Hundreds of people queued at Tweedbank station, some from 05.00, to be on the first train on the new Borders Railway as it opened yesterday (September 6).
The line was built on the northern section of the trackbed of the Waverley route, the Edinburgh to Carlisle line that closed in 1969.
At 31 miles (50 kilometres) long, it is the longest domestic UK railway to be built for over a hundred years.
Its opening has been marked by a week of celebrations. A press preview train organised by Visit Scotland ran on September 4. This included a photocall with a supermodel wearing Pringle knitwear, representatives from local tourist attractions and a Sir Walter Scott impersonator.
Those on board were given goody bags with Borders produce. The intention was promote not just the new railway but also all that the region has to offer.
A week of special events marked the opening. As well as community events, trains on Saturday 5 carried Golden Ticket holders who had been nominated by the local community.
On September 9, the Queen will travel on a steam train and officially open the line – on the day that she becomes Britain’s longest ruling monarch. The following day sees the line’s first public steam train, the first of 10 that will be run up to October 18.
The £294 million Borders Railway could not have been built in England as its calculated return of £1.50 for every pound invested is below the 2:1 return set by the Department of Transport (DfT). Hence, some feel that the line should never have been built. However, Scottish Infrastructure Minister Keith Brown has no doubts that the new line offers good value for money and that it will bring real benefits to people in the Borders.
He noted that when the 13-mile (21 kilometres) Stirling to Alloa line was opened in 2008 it was expected to carry 80,000 passengers in its first year and actually carried 400,000 passengers.
The line also has critics who consider that more should have been spent on the railway. Such critics regard its single line with dynamic passing loops designed for a half-hourly service as shortsighted, especially as any weekday steam trains require the cancellation of a passenger train. Yet, had it been designed for a higher frequency service, it is doubtful that the line would have been built given the marginal nature of its business case.
The new Borders line does have passive provision for double track to Gorebridge if a 15-minute service was required for its stations in the Edinburgh suburbs. It also has passive provision for electrification throughout.
It is 46 years and eight months since the Waverley route closed after Dr Beeching concluded that the line was not economically viable. The new Borders line has the opportunity to prove him wrong.
Opening this line has also prompted calls to re-open the closed Waverley route a further 17 miles (27 kilometres) to Hawick and eventually to Carlisle. Whether there is a case for this, remains to be seen.
Written by David Shirres