John Wylde: East Coast franchise holds key to local rail service

editorial image

The Scottish Borders is a large territory with a comparatively small population.

This gives rise to problems in the supply of leisure facilities, for example, which the planners 40 years ago decided to spread out geographically rather than concentrate them all in the centre.

Goods train passing Reston station soon after closure.

Goods train passing Reston station soon after closure.

The difficulty of reaching each place, even without a car, was not so difficult then, because there was still quite a good bus network. This has shrunk over the years, as in most places, but the ‘main-line’ routes linking the main centres of population are likely to survive.

An early initiative by the Borders Regional Council after it was formed in 1975 was to institute two Borders Rail-link bus services, from Galashiels to Carlisle and from Galashiels to Berwick. These broadly followed the railway lines which had been closed in the preceding years.

The significance of these, as distinct from the ordinary bus routes from the central Borders to Edinburgh, was that the railway issued through fares to Borders destinations. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case via Carlisle, and the Scottish Borders Council no longer advertises bus route 60 as a Rail- link service to Berwick.

However, the railway continues to include through fares to Duns, Earlston, Melrose and Galashiels via Berwick in its fare lists. It is even possible to buy a rail ticket starting from Berwick to these destinations which is valid on the bus. The current rail fare from Berwick to Duns is £2.40 single, £4.10 return (no discount for railcards). This raises the interesting question of what the bus driver would do if a passenger presented such a ticket when boarding the bus at Berwick expecting it to be honoured, because the normal single fare on the bus is £3.90.

At present, there is no railway station open in the Scottish Borders, but this will be put right in May 2015, when the Borders Railway opens linking Tweedbank, Galashiels and Stow with Edinburgh. This formed part of the Waverley route from Edinburgh to Carlisle via Galashiels and Hawick until 1969, when it was closed.

Another project which is being planned is the re-opening of Reston station. This has been on some people’s wish-list for many years, and is linked with the Scottish Government’s invitation to whoever wins the Scotrail franchise which begins in April 2015 to consider extending trains which currently terminate at Dunbar at least to Berwick.

The significance of Reston is that it lies between Duns and Eyemouth, and there is a bus route linking it to those places. However, planning the possibility of providing rail services there has apparently not yet reached the stage of involving either the bus operator or the council in considering their connectional needs.

It may be that consideration of the possibility of Scotrail services to Berwick has to wait until details of the East Coast franchise, which changes hands next February, are clear, as the new operator has to operate a timetable provided by the Department for Transport. It is unlikely that this will actually be very different from the present one. When a franchise starts, it is not usually the actual services which change, because these are operated in ‘paths’ set by Network Rail. It is the peripheral services which change, such as catering on-train and at the stations, car parking availability and charging, and advance ticket prices.

One change which several train operators have made since privatisation is to increase capacity by reducing the amount of space allocated to each customer. At least one of the short-listed aspirants for the East Coast franchise is known to do this, and the practice is encouraged by the Department for Transport, but there is beginning to be a reaction against it. If you have views on any aspect of travelling by train, the government’s watchdog is Passenger Focus FREEPOST (RRRE-ETTC-LEET), PoBox 4257, Manchester M60 3AR.

n John Wylde is the author of ‘Integrated Transport – a Will-o’-the-wisp?’ (www.john-wylde.co.uk). This book, priced at £14.95, is available to readers for £11.95 post paid and signed by the author. Order from the Berwickshire News office.