Scotrail boss pledges more seats and stops on Borders Railway

Stow station.
Stow station.

Borders Railway bosses have promised an increase in carriages and stops on the Edinburgh-Tweedbank line “within months, not years” in a bid to improve performance.

That pledge comes after the company’s managing director, Alex Hynes, admitted to a public meeting in Galashiels Focus Centre on Tuesday that Borderers “are not getting the service they deserve”.

Speaking at the Borders Railway Community Partnership’s latest meeting, he responded to criticism of the firm’s performance in running the 30-mile line of late.

“We are really very sorry for the service that has been delivered recently on the line,” he said.

“The service we have provided for our customers has fallen well below the level they expect and deserve, and we take full responsibility for that.

“There are a numbers of reasons for that, and they have been well publicised.

“Our focus is on working flat out to tackle the backlog we have had with drivers in Edinburgh.

“Every single day, we are taking the very difficult decision to cancel service trains to train our Edinburgh drivers on the new trains and routes.

“That training will be completed by the end of May.”

ScotRail was served with a remedial notice by Transport Scotland in December, and last month it was forced to apologise after dozens of rail passengers were left stranded in Edinburgh after five of seven scheduled trains to Tweedbank were cancelled in one evening.

ScotRail admitted staff shortages were to blame as it took drivers off the route to be trained in using new three-carriage Class 170 trains.

However, it’s the introduction of high-speed trains on the £353m line in coming months that Mr Hynes has pinned his hopes on for improved reliability.

“By putting more Class 170, three-carriage trains on the line that will enable us to provide more comfort, more reliability and more capacity for this bit of the railway network which is so badly needed,” he said.

“Transport Scotland served us with a remedial notice on Christmas eve and quite rightly held us to account.”

“We’ve now pledged an £18m investment to improve things quickly and enough that we never get back here again.”

Mr Hynes also blamed the “unprecedented success” of the railway for his firm’s struggle to meet demand for seats.

“You mighty expect that in the fourth year since opening, growth on the line would have started to slow down, but we saw 5% growth in the first year, 10% in the second year and another 10% growth last year.

“Even despite the delays we have suffered in the last year, demand for the Borders Railway is still high.”

He explained that when the Tweedbank to Edinburgh route opened in September 2015, it provided 950 seats in and out of Waverley Station in a peak period.

Today, that number stands at 1,100 seats, and once the new trains are introduced it will increase again to 1,400 seats.

The introduction of those trains on to the line will also mean Stow station will be included as a stop on every route “within months not years”.

Currently, the village has off-peak status, meaning that only half of the trains that pass through the station stop there.

“Our aspiration is still that Stow will get a half-hourly service,” Mr Hynes said.

“The three-carriage Class 170 trains accelerate and brake more quickly that the current two-carriage trains. That means we can put a stop at Stow in all the time without it affecting our performance, but to do that we need Class 170 trains on the route all the time and to be able to make sure that stop doesn’t affect our service performance.”

Mr Hynes also confirmed that, going forward, ScotRail might look at electrification of the line and reiterated his support for the proposed extension of the line to Carlisle.

“Right now, my priorities are threefold,” he added. “We have to improve service on the Borders Railway right now.

“It’s an urgent task and it’s top of my priorities.

“Secondly, we need to deliver more carriages. That starts next month. We will see more capacity on the Borders Railway as our new rolling stock fleets arrives.

“Going forward, we will be working with the Scottish Government to see what we can do next to deliver a bigger and better railway for the Scottish Borders.”