Past The Tracks

The Waverly Route


During the Beaching era of the nineteen sixties, large numbers of railway lines across the united kingdom where closed and dismantled, in an attempt to repair the vast debts being incurred by the operator, British Railways. In the vast majority of cases, lines with a good deal of traffic, such as the 'Main Lines' where kept open. However, in a few cases, mainly in Scotland, even the Main Lines weren't immune to the Beaching Axe.

The most famous of the now closed Main Lines was the former North British Railway main line from Edinburgh to Carlisle. Known as 'The Waverly Route' because it ran through countryside made famous in Sir Walter Scott's 'Waverly' novels, this line was one of the most scenic in Scotland.

Running south from Edinburgh, the line passed through the Scottish Borders, and served all of the major towns in the area such as Hawick, Melrose and Galashiels. Originally the Borders where home to a large number of railway lines, and the Waverly Route was the spine of a large network of branches stretching throughout the region.

However, apart from the major towns, the area was sparsely populated, and some places, like the famous Riccarton Junction where so remote that the railway was the only way to access them. As the sixties drew to a close, the Waverly Route stood alone in the borders as the only surviving railway line. All of the branches, which had started to succumb to road transport during the early fifties had by this point been closed.

Then the announcement came that British Railways was going to close the Waverly Route itself, in it's entirety. The reasons given where that the line was uneconomic, passing as it did through an under populated region that was already rapidly turning towards the car as their main method of transportation. The line was also in the unfortunate position in that it was very much duplicated by two other lines. The 'East Coast' main line between Berwick Upon Tweed and Edinburgh, and the line to Edinburgh via Beattock and Carstairs where both quicker and also had more traffic.

Unsurprisingly there where howls of protest at the decision to close the line, and petitions to parliament and demonstrations where made in an attempt to save the line from it's fate. However, even though the protesters fought bravely, the line finally closed in January 1969. It is interesting to note however, that with one major exception (The former North British line from Edinburgh to Perth via Glenfarg), the closure of the Waverly Route was one of the last major railway line closures in Britain. By the early seventies, other methods of making lines pay where being investigated, and lines such as the Settle and Carlisle line, the Mallaig line, and the Far North of Scotland line all survive today, despite also running through sparsely populated areas.

If the Waverly Line had been able to hold on a few years longer, the chances are that it probably wouldn't have been closed, as the contribution it made to the local economy may have been taken into account. As things turned out, with the closure of the line, a massive gap appeared on the railway map.

However, unlike almost every other case, this is not the end of the story! The line, despite being closed for over thirty years has still never died in the memories of the locals. Popular support for reopening is at an all time high, and in 2005 provisional approval was made towards the reopening of the line from Edinburgh to just south of Galashiels. Hopefully this is the first step towards reopening this essential and panoramic railway which has quite rightly refused to totally die.


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