IT’S hard to believe that after the thousands of words already in print about the Waverley rail route, anything new could be said.
However, David Spaven, author of Waverley Route: The life, death and rebirth of the Borders railway, which is published this week, has trawled through a mass of public and private archives and official records to bring the story bang up to date.
In his new book, Mr Spaven asserts that the 1969 closure of the 98-mile Waverley Route from Edinburgh to Carlisle, via Galashiels and Hawick – long regarded as the worst of the Beeching rail cuts – may have been clinched by the absence of two key government ministers from a crucial Westminster meeting.
The book claims that Anthony Crosland MP and Lord Brown of Machrihanish – known supporters of keeping the railway from Hawick to Edinburgh – missed the meeting on May 2, 1968, at which the Ministerial Committee on Environmental Planning sealed the fate of the entire Borders railway.
The decision left the Borders as the only region of Britain without a rail service. It was, it meant, writes Mr Spaven, that the course of Borders’ history may have been altered by the most mundane of chance occurrences.”
Mr Spaven, who spent two-and-a-half years researching material for the book, also reveals that Transport Minister, Richard Marsh, who implemented the closure decision, privately admitted 38 years later to a retired senior railway manage that looking back on his public life, the biggest mistake he had made was to authorise closure of the Waverley Route.
Research reveals that Labour’s fiery Secretary of State for Scotland, Willie Ross MP, had also argued strongly until the very end for retention of the line north of Hawick, and in a personal memo to then Prime Minister Harold Wilson, begged the veteran Labour politician to reverse the closure decision.
The book traces the story from the 1963 publication of the Beeching Report through closure to the later campaigns to re-open the line, culminating in the planned opening of the new Borders Railway from Edinburgh to Tweedbank in 2014-15.
The author criticises the failure of government to protect the solum (trackbed) of the abandoned railway from the early 1970s to the mid 1990s – allowing encroachment by new roads and housing developments – and cites evidence that this has added
up to 40% to the cost of re-opening the line.
A rail freight consultant by profession, Mr Spaven has spent his working life in and
around the railway industry. His first book – Mapping the Railways – was published by HarperCollins in 2011, and his follow-up volume Britain’s Scenic Railways
is published by HarperCollins in next month.
Speaking ahead of last night’s book launch in Stow, Mr Spaven, who is a life member of the Borders rail campaign group, says many of the previous books on the Waverley line tended to be of the photo album format.
“I felt nobody had really delved into the political, social and business elements of the story,” he told The Southern.
“I found out all kinds of interesting information about the closure that I hadn’t appreciated, including how close people were to saving the line.
“I also wanted to put the record straight about what happened in the 1960s. The fact that the Borders rail line will re-open is due in no small part to the effort of the unpaid volunteer campaigners of the past.
“It was a very long campaign and I believe the re-opening of the line will be transformative in its impact.”
And when the railway is finally re-opened, it will be a record-breaker - the longest line to open in Scotland since the Fort William-Mallaig railway in 1901, and the longest rail re-opening project in modern British history.
•Waverley Route: the life, death and rebirth of the Borders Railway (collector’s edition hardback 288 pages £20; paperback 256 pages £14.99) is published by Argyll Publishing on August 29.