CONCERNS have been raised about the ability of Berwick railway station to cope with the huge influx of coaches that can be expected while major engineering work is carried out on the main east coast line.
Network Rail has outlined plans to spend millions of pounds to mitigate the risk of landslides, flooding and bridge collapses.
The extent of the work means the tracks between Berwick and Edinburgh could be closed for significant periods with replacement coach travel laid on.
But Councillor Brian Douglas, who represents Berwick North on Northumberland County Council, believes the town’s railway station doesn’t have the parking capacity to cope.
“You only have to look at the congestion there when the main line is closed because of weather problems or engineering works to see there could be a major problem,” he said.
“On some occasions there were 12 or 13 coaches parked in and around the station car park and the fact is that it’s completely inadequate to carry so many. We could seen that happening on a regular basis if work is being done on the tracks at Lamberton or Spittal.”
Coun Douglas has been a long time campaigner for an expansion of the car park or revision of the current layout. He has previously called for two-tier parking in part of the car park, as well as new parking provision on the north side of the tracks currently owned by Network Rail to help ease congestion problems on surrounding streets.
“We need to do something about it now if Network Rail are going to be carrying out major works,” he said. “It sounds like these works are going to be long-term and if we do nothing about the railway station car park it’s going to cause misery for the people of Berwick.
“There are already significant parking congestion issues on the likes of Castle Terrace, Northumberland Avenue and Windsor Crescent because of rail commuters.”
Greenses Residents Association is also calling for new residents-only parking restrictions to be introduced to help overcome the problem. Network Rail has submitted its new strategic business plan, under which £4.1 billion will be spent on its services up until 2019, to the Office of Rail Regulation.
Of this, £50 million is to be spent on Scottish services, where work is needed to mitigate the risk of landslips and bridge collapses.
The plan sets out the need to ‘future-proof’ critical infrastructure against the impact of changing weather patterns, including more frequent flooding, and to enable more rail traffic by upgrading strategic routes to accommodate bigger freight containers.
It is the transport provider’s response to the government’s High Level Output Specification (HLOS) for rail, published in July.
The embankment at Megs Dub, near Lamberton, was singled out for special attention. The area has seen many land and mudslides disrupt services this winter.
Like much of the track along the Berwickshire coast, it lies on sandstone cliffs which suffer heavy erosion from the sea.
There was also a spectacular trackside landslide at Spittal during heavy rain last year, which saw north and southbound services grind to a halt.
The situation is so serious, on a route that saw many landslides during 2012’s heavy rains, that major engineering work is planned, and rerouting of the tracks might even be required. Similar projects are expected to be required on the main east coast line in areas of East Lothian.
Network Rail’s summary route plan for Scotland described the situation. “The impact of increasingly unpredictable weather patterns and climate change on the running of a safe and efficient railway cannot be underestimated,” it said.
A spokesperson for Network Rail added: “Incidents are rare. However, the consequences of failure can be severe.”
Natural erosion is not the only worry on the line. Network Rail has said that some bridges on its route are so old – dating back to the 1840s like the Royal Border Bridge across the Tweed – that it is impossible to predict quite how they will react to adverse weather or heavy engineering work.