Borders Railway services not up to par, admits train boss, but better performance promised

Tweedbank railway station.
Tweedbank railway station.

Train services in the Borders aren’t good enough, a transport boss has admitted following criticism of the Borders Railway’s performance over recent months.

Investment is being made in extra train carriages and staff training, however, and that should pay dividends in the months to come, according to James Ledgerwood, head of economic development and communities with Abellio ScotRail.

At a meeting of Galashiels Community Council yesterday, October 2, Mr Ledgerwood, acknowledged that performance on the Tweedbank-Edinburgh line had fallen below the standard expected.

He stressed that cancellations are still rare, though, accounting for less than 0.2% of services nationwide.

The percentage of trains cancelled in the Borders is far higher than that, however, with figures for the year to mid-August released last month revealing it had hit highs of 6.7 in March and 6.5 in April and never fallen any lower than 2.6, from mid-July to mid-August.

Those figures, released by Scottish Government transport secretary Michael Matheson, also revealed that hold-ups had hit double percentage figures for half of the eight four-week periods up to that point, reaching a high of 16.4% – one train in six – for mid-July to mid-August.

Mr Ledgerwood defended ScotRail’s performance, though, saying: “We run 93 million passenger journeys a year. That is a figure growing annually. Come the end of 2019, we will have 2,500 services operating throughout Scotland every single day.

“That is a massive level of service. Many people don’t quite appreciate that.

“If you compare that, for example, to Virgin, they are on 80 to 110 services a day, and we have 2,500.

“Whilst we are never ever happy when trains get cancelled, our current cancellations account for less than 0.2% of trains we run.

“We know in the Borders that the service has fallen below the high standard we expect, and our teams are working very, very hard to ensure that services continue.

“By 2025, we anticipate that in Scotland, with a population of five million, we will be making 129 million passenger journeys a year, so that means we have to be providing more seats and more carriages.

“Since we took over the franchise, we have increased in Scotland, on a daily basis, the number of seats available to passengers by 28%.

“We now have 115,000 more seats and have increased the number of carriages we operate by 30%.

“We are actively, on a daily basis, training lots of new drivers and conductors, and at the end of the year, we will see an extra 55 drivers and 33 conductors for our services that support the Borders.”

Committee chairwoman Judith Cleghorn sought assurance that trains would soon be stopping regularly at Stow railway station throughout the day and not just at peak times.

Mr Ledgerwood responded: “That is absolutely our ambition, and we have a plan in place to achieve that.”

The latest performance figures for services to and from Tweedbank show that, for a rolling 12-month period to mid-September, only 46.7% of trains were on time.

Though 83.8% were either on time or less than five minutes late, that is still almost 9% short of the target figure of 92.5%.