Steam dreams are a waste nightmare

RMT union official Michael Hogg
RMT union official Michael Hogg

A Midlothian union official is furious that human waste from steam train journeys on the new Borders Railway is being dumped on the tracks.

Michael Hogg, of the RMT rail union, is angry that raw sewage from carriages pulled by Union of South Africa is being discarded on the new line between Edinburgh Waverley and Tweedbank.

The steam train transported the Queen to the Borders for the line’s official opening on September 9 and, since then, has carried 6,500 railway buffs and day-trippers on three return excursions per week.

Union of South Africa’s inaugural programme ended on Sunday, but the popularity of its journey through the city, Midlothian and the Scottish Borders suggests that further charter trips will be arranged.

Mr Hogg, who lives in Mayfield, is horrified that rail workers are having to deal with the disposal of human excrement.

He said: “Our members who have to change rail sleepers and maintain the rails are having to do so while dealing with raw sewage that’s been dumped on the tracks from this steam train’s rolling stock.

“It’s disgusting and it’s just not acceptable.”

The RMT has an agreement with the Scottish Government by which all trains on the Scotrail franchise will be fitted with waste collection units by December 2017.

Although diesel trains on the regular Borders services retain human waste, the use of period rolling stock to carry passengers on Union of South Africa trips skirts the rules for modern trains.

Mr Hogg said: “It’s diabolical that in this day and age people have to put up with these kind of working conditions.

“It’s bad enough having human waste on the tracks, but you’re having workers stand back for a passing train and be sprayed with raw sewage.

“We’re talking about people possibly being exposed to harmful bacteria that could cause illness and disease, such as hepatitis C.

“We appreciate that these steam rail trips are very, very popular and are likely to continue, but we can’t accept the use of old rolling stock which fails to prevent waste ending up on the tracks.”

ScotRail has confirmed that steam train toilets are not fitted with tanks to collect human effluent.

For the Borders Railway steam train specials, however, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency has given the rail company permission to allow customers to use the toilets while the train is between stations.

Onboard toilets remain locked when the train is stabled in or near a station.

A spokeswoman for the ScotRail Alliance said: “The line has been closely monitored and, after the last steam train has run on the line (on October 18), our specialist team will carry out a full track clean.”