Two months on, and 91 cancellations

PIC PHIL WILKINSON 'info@philwilkinson.net'www.philwilkinson.net'01316186373 - 07740444373'''The steam train service approaches Stow in the Scottish Borders today , as the new Borders Railway benefits from tourist steam train services which run along the old Waverley Line three times a week,''The carriages are pulled by 60009 Union of South Africa, one of six remaining LNER Class A4 steam locomotives in the UK, built in Doncaster in 1937.
PIC PHIL WILKINSON 'info@philwilkinson.net'www.philwilkinson.net'01316186373 - 07740444373'''The steam train service approaches Stow in the Scottish Borders today , as the new Borders Railway benefits from tourist steam train services which run along the old Waverley Line three times a week,''The carriages are pulled by 60009 Union of South Africa, one of six remaining LNER Class A4 steam locomotives in the UK, built in Doncaster in 1937.

Today (Thursday) marks exactly two months since Golden Ticket Day heralded a whole new era of rail travel in the Borders.

The lucky few who had been awarded the shiny cards sat in comfort for their journeys up to Edinburgh and back to Tweedbank, and it was unanimously hailed as an excellent addition to the region’s transport network.

The days and weeks that followed, however, saw an unpredicted amount of people taking the train, and the half-term school holiday week brought the line to a standstill several times.

Several trains were cancelled – 91 cancellations on the Borders Railway had been recorded up to last weekend, due to signalling problems, delays and “unexpected unavailability of train crew”. Scotrail says that this only accounts for 3% of the total number of services run.

So, is the Borders Railway a victim of its own success? Or has the Borders joined, or indeed put further pressure on, a situation stemming from a national shortfall of rolling stock which people in other parts of the country just take for normal?

We asked Scotrail what they were doing to improve the service.

A spokeswoman said the majority of feedback from customers told of a pleasant experience.

She said: “The huge interest in the Borders Railway over the first two months highlights its remarkable appeal to commuters and leisure travellers alike.

“Weekend trains and midweek trains at peak times are naturally busier than others so, to ensure we can carry as many passengers as possible on the new line, we’ve temporarily added extra carriages to some of our trains.

“This information is available on our website so customers can see which services have extra carriages.

“Furthermore, now that steam trains are no longer running on the line, we are able to run our full timetable every day of the week, which enables demand to be spread more evenly.”

The spokeswoman added: “The Borders Railway will also benefit from ScotRail’s annual festive plans to add carriages to trains to help people get home from nights out, and to complete their Christmas shopping.”

A statement from VisitScotland this week showed that the return of the trains seems to have benefited local businesses, with four out of five shops in Galashiels reporting takings to have doubled.

Abbotsford House reported an 18.4% increase on 2014 in visitor numbers, leading to an extension in the attraction’s summer opening hours into October, and the Herges on the Loch restaurant in Tweedbank had a 50% increase in its lunches with the steam train packages having a particular impact.

Certainly, the special steam train journeys were incredibly popular, with around 6,200 passengers travelling on 17 sold-out trips between September 10 and October 18.

Nesta Gilliland, ScotRail’s head of marketing said: “It’s been wonderful to see such high demand for our first-ever steam trains on the Borders Railway.

“They really caught the imagination of customers, excited by the thought of embarking on romantic journeys through Midlothian and the Scottish Borders.

“The feedback from customers was wonderful, and our partnerships with Melrose Abbey and Abbotsford House worked out very well with a large number of customers using the bus links to visit these sites.

“It’s been a great opportunity to showcase Scotland’s newest rail line and the beautiful landscape.”

So, will the steram trains make a return to the Borders Railway?

The Scotrail spokeswoman said: “Operating steam trains isn’t as easy as deciding on dates – the locomotives and carriages are in high demand and all train operators must book them some time in advance.

“We currently have no definite plans for our 2016 steam trains, but we will share these as soon as dates and locations are confirmed.”

It was also revealed this week that a lucky passenger on the line would receive a prize for being the 250,000th passenger, with similar prizes for the 500,000th and millionth passengers.

Scotrail said that there have been more than 200,000 people recorded on the line to date, so that first milestone could be very soon indeed.

No details of the prize has been released.