Book: Waverley Route: the Battle for the Borders Railway

David Spaven

History never stands still - and it was only weeks after the publication of Waverley Route: the life, death and rebirth of the Borders Railway in August 2012 that I began to accumulate yet more intelligence on the story of the railway and the early 21st century campaign to re-open the northern section of the line. And of course, the period from 2012 to 2015 has seen all the physical evidence of one of the most remarkable rail projects in modern British history – the longest railway built in Scotland since the completion of the Mallaig line in 1901. At last, the Borders will lose its unwelcome tag as the only region of Britain without a rail service - and Galashiels and Hawick will no longer be further from the rail network than any other towns of their size in Britain.

Borthwick Bank Signal Box: Freightliner Heavy Haul No. 66 605 eases a returning empty ballast train down the 1 in 70 Borthwick Bank on 3rd November 2014, overlooked by Borthwick Castle, which dates from the 15th century. The laden ballast trains operating during the construction of the Borders Railway - at 2,900 tonnes 'gross trailing load' - were by far the heaviest freights in Scotland at the time. These were operated at slow speeds due to several bridge weight restrictions, but there was nevertheless some irony in the presence of such giant trains when the railway establishment had - at least initially - set its face against the possibility of accommodating any commercial freight traffic on the re-opened Borders Railway. This photograph is used on the front cover of David Spaven's book Waverley Route: The battle for the Borders Railway. See article! Bill Roberton 03/11/2014

Thus was triggered the idea of a new edition of the book, this time sub-titled 'the battle for the Borders Railway' in recognition of all who resisted the original closure and of the subsequent generation (some of them overlapping both periods!) who fought long and hard for the re-opening of the railway.

The new edition will be published in May, and I'm delighted to have this opportunity to give Railscot regulars a sneak preview. I'm also most grateful to Ewan Crawford and John Furnevel for providing me with this platform, and for all their support over the years. Railscot is a wonderful resource, education and entertainment.

This time around, I have incorporated fresh archive material from the late 1960s, shedding further light on the flawed political processes which led to the closure of the Waverley Route in 1969. Also, taking advantage of the last Hawick South signal box register saved for posterity by Ian Bell of Hawick, I thought it would be interesting to research how many of the more than 30 different locomotives which had worked through Hawick during the last three days of the Waverley Route had actually escaped the breaker's torch. I already knew of D6851 (37 667, still working for DRS) and readers of the book will have worked out the identity of a second survivor, but I was surprised to find that there are a further three which have been preserved. All is revealed in the book!

For those who bought the paperback version of the first edition, I am delighted to say that the new edition (only paperback) will incorporate the chapter on The first century of the railway - leading up to the Beeching Report - which was only included in the hardback version in 2012. This includes a section titled Scottish railway history comes close to taking an entirely different course, which describes a remarkable and previously little-known 'what if' episode in 1962.

Whitrope Bank: A1 Class No. 60118 Archibald Sturrock at the head of the 8.18 pm Millerhill to Kingmoor Class 'C' freight climbing up Whitrope bank on 14th August 1963, with the distinctive shape of one of the Maiden Paps (1,673 ft and 1,640 ft) in the background. This photograph is used on the rear cover of David Spaven's book Waverley Route: The battle for the Borders Railway. See image [[51040]] See article! Stuart Sellar 14/08/1963

As a sample of the new material, I have set out below an extract from Chapter 4 Execution pronounced, focussing on the vexed question of how much money the Waverley Route was losing and how much it would have cost to retain a 'Basic Railway' north of Hawick:

A number of key arguments around cost allocation emerged after the line's closure had been announced. In his 18th December 1968 letter to Baroness Elliot of Harwood, the Government's Lord Winterbottom noted that the short-term figures derive from the formula used in compiling Table 1 of Appendix 2 of the 1963 "Reshaping Report" – in effect conceding that they did not reflect the actual expenses incurred on the Waverley Route. Related points had been identified by Sir James Farquharson - a retired railway engineer who had pioneered railway development in East Africa, and was by then the President of the Scottish Railway Development Association - in his 27th September letter to the Principal Secretary at the MoT, in which he noted that the estimated costs of grant aid were calculated by an 'agreed formula', and that as regards the contentious issue of depreciation:

'the main assets subject to depreciation - track, bridges, etc. - have very long lives and there are no grounds for closing a line just because the revenues are insufficient now to meet expenditure which may be required 20 or more years ahead. The time to consider closure would be when the major assets required renewal.'

A lengthy 19th October reply from Assistant Secretary DG Fagan simply ignored this issue. 44 years later, the retired senior railway managers Richard Faulkner and Chris Austin, in their Holding the Line (2012), would pointedly note Beeching‘s failure to address the actual costs which would be saved by a specific line closure and how long it would take to achieve such savings in practice:

'Instead Beeching used average costs for track maintenance, train operations and staffing, along with an assessment of the renewals of structures and earthworks required to maintain services over the ensuing five years. The latter figure was also potentially misleading, as the maintenance of track and structures was not determined by a preset formula but expertly assessed by experienced engineers used to making accurate judgements about when a structure or length of track required renewal, given the traffic passing over it.'

The force of such criticisms in the context of the Waverley Route was underlined 45 years later when contractors working on the new Borders Railway found that many of the surviving structures between Edinburgh and Tweedbank were in remarkably good condition, despite little, or more generally, no maintenance since 1968.

The book is of course as much - or more - about the future as the past, and I have incorporated an update on the construction of the new railway and the parallel political controversies about the line's infrastructure specification. I was privileged to get new insider insights from Cllr David Parker, leader of Scottish Borders Council, into the political tensions - and the stand-off between the railway promoter and campaigners - in the years leading up to the authorisation of the new railway by the Scottish Parliament in 2006 and thereafter.

The 2015 version of the book has a revised and expanded selection of photographs (two thirds of which are new to this edition) and a bespoke map of the Borders railway infrastructure. It will come as no surprise that readers will be able to enjoy wonderful photos from a number of regular Railscot contributors – as well as other well-known photographers of the Scottish railway scene since the 1960s.I hope that everyone enjoys the read in the run-up to a truly historic occasion on 4th September.

David Spaven / 9 April 2015