Page last updated at 22:30 GMT, Monday, 5 January 2009

Rail route aims to turn back time

Train at Gorebridge
The last passenger service ran along the route between Edinburgh and the Borders on 6 January 1969

By Giancarlo Rinaldi
South of Scotland reporter, BBC Scotland news website

For exactly 40 years the sound of passenger trains making their way through the Borders has been silenced.

The last service made its way along the Waverley line between the region and Edinburgh on 6 January 1969.

It brought to a close a rail route which had seen its first steam train journey 120 years before.

However, a multi-million pound project is now on track to turn back the clock and partially reopen the famous line by the end of 2013.

It is a story which recently retired transport consultant Andrew Hemmings finds somewhat astonishing.

Early 2009 - Notice in Official Journal of European Union
2009 - Competitive dialogue submission stage
2010 - Final tender stage
End 2010 - Preferred bidder announcement
Early 2011 - Works start on site
End 2013 - Trains and infrastructure operating

He was a passenger aboard one of the last services to run along the route.

"At the time of the closure of the Waverley line I was living in Newcastle and I loved making the journey up to Scotland's capital," he said.

"The climb up to Whitrope, the charm of every station along the way, the beauty of Gala Water and all the other aspects of this lovely and inspiring line never failed to thrill me.

"That Saturday in 1969 was indeed a very sad day for me as I travelled on the Special Waverley Route Tour from Newcastle to Edinburgh a mere two days before its final closure to passenger traffic.

"In my wildest imaginings I never envisaged even a partial reopening of the line in the 21st century, so I am very much looking forward to the line's restoration."

Works are under way to return trains to a 35 mile (56km) route between Edinburgh and Tweedbank, near Galashiels, by 2013.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said the "key drivers" of the scheme were "social inclusion and community accessibility".

"It will facilitate new and affordable housing, tackle congestion and assist in addressing Lothian's future predicted shortfalls in the local labour market," he said.

"It is anticipated that these benefits will be felt along the entire Waverley line, allowing communities to maximise their economic development opportunities through tourism and additional jobs."

However, a project of this scale is not without its critics.

Rails being lifted
Rails were lifted after 1969 but now the process is being reversed

The Borders Party has consistently spoken out against the proposals which it claims would turn the region into a commuter belt for Edinburgh.

It believes the service will be poorly used and has described it as "environmental and economic folly".

Concerns have also been voiced about the cost of the scheme.

At somewhere between £235m and £295m, it will not come cheap.

Opposition MSPs have questioned the Scottish Government's decision last year to use a non-profit method to fund the line.

They called for a return to direct funding and described the non-profit distributing (NPD) model as "experimental" and "untested".

Many of these arguments are likely to continue until the route reopens.

Only then will it become clear just how successful this effort at "time travelling" in south east Scotland has been.

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