Improvements down the line for Borders Railway

Friday November 11th 2016

Borders Railway to improve

Phil Bowen, editor

Due to concerns over the performance of the Borders Railway, Midlothian Council Chief Executive, Kenneth Lawrie, requested that ScotRail come to the full council meeting this week and update councillors on what improvements they are making.

James Ledgerwood, ScotRail’s head of Economic Development, gave a detailed presentation to the meeting.

Annual passenger numbers on the Borders Railway are expected to be over one million by the end of the year, far exceeding expectations.

Mr Ledgerwood said that there had been, and still were, performance challenges but said that this was to be expected on what is the first new railway in the UK for a very long time.

The Public Performance Measure (PPM) target for the Borders Railway is for 9.2 out of 10 trains to arrive on time, which is measured as within 4 minutes of a train’s timetabled arrival time. The railway is currently performing at 8.5 trains out of 10.

Mr Ledgerwood, outlined some of the issues that were affecting the performance and the steps they are taking to address these.

– Axle Counters, which count the number of train axles crossing a particular point on the track, are used to identify where a train is on the line.

Due to electrical power supply issues, these axle counters have been prone to outages which result in signalling issues stopping and thus delaying trains. In November, ScotRail are installing and trialling UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supplies) for these Axle counters. They expect that this will stop the failures and so improve performance. Once proven, UPS will be rolled out to all axle counters along the line.

– Due to the topography of the Borders line there are some steep gradients which are unsual across the rail network in Scotland, especially the Central Belt, and thus they have proven to be challenging for the current stock of trains.

ScotRail engineers are currently trialling a new radiator on two of the 158 class of trains that use the line. If as expected this improves the performance then the new radiators will be rolled out across all Borders Railway trains.

– Due to a year’s worth of data about the running of the train and how it inter-operates with the rest of the network ScotRail are tweaking some of the train times slightly to allow extra time for those trains arriving from the North into Waverley before departing for Tweedbank.

Mr Ledgerwood said ScotRail are confident that these three improvements will have a positive effect on the overall performance of the Border Railway.

Longer term ScotRail are looking at increasing train capacity across the entire rail network in Scotland and hope to provide more detail on this in the coming months.

Following the presentation, several councillors echoed the concerns of the public over train delays, over-crowding and the reliability of ticket machines.

Councillor De Vink, Independent, was particularly scathing of ScotRail for not anticipating that the passengers numbers would be higher than anticipated. Mr Ledgerwood, made the point that Abellio, who operate the ScotRail franchise, bid for the franchise on the basis of the numbers provided by Transport Scotland.

ScotRail and the councilors all agreed that the Borders Railway has huge potential to aid the economic development in Midlothian and that evidence of that development can be seen. For example, there is now a new children’s nursery at Gorebridge to cater for local train commuters.

In addition, it was said that the original Newtongrange railway station building is due to be brought back into action shortly at a cost of £750k with similar work to take place at Gorebridge station.

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