Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
Border Union Dream: The inside Story of Britain’s Boldest Railway Preservation Bid by David Spaven. Stenlake Publishing. £15.95.
The Waverley Line was a romantic name for a romantic railway. The line ran 98 ¼ miles from Waverley Station in Edinburgh to the Citadel Station in Carlisle. On those 98 ¼ miles it served two significant towns, Galashiels and Hawick, and provided a lifeline for numerous small communities in the sparsely populated Border Country.
When the Beeching Axe fell in 1963, when British Railways were subject to the most rigorous process of economic rationalisation, the much-loved Waverley Line was an inevitable victim.
The line finally closed on 5th January, 1969. The last train, the overnight sleeper running from Edinburgh to St Pancras, carrying a party of civic and political dignitaries, was brought to halt by “a part-planned, part-spontaneous protest” at Newcastleton Station. The Rev. Brydon Mabon was “arrested”, and it was only with the intervention of the M.P., David Steel, that order was restored. The train continued on its way, 117 minutes late.
But there were other, and more substantial, interventions to save the line. A remarkable group of businessmen with strong Border connections mounted a bid to purchase the redundant line and sought to produce a business plan that would return it to profitability. They were led by Bob Symes-Schutzmann, a producer on the TV programme Tomorrow’s World, and two friends, Roy Perkins and Martin Symms. They managed to gather significant financial support, had an initial meeting with David Steel and other interested parties, but their dream of making the Border Union Railway Company a commercial reality was doomed to failure. After the railway had fulfilled a contract with the National Coal Board, which ran for a few months after passenger traffic had ceased, the line was finally closed and the track was taken up. In later years, David Steel was sceptical about the whole project. He claimed that: “I clutched at any straw, but really they were away with the fairies.”
David Spaven has had access to the extensive archive of materials relating to the closure of the line and subsequent negotiations and he has written a detailed account of the failed attempt to save the line.
One fortunate outcome of the whole protracted business was a series of 116 remarkable photographs taken by Ian Holoran in April and May 1969. The line was a Mary Celeste line. There were no trains, no railwaymen and no passengers. Stations were empty and signal-boxes were silent and yet the line looked as though a train might steam around the bend at any minute.
There is no-one to be seen on St Boswell’s Station on 5th April, 1969. The platform is completely empty. The 3 ton crane in the goods yard stands ready for work, but there is no work to be done. The yard is “devoid of goods, people and trains”.
Further south, the line was being dismantled. On 26th May, the down-line still ran under Bridge 244, just north of Ridings Junction. The up-line had been lifed and there is only the gravel bed where the track once ran. The same single track is to be seen beneath the “lofty” Bridge 243 that carries the Haltwhistle to Langholm road a half-mile south of Penton Station.
At Longtown, the water-pipe and hose were still to be seen alongside the up-line, even though the last recorded steam train, the Britannia Class No. 70022, Tornado, had passed through the station 14th November, 1967. The steam locomotive had been substituted for a failed diesel on the 19.44 passenger service from Carlisle to Edinburgh.
The resurrection of the Waverley Line remains a dream to this day. The old railway is still very dear in the memory of many people.