From the archive: Waverley revival
Closed on 25 April 1969, the Waverley Route from Carlisle to Edinburgh is still one of the most fondly remembered, as David Cross recounts from the latter days of its operation, with photography by Derek Cross.
The Waverley route was built by the North British Railway Company, and was opened in two stages, from Edinburgh to Hawick in 1849 and thence to Carlisle by 1862. The name appears to have been inspired by Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Waverley’ novels, as many of the stories were set in the surrounding countryside.
The entire route had an ‘edge’, an atmosphere of men and machines battling against the elements. It was almost as if every summit that was climbed successfully was an achievement. The route that the railway followed through the Border hills could be fearsome. Wind, rain, mist and snow were often in evidence, sometimes all in a single day. The endless curvature of the line and the wild country, with more sheep than people, added to the recipe for the battle between the railway and the stark moorland country that prevailed, particularly on the southern section.
There was little habitation apart from the main towns of Hawick, Melrose, St Boswells and Galashiels. However, there were some most interesting places, even if they were not large centres of population. Riccarton Junction had a claim to be the most remarkable. It was literally in the middle of nowhere, 32 miles from Carlisle and 66 from Edinburgh. There was no road access. The station was opened in October 1862, and a railway village grew up around the site. The reason for its existence was its presence at the point where the Border Counties line from Hexham met the Waverley route. Eventually, the buildings at Riccarton included an engine shed for six locomotives, an engineering shop, the station itself and two signalboxes. At its height, the population of Riccarton probably reached about 120. The only access was by rail, largely to and from Hawick, 12 miles away. Reportedly it was the Co-op in Hawick that supplied the inhabitants of Riccarton with food.
This was, of course, carried by train, and it was those same trains that would take the children at Riccarton to and from school in Hawick. Emergency doctors, if needed, also had to get to Riccarton by train from Hawick through the wild hills around Whitrope and past the forbidding Arnton Fell. After the closure of the Border Counties line at the end of 1956, and, 13 years later, that of the Waverley route itself, the population gradually declined, and of the more than thirty houses that made up the original settlement only one remains occupied today.
During its final years the Waverley route enjoyed a rich variety of steam and diesel traction. At the southern end of the line, Carlisle Canal shed closed in June 1963, making Carlisle essentially an ex-LMS stronghold. Meanwhile, at the other end of the line in Edinburgh, most of the motive power was provided by ex-LNER locomotives. Thus the Waverley route had access to both sets of locomotives, and to them were added the diesels, which began to appear during the late 1950s. Noted on the route were Clayton Type 1s (later TOPS Class 17), English Electric Type 1s, Sulzer-engined Type 2s built either by BR itself (Classes 24 and 25) or by BRCW (Class 26), English Electric Type 3s (Class 37) and Type 4s (Class 40), BR and Brush Type 4s (Classes 45, 46 and 47) and English Electric Deltic Type 5s (Class 55).
The end of steam
At the end of steam on the Waverley route, BR, LMS and LNER types were still at work. The last steam-hauled stopping train from Hawick to Carlisle left on 5 June 1965, and was worked by BR Standard 4MT 2-6-0 No 76050. That same year the last three active LNER A3 Pacifics – Nos 60041 Salmon Trout, 60052 Prince Palatine and (a favourite of Derek Cross, the author’s father) 60100 Spearmint – were still at work. The drastic culling of the V2s meant that only 13 were left in traffic in 1965. Of these, five were based at Dundee, and eight at Edinburgh St Margarets, so it was on the Waverley route that this most successful class of 2-6-2s in service remained until their final demise in mid-1966.
Towards the end, when special trains started running, the variety of motive power increased. Visiting locomotives, both steam and diesel, began to appear. As late as September 1966 steam ‘farewell’ trains were run over the line, using V2 No 60836 which was a Dundee Tay Bridge locomotive. Just a month later, another Dundee based locomotive, A2 4-6-2 No 60532 Blue Peter, worked the ‘A2 Farewell tour’ on 8 October 1966. A month after that, A4 Pacific No 60019 Bittern turned out to work an Edinburgh–Leeds railtour. Happily, both Blue Peter and Bittern are now preserved.
Final motive power
Even after steam had gone, the variety continued up to the closure of the line. By that time, the expresses were being worked by Class 45 and Class 46 Peak diesels, and Class 55 Deltics and Class 47s appeared on the farewell specials. The local services were mainly in the hands of Class 26s, with Classes 25 and 37 putting in an appearance from time to time. Freight traffic also saw great variety; Clayton Class 17 No D8578, Class 25 No D7607, Class 26 No D5308 and Class 40 No D368 were all seen on freight workings. Freight traffic ceased on 25 April 1969, soon after the closure to passengers on 5 January that year. Then the whole line closed and demolition began.
And so what of the future? Throughout the 40 years since the Waverley route closed, various schemes to rebuild and reopen parts of the line have been mooted. As steam finished in 1968, there was a plan to save the whole line from Edinburgh to Carlisle for running steam locomotives after British Rail had banned their use. It came to nothing, as did the reinstatement of a single line from Carlisle to near Newcastleton, to help the movement of timber from the extensive forestry developments in and around Kielder Forest. A proposed new link from Paisley to Glasgow Airport has been shelved.
Of all the schemes, one of the most recent now appears the most likely to succeed: the reopening of the northern end of the Waverley route by the Scottish Parliament as a commuter railway. In recent years the Parliament and the Scottish Executive have made real efforts to maximise the use of rail transport and the rail infrastructure, much of which remains, some of it albeit derelict. This initiative entails not only the reopening of closed stations but also the reopening and electrification of an entire closed railway, the line from Glasgow through Airdrie and Bathgate to Edinburgh.
There are still plans to reopen a commuter railway from Edinburgh Waverley to a new station at Tweedbank, a short distance from Galashiels. It would use the formation of the Waverley route from Millerhill to Galashiels, a distance of about 35 miles. The aim is to boost the local economy along the route, to assist commuting to Edinburgh and to ease traffic congestion in the city. Royal Assent was given to the enabling legislation in 2006, and it is estimated that more than 200,000 people could benefit from the re-establishment of the railway. Although subsequently delayed, there is still hope that the revamped Waverley route will proceed. This plan was reaffirmed by the Scottish Transport Minister, Stewart Stevenson, towards the end of 2009.
In outline, it looks as though the railway will offer a half-hourly diesel-unit service from Edinburgh Waverley to Tweedbank, calling at a new station at Shawfair (on the site of the former Monktonhall colliery), then Eskbank, Newtongrange, Gorebridge, Stow, Galashiels and another new station at Tweedbank
The journey would take just 55 minutes each way for the 36-mile journey. The cost of rebuilding this part of the Waverley route is estimated to be around £295 million. Apart from the environmental benefits, road accidents would be reduced on the A7 and A68 trunk roads and 450,000 tonnes of carbon would be saved over 60 years. The reopening would help to regenerate the area served by the entire northern section of the line, as well as easing the traffic congestion on the roads to and from Edinburgh. How sensible a basic railway in the area would be! From the single-carriageway A7, especially between Gorebridge and Stow, where the old formation runs close by, one can still catch a glimpse of a bridge or the old trackbed from the twisty road. The formation is still in place, waiting to be refurbished, with track relaid and reopened, for the benefit of local people, local communities and railway enthusiasts. Will it happen? If it does, it will be possible to return to Falahill and photograph a passenger train more than 40 years after Derek Cross stood there, doing just that.
It bodes well for the project that all the property required to build the line has been acquired, and that ground and structural surveys have been completed. Perhaps the ‘Border Railway Project’ will begin, and the railway line to Tweedbank will open during 2014. Railway enthusiasts would love to see an A1 4-6-2 with just one different digit in the number – No 60163 Tornado as opposed to No 60162 Saint Johnstoun – once more racing through Tynehead and on to Galashiels. Here’s hoping!
Parts of the old line remain in use as part of the modern rail network. The Waverley route left the East Coast main line at Portobello Junction and passed through Niddrie and, further on, the Millerhill marshalling yard, before reaching the first station at Eskbank, eight miles from Edinburgh Waverley. Over the last 25 years, Edinburgh has expanded, and Niddrie, four miles from Waverley and then on the outskirts, is now very much part of the city. Close to Niddrie there had been a coal mine, Newcraighall Colliery, which went out under the Firth of Forth. It closed at about the same time as the Waverley route, but the section of the railway from Portobello Junction to Millerhill remained open, to give access to the yard and to the circular Edinburgh suburban lines, now freight-only.
Today, these two lines run as parallel single lines for some distance, though they appear to be a double-track railway. Since 2002, this section of the old line has become both busier and more relevant, as from June of that year passenger traffic was resumed. As Edinburgh has grown, it has become more congested, and the need for a rail service from the east has increased. New stations at Brunstane and Newcraighall opened on 3 June 2002. Brunstane was built with a simple single platform, but Newcraighall is a much larger interchange station, with a bus interchange and a very large car park for ‘park and ride’ users.
Another reason for the station at Newcraighall was the construction of a very large retail park at nearby Fort Kinnaird. It and Brunstane were reportedly the first new stations on a reopened main line since rail privatisation in the mid-1990s. The trains were half-hourly, and ran across the city via Waverley and Haymarket to Dunblane or Bathgate. Later they ran to Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath in Fife, but the ‘cross-city’ concept remains intact. By all accounts these ‘new’ passenger services on the ‘old’ Waverley route formation have been a real success; they will, one hopes, lead to the reopening of another section of the Waverley route beyond Newcraighall.
At the Carlisle end, the stub of the Waverley route remains in use, giving access to the Carlisle freight storage yard at Brunthill. The famous bridge at Kingmoor, which took the Waverley route over the West Coast main line, still sees occasional traffic.
Taken from Issue 142
This article is taken from a past issue of Heritage Railway Magazine. We shall be adding more over time so keep checking back. Back issues and individual articles and images can be ordered through our archive sites below.