It’s 43 years overdue, but rail coach returns to Copshaw

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THERE was more than a hint of the surreal in Newcastleton on Monday as a passenger train carriage swept through the village.

Onlookers could have been forgiven for thinking they had entered a time warp because the last time such a coach entered Copshaw was on January 5, 1969.

That date is ingrained in the minds of many older villagers who recall how the Edinburgh-St Pancras sleeper was halted that night by protesters at the level crossing gates, leading to the arrest of the late and lamented local minister, the Reverend Brydon Mabon.

The stand-off continued for two hours until youthful Liberal MP David Steel, who was travelling on the sleeper, successfully negotiated the cleric’s release with the police and the train moved on.

And that was that. The next afternoon, British Railways staged a tracklifting “ceremony” at Riddings Junction, the stop between Penton and Longtown, to effectively split the London Midland and Scottish regions. The Waverley Line had, despite the protests, hit the buffers.

Although the northern section of the route, from what is now Tweedbank to Edinburgh, is due to reopen in 2014, plans to reinstate the southern section from Hawick to Carlisle, which began life as the Border Union Railway in 1862, remain firmly on the back-burner.

That has not, however, deterred doughty rail preservation enthusiasts, committed to full reinstatement, creating, over the past decade, a heritage centre at Whitrope, between the famous tunnel and Riccarton Junction, and laying about half-a-mile of track.

And it was an amalgam of these diehards – The Waverley Route Heritage Association and Borders Union Railway Company (BURC) – which turned back the clock this week.

“It is part of our planned celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the opening of the Border Union Railway and we plan to run the first train on the line for over 40 years, albeit on the short half-mile section, on July 1,” explained BURC director Roy Perkins.

“To that end, we arranged for the first of two coaches to be transported from the Great Central [Northern] Railway in Ruddington, Nottinghamshire, to our base at Whitrope.”

The coach, pictured at Douglas Square, Newcastleton, just a few miles from its destination, was transported over two days, with an overnight stopover in Stoke-on-Trent.

“Judging by the enthusiastic reception we got when the carriage came through the village, we will get a good reaction to our plans which include, provided manpower and finance is available, taking the line all the way through to Carlisle,” said Mr Perkins.

“The arrival of the coach, which is on loan and will be at Whitrope for the forseeable future, is a fitting reward for all the hard work our dedicated teams have put in over the last 10 years.”