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August 26, 2015

Community stays on track

Dr Beeching’s infamous 1963 report recommending the closure of 5,000 miles of Britain’s rail network and more than 2000 stations, has long been a source of railway regret. It left many communities effectively stranded – cut off from the national transport system. It was also the spur for a large number of long haul, community based campaigns to have these transport links reinstated. The most successful of these culminates next week, with the reopening of a long lost line to the Borders. 


They claim the re-opening of the Borders route for the first time nearly 50 years is one of the greatest achievements of grassroots rail campaigning in British history.

The Campaign for Borders Rail (CBR) is now urging others lobbying for the re-opening of rail lines in Scotland to take tips from 17-year Borders push that will culminate in the return of trains next month in an official opening by the Queen, on the day she becomes Britain’s longest-serving monarch, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The call comes as the successful Borders result was said be helping to add momentum to other campaigns including two in Fife.

The Borders Railway will be officially re-opened with an historic steam journey along the Edinburgh-Tweedbank route to celebrate the launch of its first passenger services on September 9, a few days after the 30-mile, £350 million route opens to passengers.

Nick Bethune, CBR’s UK parliamentary officer, called on others carrying out campaigns to prepare to be persistent, adding “it’s quite clear that the (CBR) campaign has had to be consistently willing to challenge the establishment, to rock the boat with well-informed and innovative ideas, sometimes against implacable official opposition.

“The other secret of CBR’s success has been the way it galvanised public opinion, helping to convince Borderers that they really could get their railway back.”

The message was echoed by Petra Biberbach, CBR founder member and its first chair from 1998 until 2002, who said: “For me the lessons are, first, campaign groups are not elected, so you have to seek a mandate and get the people on side, which means working in partnership with other groups who share your aims, and avoiding an attitude of ‘them and us’.

“Second, you need to be politically savvy and know when to work with the system, and when to challenge it, and third, passion, persuasion and tenacity are required.

“And in CBR’s case, well-informed and constructive criticism eventually brought some significant improvements to the Borders Railway specification.”

Allen Armstrong, of the LevenMouth Rail Campaign (LMRC) which is seeking re-opening of the line from Thornton to the town of Leven, said the Borders result had been a boost.

He said: “LMRC has been inspired by the recent wave of rail re-openings, especially the Borders campaign, and the reimagining of a more rational and inclusive transport network.

“The Borders Railway must not be the last.

“Despite feasibility studies here concluding a very strong case for reinstating the Thornton-Leven line, we also appreciate from the Borders example that ultimately it is politics that exerts greatest sway in these decisions.’

Jane Ann Liston, convenor of the STARlink campaign which has led a 26-year fight for reinstatement of five miles of track between the East Coast Main Line and St Andrews – closed on the same day as the Waverley Route through the Borders – said: “The sheer dogged persistence of the campaigners in the Borders and their refusal to give up for nearly 50 years shows that tenacity pays off in the end.  

“We in St Andrews salute their achievement and hope that it will pave the way for the reconnection to our town, an incredibly important destination and economic hub, through being a top tourist destination and the home of Scotland’s oldest university.

“Enabling direct rail services from the Home of Golf to Scotland’s capital as well as to Dundee would be a great boost for the whole area.”