc) seems limited. Over £50m will probably need to be found from public sector sources and the report discusses various options, such as the funds mentioned by Sarah Boyack, above.

Research Notes are compiled for the benefit of Members of Parliament and their personal staff. Authors are available to discuss the contents of these papers with Members and their staff but cannot advise members of the general public.

1 S1M-922 Alex Johnstone on behalf of the Rural Affairs Committee: Borders Rail
2 Borders railway study on track Scottish Office news release: 0885/99 6 April 1999
3 Borders Railway - Study Outlines Options For Way Forward Executive News Release: SE0359/2000 15 February 2000

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Scottish Parliament: Research Briefings: RN 00-39 Borders Rail Link


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