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Borders Railway complete

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On 6 September 2015, passenger trains will run between Edinburgh and Galashiels for the first time since the 157 kilometre Waverley route from Edinburgh to Carlisle closed in January 1969. At 49 kilometres, this is the longest new domestic line in Britain for over a hundred years.

For its first 3.6 km, the line is on a new alignment. This includes a station at Shawfair (1.4km), on what was the derelict site at an old colliery and is now part of a new housing development, and a crossing under the Edinburgh City Bypass. Soon after rejoining the old solum, new viaducts at Hardengreen roundabout and Gorebridge were required where road improvements cut the old railway. Stations are provided at the Edinburgh outer suburbs of Eskbank (5.5km), Newtongrange (7.7km) and Gorebridge (11.2km).

After Gorebridge, the line climbs to the 271 metre high Falahill summit and then descends by the twisting Gala Water that requires 16 bridges, 14 of which are the originals still in place. After Stow station (34.8km), it reaches Galashiels (45.5km) where buildings built over the old solum had to be demolished and bridges provided over new roads. After leaving Galashiels, an original viaduct takes the line over the River Tweed to terminate at Tweedbank station (48.7km). It is a single-track line with three dynamic loops totalling 6.5km to provide a 30-minute service frequency.

Beeching’s unkindest cut

Closure of the Waverley route left the Scottish Borders as the only region in the UK without a rail link. This has been described as the unkindest of Dr Beeching’s cuts. After its closure, the route was not protected and so bridges were demolished and new roads, services and buildings encroached the railway solum.

By the mid-1980s, Scotland’s attitude to its railways had changed. Fifty new stations opened in ten years and, in 1984, the Bathgate freight line re-opened to passenger traffic which achieved its projected 1994 traffic growth by 1987. In this climate, a campaign grew for the re-opening of the Waverley route. This resulted in the Scottish Office commissioning a £400,000 feasibility report that was published in 2000, about the same time as road improvements cut the old railway embankment at Hardengreen.

It concluded that reinstating the entire route would offer few benefits and be expensive due to significant breaches south of Tweedbank. It also concluded that a passenger service between Edinburgh and Tweedbank was likely to be viable. This led to the formation of the Waverley Railway Partnership consisting of Scottish Borders, Midlothian and City of Edinburgh Councils to progress the re-opening of the line between Edinburgh and Tweedbank. To do this, Scottish Borders Council (SBC) became Promoter of a Bill to the Scottish Parliament in September 2003. After nearly three years, this Bill received Royal Assent in July 2006 to become the Waverley Railway (Scotland) Act 2006.

The Mastermind clause

This Act gave the Promoter powers to acquire the land required to build the new railway. It also included a unique “I’ve started so I’ll finish” clause. This addressed concerns that future funding issues might result in the line only being built to Gorebridge and so required the promoter to complete the line once work started.

The Mastermind clause was triggered in March 2010 with the start of advanced works, including scour protection and utility works. Transport Scotland managed this work, having taken over the role of authorised undertaker from SBC in August 2008. For the main works, their procurement strategy was a design, build, finance and maintain (DBFM) contract which made the contractor responsible for the railway after it had been built, instead of it being part of Network Rail’s infrastructure. The intention was that the contractor’s design and build practice would be influenced by his responsibility to operate and maintain the line.

Three consortia expressed an interest after Transport Scotland started the DBFM tender process in December 2009, expecting to let this contract in autumn 2011 and have the line re-opened in December 2014. However, when two of the original three consortia withdrew, possibly because of finance issues in the then economic climate, Transport Scotland decided that Network Rail should manage the project.

Under new management

Thus, in September 2011, Network Rail started to manage the project with Transport Scotland remaining the authorised undertaker. Before Network Rail could take over this role, the design had to be developed and constructability assessed to produce a robust estimate of cost and programme. In November 2012, this was agreed with Transport Scotland and the Office of Rail Regulation (as it then was) so that Network Rail could become the authorised undertaker. This agreement included a September 2015 opening date.

Prior to the agreement being formalised, Network Rail could only undertake advanced works. This was done under a framework contract awarded to BAM Nuttall in March 2012 that included vegetation clearance, fencing, environmental mitigation, mining remediation and property demolition.

In December 2012, the design and build contract for the main works was let to BAM Nuttall and it was announced that the construction cost would be £294 million. This included track materials, engineering trains and BAM Nuttall’s contract cost. The contract was target cost with a pain-gain share arrangement. At the time, Gavin Gerrard of BAM Nuttall advised that the company’s involvement in the previous DBFM process had forced BAM Nuttall to think about maintenance as never before and so the final design featured reduced maintenance costs. So although DBFM was dead, it had a positive influence.


BA 1311 New Road Heriot [online]

After the main works started in April 2013, major earthworks were largely completed by the end of October after which the focus shifted to structures such as the 137 bridges on the route of which 42 were new. The line’s largest new structure at Hardengreen took shape in February 2014 with the installation of four 107-tonne beams. It took from October 2014 to February 2015 to lay the track. After completion of signalling and station work, the line was commissioned on 6 June.

The line commissioned

At the end of June, Rail Engineer was glad of the opportunity to meet Network Rail’s project director Hugh Wark for a look back at the project and to learn about its commissioning. Then track and signalling was complete and minor work remained such as road works, landscaping and noise barriers. Driver training started immediately after commissioning. This paused between 16 and 19 July when the trains were needed for the Open Golf Championship. A possession was then taken to finish minor lineside work such as drainage, markers and access points.

Hugh advised that the physical work done during the commissioning weekend was relatively simple as the signalling is only at the loop ends. This entailed re-programming the Millerhill SSI and minor physical work such as removing derailers and buffer stops at the start of the line after a route proving train checked the line. The big challenge was ensuring that all relevant certification was in place to demonstrate that works were properly designed and were built in accordance with the design, such as stressing certificates and certificates of compliance for switches.

To ensure everything was in place in the weeks leading up to the commissioning, there was a two-weekly meeting to review commissioning lists and other paperwork. An essential requirement was safety approval, carried out in accordance with the Common Safety Method (CSM) as required by recent European legislation. This requires an independent assessment body to review documentation and issue a satisfactory safety assessment report. After a large number of technical queries, the required satisfactory report was received two weeks before commissioning. Network Certification Body, an independent subsidiary of Network Rail, undertook this approval.

As well as the update of railway publications such as the Sectional Appendix, a compatibility statement was required to show the rolling stock was allowed to run on the line. This shows that only class 158 and 170 DMUs have blanket approval. Any other rolling stock, such as steam hauled special trains, requires a special instruction before it can run on the line that may specify limitations such as speed limits over certain bridges.

Network Rail maintenance became responsible for the safety of the line and rapid response immediately after the commissioning. As a separate process, the new line’s assets had to be formally accepted into the maintenance regime. This process started in April when structures walkouts determined the actions required before assets could be accepted. Most structures were signed off before the commissioning and the track signed off over a week later. Stations were handed over to ScotRail during the weekend of 14 June.


The Railways (Interoperability) Regulations 2011 (RIR) came into force in 2012 to promote a single European market in the rail sector. They require compliance with Technical Standards for Interoperability (TSI) and apply to new, upgraded or renewed infrastructure and rolling stock. Under RIR, the Office of Rail and Road (the new name for ORR) has to issue an Authorisation to Place in Service (APIS) before passengers can be carried on the line.

On such a large-scale project with a mix of old and new infrastructure, both CSM and RIR were major approval issues. For Hugh this was a “big learning curve for everyone and a huge issue for everyone from the beginning.” He explained that RIR does not explicitly address the re-opening of old railway lines. It considers infrastructure by subsystems so it was possible to distinguish between existing and new assets. Even though they had been out of use for 50 years, tunnels and old bridges were considered to be existing assets on which the project had done maintenance.

Infrastructure TSIs applied to new bridges, major new bridge decks, track and other new assets. For track, it had been hoped to re-use serviceable F27 type sleepers but the track TSI did not permit this. Hugh points out that, in some cases, TSIs allow options from the general standard. For example, the applicable TSI specifies that stations should be 240 metres long. However, this TSI has a clause that allows platform length to be determined from the trains that actually run on the line. Galashiels and Tweedbank station platforms take nine 23-metre coaches, whilst other stations take six 23-metre coaches.

At the end of June, the project’s technical file was not quite complete and it was expected that this would shortly be submitted to ORR from whom it was hoped to get APIS by mid-August.

Collaborative working

Hugh was pleased with the relationship with BAM Nuttall. He considered that undertaking the early site investigation and mining remediation works as separate contracts under an overarching framework had worked well. Whilst there was clearly a commercial relationship, it was also a collaborative one that shared risks to get best results from the design. He was glad of the early contractor involvement at design stage that was very successful. This included workshops with project engineers and, more importantly, asset engineers and maintenance to get their key requirements, which were incorporated into the project requirements specification and contract requirements technical.

As a result, low-maintenance was built into the design. There is no requirement for a continuous power supply along the line. Other than fixed signs and the occasional lubricator, the only equipment is at the signalling islands at the end of the loops. Signalling is designed to be very simple with LEDs and fold down signals avoiding the need for ladders and heavy bases.

“When we got to final design and build stage we knew the contractor was happy with the design as he designed it and understood remaining risks. For example, despite all the ground investigations, digging into old infrastructure finds stuff you didn’t know about, so we have to deal with numerous old culverts and other features, but had allowed for that within contingency.”

Hugh contrasted this with his experience on the Airdrie to Bathgate (A2B) project that had no early contractor involvement and fixed price contracts. He felt that Network Rail procurement had moved on since then to encourage early involvement with collaboration and alliances.

A project alliance had been considered but was rejected, as around 75% of the project value was civils work. With one big supplier, an alliance was not considered appropriate.

Communications and challenges

The crowds that greeted the track laying train on its progress down the line were just one example of interest in the line. Hugh was quite pleased with the communications. On A2B, this had been fragmented with multiple contractors and the communications team separate from the project. In contrast, Borders project communications were presented as being from the Borders Railway, rather than Network Rail or BAM Nuttall.

www.bordersrailway.co.uk is the project’s hugely successful website with a progress section that includes a detailed construction timeline with photographs and podcasts of the ‘On Track’ project updates on Radio Borders. The site had an “incredible number of hits” with around 30,000 visits per month. On Twitter, @BordersRailway has over 4,000 Twitter followers. As well as online communications, the project has a number of community engagement programmes including a Borders Railway Community Fund that has supported almost a hundred community organisations and charities. One of these was Tweedbank Playgroup’s ‘Choo-Choose to be safe’ project to educate children on the importance of rail safety.

Although the project had almost no impact on the operational railway, it still faced significant challenges with the sheer volume of work that had to be done in a two-year period. This was reflected in the need for about 100,000 lorry movements that included 7,500 for track ballast.

BA 1506 Galashiels [online]

The environmental element of the project was a big challenge. South of Falahill, the project ran through a Special Area of Conservation for the River Tweed that includes its Gala Water tributary. Hence, particular attention had to be paid to construction silt run off after heavy rain. There were many protected species including River Lamprey, Otters, Badgers and Bats. One hundred and sixty badger sets were affected.

The project worked closely with Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and the River Tweed Commissioners. Hugh felt that BAM Nuttall and its environmental specialists, IKM Consulting, deserved credit for their strong site presence that ensured the thousand or so people on site understood the environmental issues and the resultant constraints on their work.

The utilities challenge

In discussion with Hugh, it was clear that the diversion of public utilities was one area where some work had not gone well. Although some utilities had diverted their services in an effective manner, other companies had proved problematic and had not been able to give a time for their diversions. Some utilities had many different departments, were very procedurally orientated and could not programme their work effectively. For example, materials could not be ordered until a certain stage was complete.

Often problems were discovered at a late stage. In one case, a problem on an associated route required a road closure that then delayed work for a further three months. Hugh felt that, for some companies, the length of their supply chain would not be acceptable on railway projects. Effective liaison is not possible when the project only has contact with two men digging holes who are sub-sub-contractors.

In hindsight, he would have established contact with a senior director for each of the utility companies beforehand as had been done with Scottish Power, an arrangement that worked well. Problems with utilities had required significant programme re-phasing that ate into contingency and thus had the potential to delay the project opening.

Slow start, fast finish

From the publication of the initial feasibility report, it took fifteen years to re-open the line between Edinburgh and Tweedbank with the first six years spent preparing and progressing the line’s Bill which received Royal Assent in 2006. For campaigners and the local Councils, this was a significant achievement. Yet it was not until 2010 that work started on the line with the advanced works managed by Transport Scotland. After Network Rail’s first involvement in 2011, its agreement to manage the main works was signed in November 2012. Since then, Network Rail and its contractor, BAM Nuttall, have delivered the new Borders Railway in under three years to the time and cost agreed in 2012.

For Hugh Wark and his team this had obviously been a satisfying project. Hugh found bringing old railway infrastructure back into use was particularly rewarding, especially the Gala Water’s many wrought iron bridges. One of his most memorable moments was the “phenomenal” number of people who greeted the track laying train.

No doubt there will also be a phenomenal number of people at the opening ceremonies which include special steam trains and the line’s official opening by Her Majesty the Queen on 9 September. Other railway openings in Scotland indicate that the line’s trains will also see a good number of people as the Scottish Borders takes advantage of having a rail link in its region for the first time in 46 years.

David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEM
David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEMhttp://therailengineer.com

Rolling stock, depots, Scottish and Russian railways

David Shirres joined British Rail in 1968 as a scholarship student and graduated in Mechanical Engineering from Sussex University. He has also been awarded a Diploma in Engineering Management by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

His roles in British Rail included Maintenance Assistant at Slade Green, Depot Engineer at Haymarket, Scottish DM&EE Training Engineer and ScotRail Safety Systems Manager.

In 1975, he took a three-year break as a volunteer to manage an irrigation project in Bangladesh.

He retired from Network Rail in 2009 after a 37-year railway career. At that time, he was working on the Airdrie to Bathgate project in a role that included the management of utilities and consents. Prior to that, his roles in the privatised railway included various quality, safety and environmental management posts.

David was appointed Editor of Rail Engineer in January 2017 and, since 2010, has written many articles for the magazine on a wide variety of topics including events in Scotland, rail innovation and Russian Railways. In 2013, the latter gave him an award for being its international journalist of the year.

He is also an active member of the IMechE’s Railway Division, having been Chair and Secretary of its Scottish Centre.


  1. Nice to see a line reopening. Shame the track can’t be extended further, but there’s a lot of roads and houses built on the route after Tweedbank, and some towns where the route has been subsumed into roads, roundabouts and large scale housing almost entirely.

  2. Oh Sykobee read it again! It’s 75% civil engineering work. A ‘motorway’ sized road was breached and under-passed. It’s not difficult – you just have to want it. Once Gala gets a railway, Ha’ick’ll wint wan tae. And when we get full control we’ll need a HSScotland over Beattock, and Carlisle-Hawick will come into play. just watch.

  3. Brilliant news. The line should never ever have been closed. There is still quiet anger that it was closed in the first place. To leave the borders with only one main road between Edinburgh and Carlisle was just madness. But then Beeching was a roads man and so were his mates

    • Totally agree Ian, utter madness but then Richard Marsh was minister of transport in the Tory government of the time, and he was a “roads” man. Roll on Hawick and then Carlisle – the benefits/disadvantages of diverting some freight over the line should also be investigated if and when it re-opens over the whole route.

  4. I shall be going in the first week.

    I was in Nottingham on Tuesday for the opening of Phase 2 of the NET and saw lots of smiling faces as people rod the trams for the first time. I hope to see similar faces in Scotland.

    It’s convenient to blame Beeching for the closure, but it was actually the Government of the day that did it, with the leader of the closure faction being Richard Marsh.

    I tend to believe that after the report on electrification in the north of England, which recommended that eventually all lines north of Leeds and Manchester be electrified, means that there will be a serious look at bridging the gap between Tweedbank and Carlisle, to provide another route to Edinburgh from the South.

    The real problem is our pitiful progress on electrification, where the Victorian’s did such a terrible job of building the infrastructure, putting up the catenary is not easy. At least if they decide to electrify the Borders Railway, they’re starting from something that was built to a good standard, rather than by that idiot, Jerry.

    • Richard Marsh was long gone by the time the Waverley route closed. People tend to (conveniently) forget it was Harold Wilson’s Labour government with Barbara Castle in charge of the Ministry of Transport that closed it. They could have easily overturned Beeching’s cuts proposals, including the Waverley route, after 1964 but didn’t.

    • Marsh was only MoT for the last 18 months of the Wilson fiasco government. Prior to his appointment in April, ’68, Barbra Castle had held the post from late December, ’65.

    • Dear Jonathan,

      I believe that you meant to ask, “Why ARE the distances in km, we speak OF miles in the UK.” To state, “…we speak in miles…”, suggest that your average conversation consists of nothing but a list of numbers. You speak in English (I think), but you would speak of or about miles.

      As the UK is part of the European Union, and as the entire line, from Newcraighall South Junction to Tweedbank, was classed as a construction site then all sizes are in metric. Furthermore, as the use of the ERTMS train control system spreads across the UK over the coming decades, all speeds and distances on the railway lines in the UK will be changed over to km/h and km. I guess that will give you a whole lot more to find disgraceful! Perhaps you can carry on confusing the general populace by speaking in miles?!

      Before making bizarre and petty statements such as “Disgraceful.”, you should A) research your facts and B) learn to write English properly. You should also try and be more positive in your life outlook, and where you find it absolutely necessary to criticise something, try and do so in a constructive manner. You’ll feel much better for doing so.

      • I am entitled to my opinion Judson.
        The only reason why the rail network is having to convert to Km and Kph is because the government forgot to opt is out like they did for the road network. Most people I know are very happy with miles, yards, feet and inches. I’m quite happy with my outlook on life thank you very much.
        Alright the comment disgraceful is a bit strong but I meant that in the context of the EU not allowing us to opt out when the government ask for permission to do so.
        I know my English isn’t the best in the world but I am still entitled to comment on subjects I like.
        On a separate note, I just want to say a very well done to everyone involved in the building of railway.

  5. Mr. Frater. The construction industry changed to metric units during a five year period from 1970 to 1975. You will see that that ended 40 years ago. Where have you been?


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