In April 1969, I read an article in Railway World magazine about the closure of the Waverley Route. The report had a profound effect on me which has stayed with me throughout my personal professional life.
Only a few months before I had felt let down by the loss of steam traction from the National network. I’m sure that many others shared this feeling. As well as this, the Buntingford line closed in 1964 as part of the Beeching cuts. This was a short distance from my home in Stevenage yet I don’t recall travelling on it as a child. I had never traveled over the Waverley Route either, but the account of the closure of the line was shocking. In particular, the fight and protests by people living along the line provoked a feeling of a kindred spirit. Although still a youngster, I wanted to help reverse the lunacy of the destruction of our railways.
No-one in my family owned a car so we always travelled on buses and trains. Fortunately for us we lived on the East Coast Main Line which wasn’t under threat. I simply could not understand why they were closing a main line in Scotland. My interest in railways from an early age meant my geographical knowledge of Mainland Britain was reasonably good. Even I could see that closing the Waverley Route meant huge swathes of people in the Scottish Borders would loose access to a railway.
Was it safe to close the railway?
The final weekend of the Waverley Route operation was 4th and 5th of January 1969. It saw the culmination of protests by locals who weren’t going to let the line die peacefully. They had fought a long but unsuccessful campaign to keep the line open. Sometimes in life, people only realise the value of something when it is gone. In the case of the Waverley Route it was a travel option that would no longer be possible. I don’t know what the weather was like in the Winter of ’68-’69 but I think possible ice or snow would make traveling by road unpleasant and perhaps downright dangerous in the Scottish Border region. A morbid thought, but I wonder how many road users sustained deaths and injuries? Those who had previously used the railway on journeys North to Edinburgh and South to Carlisle.
The protesters were visibly angry. They held placards bearing slogans such as ‘Railway Murder‘and ‘Don’t cut our life-line‘. They held a coffin with the words ‘Waverley Line born 1848 killed 1969‘ emblazoned on the side. A lady called Mrs Madge Elliott from Hawick had spearheaded the campaign to save the line. Apparently police warned her not to carry out a plan to lead protesters in a ‘sit down’ on the track. Instead they all wore black armbands and distributed leaflets captioned with ‘It’s quicker by hearse‘.
I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Why did no-one listen to these people? The old argument of ‘if you don’t use it, you will lose it’ appeared to be sound advice to those opting not to use the trains.
Fit for Purpose Timetables keep lines open
A railway timetable HAS to be attractive to potential travelers. If it is not, they won’t use it. It is as simple as that. Years ago I had a discussion with a senior manager in the rail industry. He had spent all of his career in London and South East where the passenger loadings are particularly high. He proffered that there was no case for the Barnstaple line in Devon to remain open because passenger loadings were low. I pointed out that the timetable offering was very poor. There were huge gaps between trains. The regular pattern of timings and services did not meet the needs of those commuting into Exeter or Barnstaple. When I joined the newly formed Wessex Trains in 2001, I had the good fortune to meet and work with Tony Crabtree. He was Head of Train Planning and he too thought that the Barnstable line timetable offering was poor and wanted to do something about it.
A modern day approach
Wessex Trains held meetings with the excellent local rail user group for the line who were very pragmatic. They worked with us to produce a timetable within the constraints of the line and the diesel multiple units available. The timetable also met the needs of both existing and potential users with an hourly service throughout most of the day. An hourly service might not seem a great deal to some of you reading this, but this along with the sub 60 minute journey time Exeter – Barnstable was a great improvement. The increase in passengers was significant. Today, some fifteen years later, the line continues to be very popular.
With the investment by Network Rail in the track reducing the number of temporary speed restrictions, punctuality has improved over the years. A couple of years after introduction of this improved time table, I invited a senior manager from the Department for Transport to accompany me on a mid-morning service on the line. On departure from Exeter, the train was very busy. He was extremely surprised given his preconceived expectation of a train running with one or two passengers.
Waverley Route timetable
When I look at the timetable for the Waverley Route in 1966 or indeed 1968 (just prior to closure as illustrated above) it is NOT attractive for passengers. Consider commuters, for example. There was a train from Hawick at 06:58 that would get commuters into Edinburgh for 08:26 but the return journey didn’t see a departure until 17:54. As for commuting towards Carlisle, the first service from Hawick arrived at Citadel station at 08:00 but the next arrival was not until after 10:00. Ignoring a Summer dated service, the return journey was not until 18:13. Hardly an attractive timetable offering was it? I invite you to decide and comment for yourself.
The closure of the Waverley Route
On the last operational Sunday of the Waverley Route on the 5th of January, a Railway Correspondence and Travel Society special hauled by Deltic D9007 Pinza struggled up the gradient to Whitrope Tunnel. A considerable amount of grease had been deliberately applied to the rail head along a large distance. It will probably never be known who did this but feelings were running high.
The final Southbound run on the Sunday was the 21:55 off Edinburgh, the Night Midlander Sleeper. Reading the account intensified my anger against closure. Protesters carried a coffin labelled ‘British Rail‘ along the platform at Hawick. They even managed to unlock the parcels van and load it inside. At Newcastleton, the level crossing gates had been chained together so that the line was blocked. The protests were led by the local minister, the late Rev. Brydon Maben, resulted in him being arrested. He was only released after a deal brokered by the MP David Steele who was travelling on the train. Heavy stuff and reading about it had a profound effect on me particularly as I was just a young boy.
Re-Opening the Waverley Route
In recent years I read about the possibility of the line re-opening at least in part. On 6 September 2015 I’m delighted to say that the line re-opened from Edinburgh to Tweedbank. A few weeks prior to this Mrs Madge Elliot MBE, who had been Honoured along with her husband for voluntary work in Hawick, had the opportunity to ride on a pre-opening special train. She must have been absolutely delighted and I applaud her whole heartedly. What an absolute legend she is.
I was very fortunate in being able to secure a place on one of the steam specials hauled by A4 Pacific 60009 unit South Africa in October 2015. Geoff Brown accompanied me on the trip. He is also a railway engineer whom I have known for nearly 40 years. We were delighted to be travelling on this spectacular route. The scenery is akin to the Settle and Carlisle Railway. You really must take the opportunity to travel on this reopened line now called the Borders Railway and operated by Scotrail.
Passenger estimates were provided by consultants as part of the business case for the reinstatement of part of the line. It transpired that these were wildly underestimated. I really hope that, as a very minimum, they extend the Borders line towards Hawick and then ultimately to Carlisle. People don’t just want to go North from the borders to Edinburgh, they also want to go South to Carlisle and connect with other services there on the West Coast Main Line. The Waverley Route Heritage Association is committed to bringing the route back and has established a base at Whitrope where they have relaid track. Why not support them and also get behind the Campaign for Borders Rail.
If you’re thinking of enjoying the Waverley Route then find out the relaxed way to get to Scotland by sleeper train.
May I also recommend the following books . ‘[easyazon_link identifier=”1906134995″ locale=”UK” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”railway02-21″ cart=”n” cloak=”n” popups=”y”]Waverley Route – the life, death and rebirth of the Borders Railway by David Spaven[/easyazon_link], [easyazon_link identifier=”B01K92Y5NQ” locale=”UK” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”railway02-21″ cart=”n” cloak=”n” popups=”y”]The Waverley Route – It’s Heritage and Revival by Ann Glen, Borders Railway[/easyazon_link] – [easyazon_link identifier=”1907945903″ locale=”UK” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”railway02-21″ cart=”n” cloak=”n” popups=”y”]The Return Journey by Peter Ross[/easyazon_link] and the excellent Memories of Lost Border Railways by Bruce McCartney for more of a historical contex along with [easyazon_link identifier=”0860936333″ locale=”UK” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”railway02-21″ cart=”n” cloak=”n” popups=”y”]The Last Years of the Waverley Route by David Cross[/easyazon_link] and [easyazon_link identifier=”0711026742″ locale=”UK” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”railway02-21″ cart=”n” cloak=”n” popups=”y”]The Waverley Route – The Post War Years by Robert Robotham[/easyazon_link].
I thoroughly enjoyed watching the DVD [easyazon_link identifier=”B00004CPAR” locale=”UK” tag=”railway02-21″]The Railways of Scotland volume two The Waverley Route[/easyazon_link]
Guy Amedro (Gorebridge) says
Great article. Due to the inability of Abellio/Scotrail to promote and run successful steam specials in the summer of 2016, they declined to offer any in 2017. Borders Council and Transport Scotland asked if S.R.P.S. Railtours would be willing to offer something and they operated four highly successful steam hauled trips round the Fife Circle and down to Tweedbank (and back) crossing the Forth Bridge 4 times on each trip during August. They were virtually complete sell-outs with 400-420 passengers on each trip. That is the good news. The bad news is that Abellio/Scotrail frequently cancel Borders services at the last minute and normally only run 2 coach DMU’s even at peak times resulting in the service being despised after only two years by rail passengers who are drifting back to using their cars. Before any further extension is considered “we” have to get a good reliable service in place on the line that has re-opened! To provide a reliable service capable of handling commuter capacity and to fulfil its Tourist capacity we also have to look at permanent ways of wooing tourists onto the line in order to help the businesses in the Borders (Galashiels in particular which has more closed businesses than open now).
Thank you Guy for providing this. It is disappointing to learn of the apparent poor management of operations on the route.
The message is clear that there is great demand for rail yet the industry fails to plan properly to provide sufficient rolling stock, particularly speculative new build vehicles.
When I first learnt that the multi million pound reinstated Borders Railway was to use existing class 158 units I was underwhelmed. I felt it was a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. For the immediate future I live in hope that the transferred Great Western Railway HST sets to Scotrail may provide the opportunity for additional Class 158’s to be transferred to the Borders Railway.
I completely agree with your comments Guy on the existing operation but also the conservative approach to passenger demand used by consultants must be amended as consistently predictions are massively out as has proved the case here. This flawed approach results in insufficient resources. I would be very grateful Guy if you could keep me updated on what happens on the Borders Railway. Thank you again.
Kevin Ferguson says
We won’t be seeing HSTs on the Borders line due to 55mph speed restriction on anything other than a 158 or 170 DMU and 20-30mph restriction on locomotive hauled trains over some of the old bridges. Due the breaking restrictions imposed by the signalling and other limitation of a line only rebuilt for use only by lighter weight vehicles.
On a positive note they do seem to have sorted out some (not all) of the problems with the signalling and the unreliable 158s. There are 4 car 158 and 3 car 170 on certain peak trains since last December, we can expect more 3 car 170s once the HST are introduced else where. Some trains are never the less very busy which is hardly a sign of failure.
So an improving situation though some issues will remain as a legacy of cost cutting in the design to meet an inflexible budget, better this than no railway had more cost been included. A report commissioned by Transport Scotland on extending the line is due later in the year,
Jim Gough says
In a way its a victim of its own success. It has highlighted the folly of reopening the line on the cheap. Extra money should have been spent to make it suitable for higher speed running with more loops to increase flexibility. Now if it is extended to Hawick (almost definitely going to happen) or even Carlisle most of the line already reinstated will have to be rebuilt at further expense. A good old British disease…..skimp to save money and end up costing a whole lot more.
Well put Jim. The only thing I would counter is that I’m sure you, me, David Spaven and countless others absolutely knew the reinstated Waverley Route would be a huge success. I’ve read David Spaven’s excellent book ‘Waverley Route – Life, Death and Rebirth of the Borders Railway’ and getting angry at the incredulous decisions not to make passive provision for increasing line capacity. The building single span bridges was a complete folly. Another aspect was that I believe the cost of road alterations was attributed to the railway budget which I can reluctantly understand but what annoys me is that advantage was taken to effectively gold plate the alterations.
Alastair Majury says
Thanks for the detailed article on the Waverley Route very informative and interesting. Thanks again, Alastair Majury.
Very much appreciate your kind comments Alastair. It really makes it worth while writing these articles.
Albert Ward says
I travelled on the first steam hauled train the day after the Queen opened it. It was a dream to travel behind my favourite locomotive of all time.
Joe Trudo says
“Hourly service”? Wow, here in the colonies (USA) we are lucky to get one train 3 days per week. Have traveled extensively around Scotland by train and find it great! Hope to return soon and ride this newly reopened route. Great read.
Hi Joe, very glad you enjoyed my Blog on the Waverley Route. Is the USA having a rethink on railways and are planning to reinstate or build new routes?
Hi Joe, I’m very glad to learn that you have enjoyed my Blog on the Waverley Route. Is the USA having a rethink on railways and considering reinstating or building new routes?
Bernie Holland says
Very interesting article on the ‘Waverley’ – A Class 66 was named ‘Madge Elliot’ in honour of her tireless efforts to get this important route re-instated. Congratulations of your great career as an engineer – you have achieved much and you can look back with pride on what you have contributed for the benefit of the travelling public- many of whom are oblivious of the efforts that have been expended for their safety, comfort and convenience. I am not an engineer, I am a musician however, I have made many good friends in the world of railways – one of these being a wonderful gentleman by the name of Dick Hardy – sadly he passed away a couple of weeks ago and I will be attending his funeral on 13th March. Doubtless, there will be many from the railway industry who be be there to pay their respects. I shall continue to read your articles and the very interesting and intelligent comments that are posted by others who also appreciate what you are doing here. Thank you again !
Hi Bernie, I’ve just responded back to your kind comments about my Blog on starting out in Crewe Works. Thank you again though for your kind comments.
I knew Dick Hardy too. Indeed he was the one who agreed on behalf of the British Railways Board to sponsor my engineering degree. I met him on a few occasions after that and corresponded with him a number of times. Indeed I followed his lead in working with people. I last met him at the Great Central Railway at Loughborough for the Woodford Halse 50th commemoration gala in June 2015. A lovely man who will be sadly missed by many people.
I will be relating my interview with Dick Hardy in a future Blog.
Edward Pearce says
Your article on the Waverley route is excellent. The question I would like answering is did BR actually save anything closing the route in the long term? I have heard the the Government said to BR that if you want the WCML to be electrified from Weaver Junction to Glasgow then economies must be made, hence the Waverley route was shut. A double track mainline stretching for 90 miles, serving reasonably big communities. What were they thinking of?
Benjamin Rayner says
No I think the line should reopen to Carlisle then link of Hawick for possibly Bradford or Huddersfield, then run twice daily passenger trains to Hawick, 128 daily services to Carlisle and Leeds and Bradford, the reason it closed was because those campaigners may not have been using the passenger train which is why Beeching closed the service I myself hate him but everyone of the borders region it is not going to happen because it’s just not financially viable maybe for a freight rail bypass reducing delays for the many branchlines, so do you as a taxpayer want to a more efficient form of transport such as Car, Bus and Truck or take a loss making country passenger service, it’s like South Australia which lost all of its rail Services from Nationalised commissions, Mrs Elliott needs to think long and hard about the possibility of Passenger Services on the line, I would still love to see Big headed Boris Johnson reopen line but unfortunately it will not happen so potentially a 23 daily Tweedbank to Hawick Bus Service will attract local tourism and industries, roads improved by that time making it less economical for passenger trains to run the line maybe put a Parry People Mover between Tweedbank and Hawick is possible to remove some thousands of cars but some people prefer the luxury of car travel others prefer Rail to Edinburgh, still I’d like it to reopen though
Benjamin Rayner says
I mean no disrespect to Madge Elliott I believe in her and her family to reopen line I believe thousands would flock to Hawick, I’m an Australian-English Citizen, but I’m pleased to say that if I ever live and own ScotRail I would push to have a more direct HST Service to Carlisle, go go go Elliott Family you have to be heard by politicians who are sitting twiddling thumbs or go a rebellious route do not vote for arrogant aristocratic MPs who think they have everything not the Queen as she’s of my distant relative through Camilla Shand aka Parker-Bowles, I know what it’s like to lose a railway M-U-R-W-I-L-L-U-M-B-A-H lost its rail service in 2003.
As for the private sector embrace it as a friend yes I know about delays and cancellations Australia suffers the same effect, but privatised train operators need to have time to fix the problems so if your on the platform think long and hard that if it’s delayed just wait or wear a mask of a police tells you exemption is a way of rebelling the government Johnson and his pile of dung are no hopers £500 Million to reopen lines hardly a bee sting he wants more profits