Borders Railway bosses warned they’re nearing end of line

Borders MP John Lamont at Tweedbank railway station.
Borders MP John Lamont at Tweedbank railway station.

ScotRail bosses have been warned they are nearing the end of the line after failing to respond to repeated demands for improvements to Borders Railway services.

The transport firm’s managing director, Alex Hynes, faced further calls to provide greater reliability for travellers at yesterday’s meeting of the Scottish Government’s rural economy and connectivity committee.

Mr Hynes was called before the committee to explain why ScotRail’s remedial plan is failing to get its service on the Edinburgh-Tweedbank route back on track.

Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Rachael Hamilton once again raised the issue of the lack of carriages at peak times and the inconvenience that causes commuters.

Mr Hynes apologised and claimed that performance is steadily improving on the Borders Railway, adding that the clearing of a driver-training backlog at Edinburgh should result in improvements from next week.

Mrs Hamilton said afterwards: “What we have experienced so far on the Borders Railway to date is nothing short of shambolic, so I was pleased that ScotRail boss Alex Hynes apologised to Borders passengers, and he acknowledges the service hasn’t been up to standard.

“I am glad that ScotRail’s management team have offered to meet me and my constituents in light of this poor service.

“I am also pleased we are due to see improvements shortly as a result of the backlog of driver training at Edinburgh finally being cleared.

“Whilst I welcome the extra investment and the remedial action plan, the issues that the Borders Railway is facing cannot be addressed with a quick fix. They require urgent action.

“Hopefully, now we will see reliability improve and the number of carriages increase at rush hour.”

That demand for action came just days after fellow Borders MSP Christine Grahame called in the Scottish Parliament for ScotRail to be told it only has one last chance to improve.

During last Thursday’s first minister’s questions session, the Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP told Nicola Sturgeon: “There was indeed a service meltdown – it was a breakdown too – on the Borders Railway on Sunday.

“The cancellations continued since then and continue today.

“The second notice that was served requires that a plan be delivered soon. The plan might be delivered, but it will not deliver trains. Plans do not drive trains.

“Is it not time that the Scottish Government told Abellio ScotRail that it is in the last-chance saloon? I certainly think so, and so do my constituents.”

Mrs Sturgeon agreed, saying: “ScotRail should treat the remedial plan very much as the last-chance saloon. That is the nature of it.

“ScotRail has been left in no doubt that its recent performance levels, particularly in the Borders and Fife, have been completely unacceptable.”

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont has also joined in that criticism of ScotRail, saying: “Cancellations and overcrowding on the Borders Railway have now become such a problem that people are being put off using the train and are returning to their cars.

“As well as the disruption that is being caused to people’s lives, I am also concerned these issues are undermining the case to have the line extended to Hawick and Newcastleton.

“I am far from convinced that ScotRrail, or the Scottish Government for that matter, understand the level of frustration commuters are feeling in the Borders.

“The line appears to be an afterthought, with the Borders route being understaffed and stock being pulled to make sure the central belt is getting a good service.”

Mr Lamont is also planning to hold a public meeting in Galashiels to give disgruntled commuters a chance to have their say and is inviting rail bosses, but a date and venue have yet to be decided.

A ScotRail spokesperson said: “We’re committed to engaging with stakeholders across the country and are currently looking at diary availability.

“We’re really sorry to our customers who experienced disruption on the Borders Railway recently.

“It has been a challenging time for Scotland’s railway, and everyone at the ScotRail Alliance is working flat out to provide customers with the service they deserve.

“We are training more than 20 drivers and conductors every day, and this will deliver continual improvements in the coming weeks and months.

“Over the course of this year, we will begin to redeploy more of our existing Class 170 trains to the Borders. These trains will add more than 1,500 extra seats each day.”