Call for used Borders-bound diesel trains to be upgraded

Train at Edinburgh Waverley Station.
Train at Edinburgh Waverley Station.

Campaigners have called for the used Class 158 diesel trains earmarked for the new Borders railway to be refurbished to a high standard.

The Campaign for Borders Rail (CBR) this week revealed it had written to all five bidders for the new ScotRail franchise to make sure the Class 158 trains to be deployed in the region when the route opens next year are refurbished in line with the treatment given to those serving the scenic Highland lines radiating from Inverness .

In its letters, the CBR says that the train sets – to be ‘cascaded’ to the Borders from Glasgow-area suburban routes which are currently being electrified – must be brought up to a standard that will convince Borders people to use the train in large numbers.

CBR chairman, Simon Walton, says campaigners had hoped that more modern inter-city Class 170 trains would be used in the region.

“But it would appear that 158s are now to be used. If that is the case, it is absolutely essential that these are properly refurbished like those serving the scenic Highland routes,” he said.

“That means brighter interiors, appropriate luggage space and bicycle facilities, and a good seat-to-window match to allow the scenery to be fully appreciated by visitors.

“First impressions will be crucial for passengers who are new to rail.”

Mr Walton added that it was Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, who had underscored the potential attractions of the new Waverley line last August.

Visiting Hawick, Mr Salmond had extolled the ‘stunning scenery’ of the new railway and indicated he was committed to ensuring ‘that people have an unforgettable experience travelling along this incredible rail route’.

Added Mr Walton: “That means we must have the best possible trains to live up to this deservedly star billing.”

The Class 158 ‘Express Sprinter’ is a diesel multiple-unit, built specifically for British Rail between 1989 and 1992 by BREL at its Derby works.

It was described as bringing “new standards of comfort and quality” to rail travel on long-distance cross-country routes.

Mr Walton says the rolling stock on its way to the Borders has already been in service for a number of years and admitted the ‘158’ was not the most impressive-looking train on the network.

“But it can be made a pleasant and agreeable means of transport – the units working the Highland services out of Inverness are very comfortable, and we’d like to see that same level of finish applied to examples planned for the Borders,” he said.

“We’ll continue to campaign for the best possible railway for the Borders - and that includes campaigning for the best possible rolling stock too.”