Railway revamp on track at heritage site

Whitrope Sidings
Whitrope Sidings

A railway tourism attraction between Hawick and Hermitage is on track for a major overhaul.

Whitrope Heritage Centre is based in two railway carriages at Whitrope Sidings, just off the B6399, but is now hoping to expand.

It contains a vast selection of railway relics from the old Borders’ railways, including vintage photographs and a display on how railways were built in the 19th century.

Another major attraction is a train journey on what is now called the Border Union Railway, operating both north and south of the heritage centre, on the old Waverley route.

The first section of the track was laid in 2005, making it the UK’s newest operational heritage railway, with the first trains running in 2012 on the 150th anniversary of the original opening of the Waverley Route.

Now an application has been made to Scottish Borders Council for the extension of the attraction, also including a buffet coach where visitors can unwind over a cup of tea in the comfort of a 1960s-style carriage.

The bid, intended to add authenticity and also improve security at the site, covers the installation of signals along the line of the railway at Whitrope Sidings.

A second element comprises the installation of a level crossing on a private road running up to the car park facilities at Whitrope and also providing access for forestry vehicles.

The final part of the plan covers the designation of two areas of land as work compounds, where shipping containers will stand.

A council report on the bid says the signals have been donated to the heritage centre by Network Rail and are currently located at Slitrig.

The report adds: “The operation of the railway relies on signals to control the movement of vehicles, so ensuring that only one vehicle is on a certain part of the track at one time.

“The railway has therefore designed a signalling layout that will allow the safe operation of railway vehicles at the Whitrope Heritage Centre. All the signals will be mounted on reinforced concrete bases.”

Meanwhile, to ensure the safe use of level crossing access to the car park at the centre, there is a need for level crossing gates.

The report says: “The gates would allow vehicle access to the car park to be shut off when the train is about to pass.

“It will also aid site security by closing off access to the railway when the train is not operating.

“The gates to be installed are ex-railway gates, and the crossing will have four gates, with two closing to shut off each side of the crossing.”

The gates are of wooden construction and would be mounted on substantial steel mounted brackets.

Trains run on Sundays during the summer season, with the first service at 10.30am and others every 40 minutes thereafter.

The Waverley Route was the North British Railway’s line between Edinburgh and Carlisle, through the Borders.

Opened in two stages, between 1849 and 1862, the railway linked the Border towns of Galashiels, Melrose, St Boswells and Hawick.

It closed in January 1969, with steam locomotives having been used right up to November 1967.