New railway brings optimism

Jason Ferry from Newtongrange who is opposed to the new Borders Railway, pictured with son Coz, 5
Jason Ferry from Newtongrange who is opposed to the new Borders Railway, pictured with son Coz, 5

The train departing soon for Midlothian’s new stations has taken nearly five decades to get on its way.

But its imminent arrival has already changed the face of the communities it will pass through.

Indeed, the new Borders Railway will carry much more than just passengers. For it arrives laden with new hope for the areas it passes through, carrying a cargo of better prospects and, in some cases, entire new communities.

Here, as the countdown begins to the reopening of the rail line, we look at just what the trains soon to travel along the Borders Railway mean in particular for Newtongrange and Gorebridge.

NEWTONGRANGE

For years, regulars at the Sun Inn relaxed in the shadow of the towering railway viaduct nearby and could only imagine what a glorious view it must have once offered.

With its 23 arches spanning nearly a third of a mile, the sight of a steam engine puffing overhead would surely have been worth the price of a pint.

For anyone travelling across it, the views of the Pentlands would have been unsurpassed.

The Lothianbridge viaduct – also known as Newbattle viaduct – was hushed by Beeching in 1969.

Soon, though, it will be back in full-time use, linking Newtongrange – and beyond – with Scotland’s capital city.

“You can see the train going over the viaduct from inside the restaurant,” says the Sun Inn’s Gill Stewart, whose regulars have been talking enthusiastically of the line’s reopening for months.

“We’re just a short walk from the stations at Eskbank and Newtongrange – pretty much half way between both. We all feel that the line’s reopening will bring benefits for us.

“We’re busy. However, the changes in drink-drive laws have affected some customers. For them, being able to leave the car, take the train and then walk just ten or 15 minutes to get to us will make a difference.”

Already the viaduct’s resurrection has brought work for at least one Midlothian business. Bonnyrigg stonemasonry company Forth Stone won the contract to replace its defective masonry, ensuring local work for local people.

Looking ahead, there are hopes that hundreds of families moving into the area will create demand for new services and facilities, creating a fresh vibrancy to the area.

“More people coming to the area to live means a larger consumer base. You can only hope that with people coming there will be jobs created for them,” says Jason Ferry, chair of Newtongrange Community Council.

“Hopefully for existing businesses there may be more demand and new businesses may consider relocating here.”

Business start-up incentives are in place, assisted area status means grant help for new firms and land has been set aside for commercial development.

Existing firms are enthusiastic too: George Archibald, chief executive officer of the Midlothian & East Lothian Chamber, said: “The opening of the Borders Railway is an exciting prospect and we hope it will provide a lasting boom.”

There is a price, of course. Housing developments will cut through green spaces, raising some worries among a few locals at the changing face of their community. Some, agrees Mr Ferry, are wary of the large development between Gorebridge and Newtongrange which will almost link the two.

“It will create one large conurbation of Easthouses, Newtongrange and Arniston with no significant green space. There are concerns about a loss of identity.”

For a new generation, there will be a brand new secondary school with community facilities. The new Newbattle High is likely to open in 2017, while primary schools are also planned for Bonnyrigg, Mayfield and Gorebridge, plus extra primary school capacity will be created in Dalkeith.

Amid the new developments, the past is not forgotten. The National Mining Museum is looking forward to telling the area’s story to a new generation of visitors.

“The railway will really put National Mining Museum Scotland on the map and we are certain it will help to increase visitor numbers in the future,” says spokesman Gillian Rankine.

Stories of a different kind may soon put the area on the cultural map. A new £6.5m theatre space is planned for empty workshops near the museum. It would be the first theatre in the county for 100 years and yet another new chapter in the story of the area’s rebirth.

GOREBRIDGE

Jack Maton was a young married man when the last train rolled by his Station Road home in Gorebridge.

Now he’s a grandfather – and the long wait for the next train to arrive at his local station is, at last, nearly over.

Jack runs Ivory House Bed and Breakfast on Vogrie Road with wife Barbara and is optimistic that the new railway will deliver a dramatic boost to the area.

“I think it will be positive, not just for us but for lots of businesses,” he says. “We’ve been talking to the local taxi firm to make sure there’ll be taxis for guests coming off trains with luggage, for example.

“There’s a new tearoom opened up recently near the station which probably wouldn’t have been there if not for the railway.

“And the village is starting to look so much better. It’s got to be a good thing.”

He has lived in Gorebridge for more than 45 years, watching the population gradually grow from round 3,500 to today’s 5,500.

Soon it will swell even more when new housing estates earmarked for sites around the village outskirts finally come together.

“I worry about the infrastructure,” he nods. “And you wonder what effect it will have on health services and schools.”

One of the major developments is at Redheugh, south of Newtongrange and east of Gorebridge. It will create an entirely new community of around 1300 homes.

In addition, spaces for a further 1000 homes have been earmarked at other spots around the village.

A multi-million-pound primary school will be created to serve the Redheugh development, largely funded by housing developers. Health services, shops and community facilities are also likely to be built.

For those considering a move to Gorebridge, there’s the lure of a 20-minute commute into Edinburgh – less than half the time it would normally take by bus.

As more families arrive, Mr Maton hopes it will restore Gorebridge to the thriving community it once was.

“Recently we’ve seen money being spent on the village, the fronts of buildings are being done up, roofs are being repaired. Little things still need done but there are changes.

“The main street is starting to look a little bit nicer and it will hold its own when people come here for a day trip.”

Indeed money has poured into upgrading Gorebridge’s conservation area to smarten it up for visitors and new residents. A new village ‘hub’ is being created with meeting halls, office spaces, café and childcare facilities.

Eddie Robertson, chair of Gorebridge Community Council says local people are very optimistic that the rail link will boost the area.

“We’re hoping there will be the same effect as occurred when the Airdrie to Bathgate line opened. The car parks were full.

“Most people in Gorebridge work in Edinburgh. The journey will be much quicker than if they were driving, even if they were using the park and ride at Danderhall,” he points out.

Community councils, Scotrail, the National Mining Museum and other groups have worked closely together, he adds, with a mutual bond aimed at ensuring the area benefits – even down to making sure the plants at the new station’s plants and flowers are attended to.

“Now we’re just looking forward to it,” he adds.