The new Borders Railway has been unveiled ahead of its public opening this weekend, bringing to an end a near 47-year wait for train services to return to that part of south-east Scotland.
The stretch – the longest new domestic railway to be built in the UK for over a century – takes passengers on a 30-mile journey from Edinburgh through Midlothian to Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders.
The £294 million construction project, which officials say was delivered on time and on budget, re-establishes part of the former Waverley line, which fell victim to the controversial Beeching cuts on January 6 1969, leaving the Borders region without any access to the National Rail network.
Scheduled services carrying the first fare-paying passengers will begin on the new route on Sunday while hundreds of locals who won “golden tickets” will get a chance today to experience the train journey for themselves.
The reopening of the route – which is initially expected to carry almost 650,000 passengers a year – has also been hailed as a remarkable achievement for the grassroots campaign to get the line working again.
Speaking on a preview journey for those connected to the project, Hugh Wark, project director for Network Rail, said: “It’s fantastic to be here taking the first journey down the line on the new railway.
“It’s been a hugely complex project – 30 miles of railway delivered in under three years. It’s quite an achievement.
“I believe it will be hugely successful. It’s a marvellous railway, so let’s really get the best benefits out of it that we possibly can.
“I can remember the line when it closed in 1969 and it was hugely controversial at the time. I never dreamt in my career that I would be involved in reopening this railway.”
The train, covered in a design highlighting some of the route’s top attractions, was seen on its way at Edinburgh Waverley station today by supermodel Anna Freemantle.
It was then greeted at Newtongrange by local schoolchildren dressed as construction workers in orange boiler suits before being met by Galashiels’ “Braw Lad and Braw Lass” at Tweedbank.
Officials hope one million passengers a year will be using the railway by 2020.
The Queen will officially open the railway on Wednesday with a special steam train trip marking the day she becomes Britain’s longest-serving monarch.
Tourism chiefs hope the 55-minute service will boost visitor numbers to Midlothian and the Borders – an area known for its mining heritage, textiles and the landscape which inspired Sir Walter Scott.
VisitScotland chairman Mike Cantlay said an immediate economic benefit of £33 million is expected to flow to the area as a result of railway.
He added: “Actually, it’s much bigger than that.
“In many senses this is about showing that in Scotland, despite the fact we have these major tourism icons like the Edinburgh Festival and Tattoo, we’re still creating new attractions and here is a classic example of a something which people will come from around the world to enjoy.
“It’s a great shame we lost the railway in the first place but now we’ve got it back I think this will be a great opportunity for the Borders to show to the world the wonders of the countryside and the various attractions, be it Melrose Abbey or Abbotsford House (the home of Sir Walter Scott), and some great communities.”
The Campaign for Borders Rail (CBR), which was founded in 1998, said the opening of the Borders Railway represents a “unique achievement” of the local campaign to have the route reinstated.
CBR spokesman Nick Bethune said: “The Borders Railway should be recognised as one of the greatest achievements of grassroots rail campaigning in British history.
“There hasn’t been a bigger reversal of a Beeching cut anywhere in Britain and a whole region that was cut off from the rail network is now back on the railway map.”
Transform Scotland rail campaigner Paul Tetlaw said: “The re-opening of the Borders Railway is a day for real celebration.
“The campaigners who championed this railway deserve hearty congratulations and others should be encouraged by their success.”