Railway’s return is just the ticket

The sign at the old Galashiels rail station in the Borders, one of the stops on the Edinburgh & Hawick Railway route, closed in January 1969.
The sign at the old Galashiels rail station in the Borders, one of the stops on the Edinburgh & Hawick Railway route, closed in January 1969.

The onward and welcome march of the return of the railway is progressing at a pace.

I have long been a supporter of putting the choo-choos back on track in at least part of the Borders. But to be pedantic, and before I am picked up by a keen reader, there is, of course, a railway already running through part of this region. The East Coast route hugs the Berwickshire shoreline, but trains do not stop on this stretch.

I give my full support to those who are campaigning to have Reston reopened, but I fear their fight will be a long one. Reston was once a flourishing mart village, but sadly no longer, so Berwick, on the English side of the border, will continue to be the station of the east.

But by 2015 there will be three railway stations – or halts – on part of the old Waverley route, at Stow, Galashiels and Tweedbank.

I have fond memories of Galashiels station. Before moving to be message boy at Davie Fell’s fish shop (properly known as Emslies) on Bank Street, I was a paper boy for T.P. Carruthers, a relative.

I made the move from paper to fish because my wage rose by 5/- (25p). T.P. paid the lowest wages of any paper shop in town and I once led a strike which incurred the wrath of my family because we were related. But you could make extra money – 2/- a week (10p) – on the papers by going to the railway station at around 4.30pm on weekdays to collect a bundle of the Evening News from the south-bound Edinburgh train.

We did it on a rota basis, so we never got rich. But I recall the thrill of the steam engine coming round the bend opposite the Abbotsford Hotel. Steam belched everywhere and there was the screeching of metal as the brakes were applied, and somehow the driver always managed to halt the goods van exactly where we paper laddies were waiting. Then there was the huffing and puffing as it began its journey onwards to Melrose and the great beyond. It wasn’t the same when diesel came along.

I have confessed to this before, but I fear I and a few others were partly responsible for Beeching deciding to close the Waverley route. That’s because we used the trains without paying. We developed various methods for getting to the capital, or Melrose and Hawick for the rugby sevens, without spending our paper round money.

The large gates that allowed mail and other vans on to the edge of the platform was an easy way to avoid the ticket office. The Waverley end was a bit more difficult, but there were no electronic barriers and we discovered ways of distracting the ticket collectors.

But back to the return. Work is coming to an end on restoring the rail bridge over the Gala Water at Ryehaugh (see page 9) just outside Galashiels. After Beeching’s axe this bridge provided great access to the haugh where we camped, picnicked and poached, among other activities. The bridge became a jumping platform into a deep pool below. That was dangerous – but probably no more so than putting hard-earned pennies on the line and lying close by to watch them being flattened. I promise not to do that with our new railway.

Oh, and I promise to pay for my ticket.