For 46 years, people in the Scottish Borders have been been cut off from the rest of Scotland after the Borders Railway was closed in 1969. In a decision by Harold Wilson’s government at a time when Dr Beeching’s recommendations were having their dreadful impact, the railway was closed prompting huge local protest in the Borders and Midlothian.
The removal of the line made people more reliant on private cars, often out of reach of poorer households, or moved them onto buses with sketchy, irregular and often expensive travel. This weekend that changed with the reopening of the Borders Railway.
The new line goes from Tweedbank in the Borders through Galashiels, Stow, Newtongrange, Eskbank and Newcraighall and onto Edinburgh Waverley. Campaigners are still pushing for the line to be extended beyond Tweedbank and on to Hawick and Carlisle – something Greens are backing – but to have got the Scottish Government, three local authorities and train operators to get us to Tweedbank is a huge achievement in itself. To the Campaign for Borders Rail, thank you!
Today, the first day of normal running, I travelled by train from Edinburgh to Tweedbank alongside Brenna (originally from Galloway), Isla from East Lothian and her two lovely children and a whole train full of very cheerful folks. We grinned the whole way, taking in views of Scotland I’d never seen before (who knew there were so many castles nestled in the hills behind Gorebridge??) and sat back and watched the glorious landscapes rush past.
Throughout the train there were people old enough to remember the last time trains ran on this route, mixed with tourists from all over the world, keen to discover Midlothian and the Borders. I’ve never felt such palpable joy on a train before – a sign perhaps of just how much this railway means to people.
Every station was lined with people waving at the trains as they went past. Coming home near Stow, local people lined a bridge, miles from the station, waving enthusiastically. It was enough to make you tear up. These communities have been overlooked and forgotten about for decades, cut off and ignored. Now the rest of Scotland is about to realise that this stunning corner of our country has an enormous amount to offer.
In Tweedbank, Brenna, Isla and I met up with fab local Greens Pauline and Beth who’d been there all morning chatting to passengers as they boarded the trains, and promoting our campaign for railways in public hands.
As well as the obligatory visits from incredibly cute dogs, we met a selection of really interesting folk including David who manages all the conductors on the line.
He told me enthusiastically about the half hourly service and late night trains that will make a night out in Edinburgh and easy travel home possible for folk along the line.
I only met one guy who wasn’t a fan but it seemed, rather bizarrely, as if he’d turned up simply to quote Margaret Thatcher at folk and tell them public transport was shit. So we’ll gloss over him. Everyone else I spoke with, particularly those who lived in Tweedbank were really enthusiastic and hopeful for what opportunities the train might bring in future.
From the rumblings in the press, it looks like an extension to Hawick is on the cards, but only if the Waverley to Tweedbank line is used. So let’s use it. Let’s extend investment South, bring jobs and affordable housing, prioritise connections whether by rail or by broadband, and let’s make the Borders and Midlothian thrive.