It’s been a long time coming – nearly five decades, in fact – but at last it’s ‘all aboard’ the Borders train once again.
And, after such a long wait, it’s only fitting that the whole affair should come with the royal seal of approval.
Her Majesty The Queen will officially open the Borders Railway on Wednesday, 9 September, the day she becomes Britain’s longest ever reigning monarch.
She will officially overtake her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria’s reign of 23,226 days, 16 hours and 23 minutes, while taking in the view from the Edinburgh to Tweedbank train.
The Queen was 41 years old and in the 16th year of her reign in 1969 when the last passenger train terminated its journey on the route, bringing to an end 150 years of rail connection between the capital city, the Borders and beyond.
The line was ripped up in 1969 despite protests from communities fearful that the loss of the line would leave them isolated and remote.
Now, after years of campaigning, £300m of reconstruction work and a mammoth operation to resurrect bridges and viaducts, the service will reopen with a party atmosphere stretching the entire 30 miles of its route.
The fun begins on Saturday, September 5 – the day before the first paying customers can ride along the route – when 800 ‘Golden Ticket’ holders climb on board for an exclusive VIP trip.
They have been picked from hundreds of entries to competitions run by Midlothian Council and Borders Council or nominated by friends, family or colleagues. They include local charity volunteers, ex-railway workers and locals with family connections to the former Waverley Line.
They will include 30 Midlothian primary school pupils who took part in a competition to design a railway poster. King’s Park Primary School pupil Vilara Dahanayake (PIC), is among them, chosen for her striking image of Borders Railway train crossing Lothianburn Viaduct.
And for young Eden Mcleod, the arrival of the Borders Railway is even more special – the King’s Park Primary pupil will unveil a plaque to commemorate the opening of Shawfair station.
The honour comes after a difficult few months for Eden, when she lost both her grandfather Alastair Mcleod and great grandfather George Mcleod. Around the same time mum Stacy was in hospital with pneumonia and Eden’s grandmother Muriel required emergency surgery.
Mum Stacey, who said: “To say all this has caused Eden distress and upset would be an understatement. I feel this trip would be something nice for Eden after all she has gone through.”
Also unveiling plaques on the day will be Erin Gilbertson, 13, at Eskbank Station and Jack Owens, 12, who will reveal a plaque to commemorate the opening of the new footpath at Newtongrange Station. Ellen Scott, who has worked with Gorebridge Cares to establish a new park for the area, will perform the honours at Gorebridge Station.
Golden Ticket winners will leave on board trains departing from the four Midlothian stations, at Shawfair, Newtongrange, Gorebridge and Eskbank, accompanied by entertainment along the way.
At NEWTON VILLAGE GREEN close to Shawfair Station, the Gus Ferguson Jazz Band will kick off the fun at 11am.
A marquee will be the focal point for face painting, craft stalls, bouncy castle and games.
Golden Ticket winners will set off just before noon, however hip hop group Upbeat Dance, Ultimate Storm Cheerleaders and the Southside Dancers will keep the entertainment going in the afternoon.
Borthwick & District Pipe Band and Dalkeith & Monktonhall Brass Band will bring events to an end at 3.30pm
At Birkenside Park in GOREBRIDGE, the fun starts at 10.30am with entertainment from Hip Operation and story time for children in the pavilion.
Golden Ticket winner Ellen Scott will unveil a commemorative plaque at 11.20 and then it’ll be off to the station for the VIP Golden Ticket winners.
The afternoon entertainment includes performances from Lasswade Percussion Ensemble, The Southside and Poptastic dancers and the Ageing Well dance group. Hip Op bring the fun to a close at 3.30pm.
The fun starts from 9.30am at Edinburgh College Campus at ESKBANK, when Lasswade Concert Band perform in the Food Court.
There’ll be face painting, smoothie making, badge making, crafts and stalls and Science Festival style experiments from 9.45am along with tours of the college building and the chance to drive an electric car.
Golden Ticket winners set off on their journey once a commemorative plaque has been unveiled at 10.30am.
There’ll be music from St David’s Ceilidh Band, singer Callum Bertram and Fortune Star, followed by the Barbershop Quartet and Little Voices, Big Stars get the day off to a musical start.
It all draws to an end at 2.30pm.
Focal point for many will be at the National Mining Museum at NEWTONGRANGE with a family fun day planned from 11am until 4pm.
Before then, however, Golden Ticket winners will gather from 9am, when Jack Owens, 12, will unveil a commemorative plaque to mark the railway’s return. They’ll head off on their memorable journey.
The family fun starts at 11am, with the chance to take a trip on the Esk Valley Miniature Railway or enjoy a pony ride.
There will be a clown, bouncy castles, magic show and performances by Newbattle High School band and dancers.
Dalkeith Rotary Club, will host “The Rail Thing” exhibition, providing a glimpse into the glories of the old Waverley Line, including a display of ‘The Newcastleton Layout’, a 28 ft working model, complete with engines, rolling stock, memorabilia and presentations by railway historians.
The events come under the banner of Midlothian’s Midfest Festival of Arts. Midlothian Council has warned that parking in the vicinity of the new stations will be restricted and urged motorists to avoid the areas if possible. While Saturday is set aside for the VIP Golden Ticket winners, Sunday sees the first paying customers ‘all aboard’ the brand new service.
For those who prefer their journey to be even more special, steam engines will pull carriages along the Borders Railway route between Edinburgh Waverley and Tweedbank from 10 September. The special service will run Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays for six weeks.
The ‘jewel in the crown’ of the celebrations will be the Royal opening.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will be joined by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on board steam locomotive Union of South Africa at Edinburgh Waverley bound for Tweedbank.
It’s expected that the royal party will arrive at Newtongrange Railway Station for its official opening mid morning.
Phil Verster, managing director of the ScotRail Alliance, said: “We are thrilled that Her Majesty The Queen will open the new Borders Railway on such a special day for the Royal family.
“The Borders Railway will open up Midlothian and the Borders to so many more opportunities including tourism, leisure, work and education, and marking the opening of the line with a Royal visit really is wonderful.
“This will be a truly historical day and we’re honoured to share it with Her Majesty.”
BLOB: For further details of steam engine trips on the Borders Railway go to http://www.scotrail.co.uk/scotland-by-rail/steam-trains