Tuesday May 19th 2015
By Phil Bowen
A large audience of business owners in Midlothian gathered at the Mining Museum this morning for a breakfast briefing about the Borders Railway.
The event was organised by Midlothian & East Lothian Chamber of Commerce, The Federation of Small Businesses and Midlothian Council and there were speakers from the Council, Abellio, Border Rail Blueprint and Buccleuch Estates
Kenneth Lawrie, Chief Executive of Midlothian Council, said that the business case for the railway was rock solid and that the majority of the business case rested on the benefits that it would bring to Midlothian. He said in terms of passenger numbers, there would be more passengers using the trains from the four Midlothian stations than there would be using the Borders stations. He quipped that it should really be referred to as the Midlothian Railway.
James Ledgerwood, Economic Development for Abellio the operator of the ScotRail franchise, described the service that Abellio would bring. He said that Network Rail and Abellio had formed an Alliance so that they could work together in Scotland and that this would prevent the finger pointing between the Service Operator and Railway Infrastructure provider when things go wrong and instead ensure that both parties work together.
Mr Ledgerwood, said that with the coming of the railway to Midlothian, a commuter will be able to board a train at 7:30 in the morning in the county and arrive in Glasgow at 8:50, with that time including changing trains at Waverley. Trains will operate half hourly from 5:45 until 19:55, then hourly until the last train at 23:55.
The train would be a huge benefit to business, commuters and tourists, he said. And Abellio are committed to buying Scottish in everything that they procure.
He also highlighted that Network Rail have a track record of working with the communities, citing the example in Glasgow of how they approached the issue of boys throwing stones at trains by sponsoring all the Boys Boxing Clubs in the region, thereby giving the boys something constructive to do.
Sam Smith, spoke about the Borders Railway Blueprint, a £23m programme of projects to maximise the impact of the railway for the region. These projects are aimed at ensuring that maximum economic benefit is achieved and that the railway is integrated with as many businesses in Midlothian as possible, with tourism being a significant benefit.
Starting in September there will be a six week trial of the Steam Train Experience, with a steam train running from Waverley to Tweedbank. If the trial is successful then it is planned to make it a permanent feature.
Ms Smith said that plans for the opening celebration were well underway to ensure a successful start to the railway for all.
To highlight the impact of the train on Midlothian there was a presentation from Buccleuch Estates about the development of Dalkeith Country Park as a tourist destination and the development of Shawfair as a new town with economic benefits.
The Dalkeith Country Park is undergoing a series of projects to awaken the sleeping giant of tourist attractions. Work is well underway on a new entrance via the King’s Gate near to Sheriffhall roundabout, and construction is well underway on new cafes, new buildings, a new bridge and an exciting new Adventure Play Area.
Dalkeith Country Park has always been associated with an adventure play area and the old one is being replaced with a spectacular new one featuring a giant snakes and ladders structure and a maze which will culminate in finding a fantastic Tree House. The adventure play area will attract users from aged 5 to aged 80 the Estate said.
Given that the Country park is within one hour travelling distance for 1.5 million people it is anticipated that 200,000 people will visit each year, bringing economic benefits to the region.
Buccleuch Estates also described the Shawfair development which will incorporate the new town of Shawfair, businesses employing 6,000 people and new houses as well as the new railway station.
So the scene seems to be set for a very successful railway. And in the question and answer session afterwards it was said that should the railway prove to be such as success it would provide an impetus to examine the business case for extending the line to Carlisle.