There was something surreal about travelling along parts of the old Waverley Line that are being restored as the Borders Railway.
On a cold Sunday night in January of 1969, I was at Galashiels railway station reporting on the last passenger train on the route – it was heading for London.
In a pretty short time I was on a train close to Torwoodlee just outside Galashiels. This was literally the last train – because as it travelled northwards its crane lifted the twin tracks behind it. With what seemed undue haste, the Waverley Line was being well and truly closed.
A head of steam had been building up to create a private company to operate at least part of the route. British Rail wanted none of it. They had intended to destroy the many bridges, but settled instead for lifting the lines.
And many of those bridges are being restored as the Borders Railway progresses at apace.
On Monday, our photographer Stuart Cobley and myself joined a press corps to view the works, courtesy of main contractors BAM Nuttall and Network Rail.
Since the Scottish Parliament approved the Waverley Railway Act in June, 2006, many hurdles have had to be overcome. The opening date has shifted from 2011 to 2015 and the cost has soared from £155million to around £353million.
But Network Rail and BAM say the 2015 target will met. That means 30 miles of new track between Tweedbank and just beyond Shawfair, where trains join an existing track for the final five miles to Waverley Station.
New stations will be built at Shawfair, Eskbank, Newtongrange, Gorebridge, Stow, Galashiels and Tweedbank.
Many misconceptions have had to be dispelled over the years. Fears in the Borders that trains would only run from the city to Gorebridge were groundless – the route is being constructed under an Act of Parliament which stipulates Tweedbank to Edinburgh. Rumours that passengers from the Borders would have to change trains at Shawfair were simply that – rumours.
The tour of the line showed just how major and massive this project is, with much of it hidden from view. Approximately 1,100 workers are beavering away on the trackbed, bridges and tunnels. Mini buses ferry workers daily from the Borders, Fife, Edinburgh, the Lothians and Glasgow to join BAM’s core team of specialists. Around 50 companies from around route have been sub-contracted to the job.
The summer was kind to the contractors. BAM’s Stuart Mackay confirmed that 85 per cent of the ground work has been completed and is proud that 98 per cent of what has been excavated is being re-used. As an example, soil from the 220 park-and-ride complex at Tweedbank is being used on the line at Glenfield in Galashiels and elsewhere.
The scale of the project can be seen all along the route.
Giant pre-cast concrete structures are being used to create bridges to take traffic over the railway, although in difficult areas the concreting is done on-site.
Mountains of earth are dotted along the line; tents cover Victorian bridges to protect the environment from repair work; embankments are graded, stepped and covered in stone to prevent landslips, particulary at the Tynehead; gabion baskets filled with stones are used in other areas.
At Fala Hill blasting takes place weekly and a crushing plant established. Stone will be used once the final layout for the new road nearby has been decided. At Heriot a pedestrian underpass and a new road into the village from the A7 will be created. Level crossings are no longer built on new lines.
A temporary dual carriageway has been constructed near Sheriffhall on the Edinburgh bypass to allow a tunnel to be gouged out under the road. At Hardengreen a bridge is being built over the roundabout.
And at Gore Glen, south of Gorebridge, a new bridge is being built over the A7. This means the A7 will be closed from 8pm on Friday, November 8, until 8am on the Sunday. A further closure may be needed from 2pm on the Sunday until 6am on the Monday. Diversions will be signposted.
Restrictions and closures will follow from November 18 to 25 at the Lothianburn Viaduct. At Galashiels there is long-term closure of Winston Road, where a tunnel is being built. At Bowshank Tunnel near Galashiels, bats had to be found a new home.
Engineers were surprised at the good health of this tunnel. It’s 200 metres long and so far only 60 metres of brickwork has been identified for repair before the interior is sprayed with concrete. But the rock-solid base will have to be lowered to give the required clearance, because the roof will be lowered by the concrete spraying. Major work is needed behind B&Q in Galashiels, where a massive sewer needs rerouted.
BAM tries to keep road traffic to minimum by using as much of the track as possible. A fleet of roadsweepers operates during working hours in a bid to keep roads clear.