Transport Research Summary

Transport Research Summary

The Borders Railway re-opened on Sunday 6th September 2015.  In line with Scottish Transport Appraisal Guidance (STAG) and the Guidance on the Evaluation of Rail Projects, this research provides the Stage 1 Evaluation of the re-opening of the line.  To inform the development of the Stage 1 Evaluation a primary data collection exercise was completed comprising an on-train survey of users of the Borders Railway and a telephone survey of non and one-off users based within the Scottish Borders/Midlothian. In addition, a number of secondary data analysis tasks were undertaken including a review of ticket sales and passenger count data and an analysis of public transport access.  In total, 1,112 responses were received to the User Survey and 227 responses were received to the Non-user Survey.   

Main Findings

  • Passenger numbers are higher than forecast at all the Scottish Borders stations and lower than forecast at all the Midlothian stations.
  • The majority of patronage on the line is outward (i.e. towards Edinburgh) with Tweedbank accounting for the biggest component of demand and Edinburgh Waverley the most frequent destination.
  • Commuting is the most common journey purpose. There were also a considerable number of trips to education and large volumes of leisure users. Overall, 39% of respondents to the user survey indicated the purpose of their trip was either a tourist day trip or overnight stay.  Of these, 34% were travelling to the Scottish Borders / Midlothian. 
  • Driving and parking at the station was the most common method of transport for users travelling from Tweedbank Station, with walking to the station more common at Galashiels, Stow, Gorebridge, and Newtongrange.  The catchment area for Tweedbank Station covers a larger area than that of the other stations. This may be a result of the station being the end of the line and the availability of free parking at the site and may explain the higher than predicted passenger numbers at this location.
  • Based on the frequency with which respondents indicated they made their current trip, it is calculated that approximately 50,000 (36%) of the estimated annual single trips recorded via the sample were ‘new trips’. 
  • The re-opening of the Borders Railway has resulted in significant modal shift from the car to public transport, with 57% of users who previously made their trip by another mode stating that they drove all the way to their destination equating to an estimated 40,000 saved car journeys.  
  • There has also been a shift from bus to rail with 29% of those users who made their trip by another mode stating that they previously made their current journey by bus (equivalent to 22,000 bus journeys).  
  • While the re-opening of the railway has resulted in improvements in access between the stations, there have been changes in the bus network which may have resulted in declines in accessibility elsewhere. 
  • There is evidence that the Borders Railway has affected peoples’ residential choices and choice of workplace, with over 50% of users who had moved house and over 80% of those who moved employment since the line re-opened stating that the railway was a factor in their decision.  
  • Similarly, more than 65% of tourist users stated that the re-opening of the railway was a factor in their decision to make their trip and 23% stated that they wouldn’t have made their trip were it not for the rail line.
  • There was generally a high level of satisfaction with the quality of service. Overall, users were least satisfied with facilities / services and the availability of staff at the station(s).  
  • The greater convenience offered by the car was the most popular reason amongst non and one-off users for not using the service / using the service more.  The lower cost of bus services, the greater convenience provided by bus options and the ability to use the National Entitlement Card on buses were also popular responses with these more popular amongst residents from Midlothian.
  • 37% of non and one off users stated that improvements to the Borders Railway would encourage them to use the service, with the most popular improvement being lower train fares.

Executive Summary

Aims of the Research

The aim of this research was to develop a Stage 1 Evaluation of the re-opening of the Borders Railway.  A Stage 1 Evaluation is generally completed one year after a scheme has opened and aims to provide a high level assessment of the extent to which the investment is on track to meet its Investment Objectives.  The Investment Objectives for the Borders Railway, as outlined in the Final Business Case (FBC) for the scheme[1], are included in Table S1 below.

Table S1: Borders Railway Investment Objectives
Objective Description
Investment Objective 1 Promote accessibility to and from the Scottish Borders and Midlothian to Edinburgh 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

In addition to exploring the above, the research also sought to examine the impact of the line on visitor numbers and explore views of the service and barriers to use amongst one-off and non-users. 

Methodological Approach

To inform the development of the Stage 1 Evaluation a primary data collection exercise was completed comprising:

  • an on-train survey of users of the Borders Railway.
  • a telephone survey of non and one-off users of the Borders Railway based within the Scottish Borders and Midlothian.  

In addition, a number of secondary data analysis tasks were completed including a review of ticket sales and passenger count data and an analysis of public transport accessibility.

In total, 1,112 responses were received to the User Survey and 227 responses were received to the Non-user Survey. Summing the number of journeys made by respondents to the User Survey over a year equates to over 140,000 single trips - over 10% of the passenger journeys recorded in the first full year of opening.  

Investment Objectives 

A summary of the key findings with respect to the Investment Objectives is provided below:

  • The majority of patronage on the line is outward with passenger numbers from the Scottish Borders stations much higher than Midlothian stations, and Tweedbank accounting for the biggest component of demand.
  • Edinburgh Waverley is the most frequent destination for those buying tickets at Borders Rail Stations.  However, there are also trips to / from elsewhere in the Central Belt including Glasgow and Kirkcaldy. 
  • Commuting is the most common journey purpose. There are also a considerable number of trips to education and large volumes of leisure users.
  • A large proportion of respondents to the user survey were relatively infrequent users, with the majority (24%) indicating that they make the journey less than once a month. 
  • Driving and parking at the station was the most common method of transport used by users of the service travelling from Tweedbank Station, with walking to the station more common at Galashiels, Stow, Gorebridge, and Newtongrange.   
  • Based on the frequency with which respondents indicated they made their current trip, it is calculated that approximately 50,000 (36%) of the estimated annual single trips recorded via the sample were ‘new trips’ suggesting that the re-opening of the line has encouraged people to make additional / new trips which they previously did not. 
  • The line has provided those without a car a means to quickly access destinations along the route. Overall, 15% of users do not own or have access to a vehicle. While the re-opening of the railway has resulted in improvements in access between the stations, there have been changes in the bus network which may have resulted in declines in accessibility elsewhere.
  • The re-opening of the Borders Railway has resulted in significant modal shift from the car to public transport, with the majority of respondents (57%) who previously made their trip by another mode stating that they drove all the way to their destination equating to an estimated 40,000 saved car journeys when frequency of trip is accounted for.  
  • While there has been a shift from car to rail, it is also evident that there has been a shift from bus to rail with 29% of the User Survey sample stating that they previously made their current journey by bus (equivalent to 22,000 bus journeys).  While some of these saved car trips will be offset by car miles associated with new rail trips for which the car is used to access the station, the latter are likely to be shorter trips and therefore the net impact in terms of reduced car miles is likely to be positive with resultant benefits in terms of carbon reduction, congestion and air quality.   
  • The results of the User Survey suggest that there is evidence that the Borders Railway has affected peoples’ residential choices.  Of those identified in the sample who had moved house since the line opened, over half reported that the railway was a factor in determining their current address.  
  • There is evidence that the Borders Railway has had an impact on peoples’ choice of workplace.  Amongst those responding to the User Survey who had moved employment, over 80% stated that the re-opening of the line had been the main factor in their decision.  Overall, the data suggests that there has also been a modest impact on working hours.  

Visitor Trips

A summary of the key findings with respect to visitor trips is provided below:

  • 39% of respondents to the user survey indicated the purpose of their trip was either a day or overnight trip.  While the majority of these were Edinburgh based, a considerable proportion of the overall sample (11%) were trips to the Scottish Borders, with a further 2% being Midlothian bound.  
  • The re-opening of the Borders Railway was a relatively important factor in people’s decision to make tourism trips with more than 65% of tourist users stating that it was a factor in their decision to make their trip and 23% stating that they wouldn’t have made their trip were it not for the rail line.
  • Staying with friends and / or family was the common accommodation type amongst those from the Borders and Midlothian, with most respondents indicating they did not pay for accommodation. Visitors undertook a range of activities during their trip with shopping the most commonly cited activity amongst those travelling to the Scottish Borders / Midlothian and Edinburgh. 

Service Quality and Barriers to Use

A summary of the key findings with respect to passenger views and barriers to use is provided below:

  • There was generally a high level of satisfaction with the quality of service, with 80% of respondents to the User Survey rating the service as very good or good. 
  • Users of the service were least satisfied with facilities / services at the station(s) and the availability of staff at the station(s).  Net satisfaction was also low with regard to the timing and availability of bus connections to/from the stations.  In terms of reliability and capacity 62% of users were satisfied with their ability to get a seat while 55% were satisfied with the reliability of the service.
  • There was a positive perception of the railway amongst users in terms of performance against the objectives with over 90% agreeing that the railway had promoted access to / from the Scottish Borders/Midlothian to Edinburgh
  • The majority (80%) of non-users / one-off users said that they didn’t use the service more frequently because the car was more convenient. Other popular responses included, the lower cost of bus services (47%), the greater convenience provided by bus options (39%) and the ability to use the National Entitlement Card on buses (30%).  The alternative offered by bus options was more of a draw amongst residents from Midlothian which could be attributed to availability of the Lothian Bus flat fare in this area.
  • In total, 20% of non and one off users cited the reliability of the service as a reason for their limited use, 18% and 17% respectively selected ‘difficulty getting a seat on the train’[2]. Both the reliability and (perhaps surprisingly) the capacity of the service were bigger concerns amongst those from the Scottish Borders than Midlothian.  
  • In total, 37% of non and one off users stated that improvements to the Borders Railway would encourage them to use the service, with the most popular improvement being lower train fares. In contrast to the sample as a whole and that of Midlothian respondents, amongst Scottish Borders residents, the most popular improvement was ‘an extension of the Borders Railway to Carlisle’ followed by ‘an extension of the Borders Railway to Hawick’.