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The new Borders Railway: CILT visit of 9 September 2014

Linking Edinburgh with the central Scottish Borders via Midlothian in just 55 minutes, the new 49-km £294M Borders Railway will be the longest domestic addition in a century to the British rail network when it opens on 6 September 2015.

There will be seven new stations on this northern third of the old Waverley Line which until closure in 1969 continued to Carlisle. Now the terminus will be Tweedbank, a park and ride with 240 spaces one stop beyond the main town of Galashiels whose site constrained by modern development precludes parking.

The new station on the new railway alignment at Shawfair.d

The new station on the new railway alignment at Shawfair.

© John Yellowlees, 2014

The first new station at Shawfair will be on a new alignment near the site of the former Monktonhall Colliery closed in 1998. There is planning permission for 5000 houses, and the developers are contributing to the cost of the new line, which then goes under the Edinburgh City Bypass to rejoin the Waverley Line at Kings Gate before crossing the North Esk on a graceful arch that is an ancient monument.

There are other new stations in Midlothian at Eskbank, Newtongrange and Gorebridge. New viaducts take the line across modern roads at Hardengreen Roundabout and Gore Glen, between which it reuses the splendid 23-arch Newbattle Viaduct.

It then climbs to Falahill Summit in the Moorfoot Hills where the A7 is being realigned on a skewed bridge with the railway in a box tunnel taking account of proximity to a gas pipeline before descending the valley of the Gala Water which it crosses no less than 31 times mostly on reused bowstring bridges with tunnels at Bowshank and Torwoodlee and stations in the Borders at Stow, Galashiels and finally Tweedbank.

The new line will be predominantly single-track, with three dynamic loops allowing trains to pass at speed through Shawfair to Kings Gate, from Fushiebridge beyond Gorebridge to Tynehead short of Falahill, and finally from Stow to Bowshank.

Over one thousand people have been involved in the construction of the line, managed by Network Rail and its contractor BAM Nuttall from the project's Newtongrange HQ and at three local offices along the route. Particular attention has had to be given to grouting former mine workings, with remediation of a mineshaft at Shawfair discovered as recently as August.

All of the former level crossings are being eliminated, which partly accounts for the strong road-building element in the project. Train control will be by axle-counters with fibre-optic cables rather than the usual troughing to the signals at the six loop-ends, for reversal at Gorebridge and at the two-platform terminus which will be long enough to accommodate top-and-tailed excursion trains for tourists visiting Sir Walter Scott's home at nearby Abbotsford. Provision of as many as 15 radio masts reflects the hilly terrain.

Remote monitoring equipment will help make the points reliable, and there will be no less than 45 access points for road-based maintenance teams. Passive provision is being made for electrification and for a 15-minute frequency as far as Gorebridge. All stations will be unstaffed with CCTV and help points. Galashiels will adjoin a public transport interchange, while train crew will be based at Tweedbank. Heritage buildings will be restored to use at Stow and Gorebridge, and conservation measures were taken to protect local populations of otters, bats and lamprey.

Left to right: Colin MacDonald of Netwotk Rail, Stuart Mackay and Karen Paterson of BAM Nuttall and Hugh Wark of Network Rail.d

Left to right: Colin MacDonald of Netwotk Rail, Stuart Mackay and Karen Paterson of BAM Nuttall and Hugh Wark of Network Rail.

© John Yellowlees, 2014

With slab track already in position in Bowshank Tunnel, tracklaying starts in earnest on 6 October using a technique employed on the HSL-Zuid Dutch high-speed line for completion at end-2014, and handover of the new railway is scheduled in good time for the commencement in early June of testing and driver-training ahead of celebrations in early September to mark the opening.

When the old Waverley Line closed in 1969, its focus was mainly long-distance, with limited commuting opportunities because most people worked locally and very sparse off-peak trains since many shoppers preferred to drive.

Forty-five years on the position has been transformed, with most workers having no option but commuting to the city where there is much road congestion with limited parking opportunities. The new railway will give Midlothian and the Scottish Borders a range of travel options that the rest of the country has come to take for granted in the twenty-first century.

The Scottish Region thanks Colin MacDonald and Hugh Wark of Network Rail, Stuart Mackay and Karen Paterson of BAM Nuttall for their assistance with the visit.

Report and photograph by John Yellowlees.

 

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