2 Background

2 Background

The Borders Railway

The ‘Waverley Route’, previously provided direct rail services between Edinburgh, the Borders and Carlisle.  The route was closed in 1969 having been identified by the Beeching Report as unsuitable for retention.  Some 31 years later, and following a locally based campaign, the three local authorities of Edinburgh, Midlothian and Scottish Borders began developing a business case for the re-opening of the line to Tweedbank.  Having secured support from the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise and the rail industry, the Waverley Railway (Scotland) Act 2006, which authorised construction of the railway, was given royal assent in June 2006.  Responsibility for delivery and funding of the Project transferred to Transport Scotland in 2008 and construction on the line began in April 2014.  The new railway re-opened to passenger traffic on Sunday 6 September 2015 with the route becoming the longest new domestic railway to be constructed in Britain for over 100 years.  Overall, the project involved:

  • 30 miles of new railway;
  • seven new rail stations, four in Midlothian (Shawfair, Eskbank, Newtongrange and Gorebridge) and three in the Scottish Borders (Stow, Galashiels and Tweedbank); and
  • trains running every half hour with a journey between Tweedbank and Edinburgh of less than one hour.

A map illustrating the new line and the stations (including the existing Stations of Brunstane and Edinburgh) is provided in Figure 2.1.

Figure 2.1: Map of the Borders Railway

Figure 2.1: Map of the Borders Railway

The Business Case

The Final Business Case (FBC) for the Borders Railway[3], published in November 2012, noted that the re-opening of the line would have a positive contribution towards achieving:

  • the Scottish Government’s Purpose, by increasing the accessibility of Edinburgh and important regional markets for people of Midlothian and the Scottish Borders
  • the transport objectives outlined in the Government Economic Strategy, by improving the opportunities for leisure and tourism in the region
  • the National Transport Strategy’s objectives, by improving integration, promoting regional cohesion/social inclusion and by helping to promote economic growth

The document provides an assessment of the project against four investment objectives as shown in Table 2.1.

Table 2.1: Borders Railway Investment Objectives
Objective Description
Investment Objective 1 Promote accessibility to and from the Scottish Borders and Midlothian to Edinburgh (including the airport) and the central belt
Investment Objective 2 Foster social inclusion by improving services for those without access to a car
Investment Objective 3 Prevent decline in the Borders population by securing ready access to Edinburgh’s labour market
Investment Objective 4 Create modal shift from the car to public transport

The First Year of Operation

Outturn Passenger Figures

The FBC contained a Central Forecast of ‘Annual Return Trips in the Opening Year’.  This forecast a total of 647,136 return trips in the first year of operation which equates to 1,294,272 single trips as shown in Table 2.2.

Table 2.2: Forecast Return and Single Trips for the first Year of Operation
Station FBC Central Forecast (Annual Return Trips) Forecast Annual Single Trips
Tweedbank 21,621 43,242
Galashiels 23,431 46,862
Stow 5,843 11,686
Gorebridge 90,019 180,038
Newtongrange 52,918 105,836
Eskbank 130,525 261,050
Shawfair 61,860 123,720
Brunstane / Newcraighall 986 1,972
Waverley 220,533 441,066
Haymarket 35,329 70,658
Edinburgh Park 4,071 8,142
Other - -
Total 647,136 1,294,272

In order to examine outturn passenger figures, an analysis of industry ‘LENNON’ data provided by ScotRail was undertaken.  These data provide details of ticket sales by type, by the station at which the ticket was sold.  The ticket sales data is turned into estimates of single journeys made using industry standard multipliers to convert e.g. Season Ticket sales to journeys made on the railway.  The data therefore allocates all the journeys made on single and non-single tickets to the station where the ticket was sold. The data were provided in 4-week ScotRail reporting periods, and to provide a complete year of data, the 13 reporting periods 2016/P07 to 2017/P06 were used, covering the period 20/09/2015 to 17/09/2016.  Using this data, the total outturn figure is 1,267,599 – which is within 2% of the outturn shown in the above table[4].  However, when broken down by station, it can be seen that, although the aggregate figures are well matched, there are very large differences between forecast and outturn passenger numbers at the station level, as shown in Figure 2.2 below.

Figure 2.2: Forecast and Outturn Passenger Figures at Station Level

Figure 2.2: Forecast and Outturn Passenger Figures at Station Level

* passengers to / from destinations beyond Edinburgh (except Haymarket and Edinburgh Park) are assumed to be attributed to Waverley in the FBC

Passenger numbers are therefore much higher than forecast at all of the Scottish Borders stations, and much lower than forecast at all of the Midlothian stations.  Passenger numbers originating from Tweedbank and Galashiels are seven and four times the forecast respectively.  The absence of development of the Shawfair site explains the low patronage there, with figures likely to increase as the area is developed.  The FBC forecast of passenger numbers out of Edinburgh is also higher than outturn.  Note that in the outturn figures, trips originating beyond the stations reported here, e.g. a return trip from Glasgow to Galashiels have also been attributed to Edinburgh Waverley for comparability with the FBC.  

Passenger Numbers over Time

Figure 2.3 shows ticket sales data by 4-week reporting period for the Borders Railway stations only (i.e. ‘outbound’ travel) and Figure 2.4 shows inbound travel to the Borders Railway stations for tickets bought at stations other than the Borders Railway stations. It is noted that some of the four week periods in which the data is reported sometimes straddle months.

Figure 2.3: Ticket Sales by 4-week reporting period for Borders Railway Stations

Figure 2.3: Ticket Sales by 4-week reporting period for Borders Railway Stations

Figure 2.4: Ticket Sales by 4-week reporting period for inbound trips to the Borders Railway Stations

Figure 2.4: Ticket Sales by 4-week reporting period for inbound trips to the Borders Railway Stations

These data show an irregular pattern of demand which, prior to July-August 2016 indicated a dropping off in demand from the initial full period of September-October 2015.  On average, 76,000 passenger journeys per month were made originating from these stations (excluding the first August-September part 4-week period).  

Issues and Impacts

During the first year of operation of the service there were a number of media reports of issues with capacity and reliability, with passengers reportedly, on occasion, being unable to board at some intermediate stations and longer than expected station dwell times reportedly resulting in delays and cancellations.  The higher than predicted passenger numbers at Tweedbank have also resulted in issues with car park capacity at this station with the result that overflow parking was provided adjacent to the station.  In addition, since the re-opening of the line there have been some changes to the bus network within the vicinity of the route, with service frequency reduced on some routes due to declines in patronage.  While some of these changes are likely to be a result of other factors, some may be a result of modal shift from bus to rail.  

Some of the key issues which have emerged during this first year of operation can therefore be summarised as:

  • overall demand from the Scottish Borders has been underestimated and demand from Midlothian has been overestimated
  • patronage at Tweedbank is much higher than forecast – is the station catchment for Tweedbank larger than anticipated?
  • reliability of the service –  has reliability issues (real or perceived) impacted the frequency of use (users) or deterred people using the service (single users / non-users)
  • on train crowding – has peak period crowding on the service impacted the frequency of use (users) or deterred people using the service (single user / non-users)
  • some bus services have retrenched – to what extent has train usage been driven by a switch from bus and what is the impact of this in terms of access

As well as the above issues, there have also been indications of wider impacts with the Scottish Tourism Economic Assessment Monitor (STEAM) statistics indicating that there was a significant improvement in key tourism performance figures in the first half of 2016 compared to the first half of 2015.  For example, according to this data, the number of day visitors staying in the Borders and Midlothian increased by 11% and 7.2% while the number of visitor days in hotels and bed and breakfasts in Borders and Midlothian increased by 27% and 12.3% respectively[5].  Such increases are borne out in anecdotal data from individual sites, with a number of local tourist attractions, including the National Mining Museum near Newtongrange Station and Abbotsford House in Galashiels reporting increased visitor numbers.