IT’S been a long time coming – nearly five decades, in fact – but at last it’s “all aboard” the train to the Scottish Borders once again.
The Borders Railway, connecting the heart of Edinburgh with new stations in Midlothian and stretching south beyond Galashiels, is within hours of running.
It brings to a happy conclusion years of campaigning, £300 million of reconstruction work and a mammoth operation to resurrect bridges and viaducts along its 30-mile route.
Which means it’s only appropriate that it will reopen this weekend to a party atmosphere stretching the entire route, followed by the royal seal of approval.
The Queen will officially open the new Borders Railway on Wednesday. It is one of the most significant of royal dates, for it also marks the day she becomes Britain’s longest-ever reigning monarch.
First though, hundreds of specially selected VIP Golden Ticket winners – among them children who simply love trains, pensioners who once worked on the defunct Waverley line and love-struck couples from towns miles apart whose courtship blossomed by rail – will be treated to a historic first journey along the tracks tomorrow.
Then, paying passengers can hop on board from Sunday morning, calling at Brunstane, Newcraighall and the four new Midlothian stations at Shawfair, Eskbank, Newtongrange and Gorebridge on their way south.
They will get an early bird view of the route which the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will take on Wednesday, when the new line is formally opened for business.
That journey will be extra special. For not only will the royal party travel in nostalgic style in a carriage pulled by the steam locomotive Union of South Africa, but the eyes of the world will be on the Queen as she officially surpasses her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria’s reign of 23,226 days, 16 hours and 23 minutes.
Her Royal Highness was 41 years old and in the 16th year of her reign in 1969 when the last Waverley Line train terminated, having been condemned by British Railways chairman Dr Richard Beeching.
It brought to an end 150 years of rail travel between the capital city, the heart of the Scottish Borders and beyond.
But from Saturday morning onwards it’s back, starting with the first VIP services for 800 Golden Ticket holders.
Among them will be six-year-old train fan Zephyr Potts, a pupil at Balgreen Primary School. His mum Kelci, 27, of Gorgie, answered a request for nominations from Edinburgh City Council, explaining that he is likely to be the only person on board named after a train.
“The train that runs from California to Chicago is called the Californian Zephyr,” explains Kelci, who is originally from Florida. “Zephyr’s dad, Tony and I used to travel a lot using that train. I remember saying if we ever had a child, we’d name them Zephyr.
“Luckily for us, Zephyr absolutely loves trains.”
Others on board include retired railway clerk Stanley Morrison, now in his eighties, who used to work at the line’s Eskbank Station, a couple of Australian tourists on honeymoon and another couple celebrating their Golden Wedding anniversary.
While Zephyr is one of the youngest Golden Ticket winners, 84-year-old Ron Glendinning of Colinton will also be on board, and has vivid childhood memories of travelling from home in Peebles where his father worked as a signalman and porter on the Waverley Line.
“The railway was always a big part of my life and it was such a disappointment when it shut,” he says. “I’m looking forward to travelling on the line again. I’ll be thinking of my father.”
Joining 160 Edinburgh Golden Ticket holders will be 200 from Midlothian, many of them primary pupils like King’s Park Primary’s Vilara Dahanayake of Dalkeith, who took part in a railway poster competition.
For fellow King’s Park pupil Eden Mcleod, Saturday will be even more special. She will unveil a plaque to commemorate the opening of the new Shawfair station. The honour follows a difficult few months for Eden, who lost both her grandfather Alastair Mcleod and great-grandfather George Mcleod. Around the same time mum Stacy was in hospital with pneumonia and Eden’s grandmother Muriel required emergency surgery.
Mum Stacey said Eden needed a boost: “I feel this trip will be something nice for Eden after all she has gone through.”
Also unveiling plaques on the day are Erin Gilbertson, 13, at Eskbank Station and Jack Owens, 12, who will reveal a plaque to commemorate the opening of the new footpath at Newtongrange Station. And Ellen Scott, who has worked with Gorebridge Carers to establish a new park for the area, will perform the honours at Gorebridge Station.
Edinburgh Golden Ticket winners will leave on board trains departing from Waverley Station around 10am, when youngsters from the Scottish Youth Theatre will provide entertainment and Borders traders will have a special market showcasing their wares. Others will set off from the four new Midlothian stations, at Shawfair, Newtongrange, Gorebridge and Eskbank, accompanied by entertainment along the way.
At Newton Village Green close to Shawfair Station, the Gus Ferguson Jazz Band will set the mood for a day of entertainment from 11am. Golden Ticket winners will leave around noon, and the music and dancing will continue until 3.30pm.
The special day begins at Birkenside Park in Gorebridge, at 10.30am with entertainment from local band Hip Operation and story time for children in the pavilion. The plaque ceremony will take place before the Golden Ticket winners set off around noon.
The afternoon entertainment includes performances from Lasswade Percussion Ensemble, The Southside and Poptastic dancers and the Ageing Well dance group. Hip Op bring the fun to a close at 3.30pm.
Events begin at 9.30am at Edinburgh College Campus at Eekbank, when Lasswade Concert Band perform in the Food Court.
There will be face painting, smoothie making, badge making, crafts and stalls and Science Festival-style experiments along with tours of the college building and the chance to drive an electric car.
Golden Ticket winners set off on their journey once a commemorative plaque has been unveiled at 10.30am.
There will follow music and entertainment before it all draws to an end at 2.30pm.
Focal point for many will be at the National Mining Museum at Newtongrange, where Golden Ticket winners will gather from 9am.
A fun day starts at 11am, with pony rides and trips on the Esk Valley Miniature Railway, dance and a magic show.
Dalkeith Rotary Club will host The Rail Thing exhibition, providing a glimpse into the glories of the old Waverley Line, including a display of The Newcastleton Layout, a 28ft working model, complete with engines and rolling stock, memorabilia and presentations by railway historians.
Midlothian Council has warned that parking near the new stations will be restricted and urged motorists to avoid the areas if possible.
While Saturday is set aside for the VIP Golden Ticket winners, Sunday sees the first paying customers on the brand new service. Journeys to Tweedbank from Edinburgh will cost £11.20 off-peak return, £16 for an “any time” day return and £10 for a single trip.
For those who prefer their journey to be even more special, steam engines will pull carriages along the Borders Railway route between Edinburgh Waverley and Tweedbank from September 10. The special service will run Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays for six weeks.