Borders Railway: Tatty carriages draw criticism

Train passengers urged to plan ahead
Train passengers urged to plan ahead

IT HAS cost £350 million and will have brand new tracks and stations – but trains that are 25 years old and still awaiting refurbishment.

ScotRail has admitted that only one of its fleet on the Borders Railway will be upgraded in time for Britain’s longest line re-opening.

The revelation has appalled campaigners, who say high-quality trains are vital to give the best first impression to tempt tourists and locals who have been without a railway for 46 years. They have called on the train operator to draft in refurbished versions of the Class 158 trains from Inverness to get the Edinburgh-Tweedbank line off to a good start in September.

The move comes on the eve of the trains running on the 35-mile route for the first time tomorrow at the start of driver training.

VisitScotland is about to launch a major campaign to boost tourism in the Borders to coincide with the opening. Attractions near the route ­include National Mining Museum Scotland, near New­tongrange Station, and Sir Walter Scott’s home at Abbotsford, near Tweedbank.

Former first minister Alex Salmond has said that few Eur­opean rail journeys will match the route’s “outstanding scenery”. But travellers will have to wait even longer for carriages to be further upgraded as “scenic trains”, with information and improved catering to woo tourists. The first ten are not due in service until next May.

The diesel trains are ScotRail’s least reliable, developing faults five times as often as its best performers.

Built for British Rail, which blamed their unreliability on “garden shed engineering”, they also have slow-opening doors which have delayed passengers getting on and off.

Campaign for Borders Rail chairman Simon Walton said: “Refurbished units are a minimum requirement for a service that will convince Borders people to use the train in large numbers. First impressions will be crucial for pass­engers who are new to rail.”

David Spaven, a rail consultant and author of Waverley Route: The Battle For The Borders Railway, said the new line was being shortchanged by the choice of trains.

He said: “Prone to air conditioning failures, and with narrower doors and a relatively cramped interior, they are far from the cutting edge of rail travel. Units based in the Highlands have, however, been ­refurbished, with key improvements being more bike and luggage space and better matching of seats with windows – important aspects of developing tourist and leisure traffic to the Borders

“It’s vital that Borderers who are unfamiliar with train travel get the best possible experience in the critical opening weeks of operation of the new railway. There is a need for more than one refurbished unit to create the right impression as there will be a massive ‘try out the train’ demand.

“If I were ScotRail, I would be seeking the brief indulgence of Highland rail travellers – who never lost their regional rail network – and temporarily switch a few of the refurbished Inverness-based trains to the Borders. That way, new rail travellers will get a proper taste of the kind of quality of train experience which they will have once the Borders trains have been refurbished.”

ScotRail said refurbishment of the first train would start next month and be completed in time for the line opening on 6 September. It said improvements would include carriage interiors, seat covers, carpets and toilets, along with an “interior and exterior rebrand”.

A spokeswoman said: “Bringing back a train service to the Borders will transform communities and open up the area to new economic opportunities. It is part of the transformation of Scotland’s railways over the next few years, which, as well as opening up new lines and improving existing infrastructure, will see new and refurbished trains brought in across the country.”