Tuesday 24th May 2022
There will undoubtedly be early morning shenanigans today with thousands out celebrating London’s new railway opening its central core gate lines for the first time, but today I’m bringing you news of a comparatively minor development – yesterday’s opening of another railway station closed back in 1964 in the Beeching era.
It’s in the village of Reston on the East Coast Main Line between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Dunbar, and yes you read that right, it’s serving a village…. with a population of 450.
You’ve got to hand it to Reston residents, they’ve obviously done something right in a past life, as not only have they got a shiny new railway station on one of the country’s prime railway tracks complete with two platforms long enough to accommodate ten-coach trains (yes, even LNER trains stop there) together with a very fancy accessible footbridge between them, but from the beginning of this month they also fell within the area covered by a brand new Demand Responsive Transport (DRT) bus service called Pingo enabling passengers to use their own personally summoned bus from the surrounding Berwickshire countryside to and from the station as well as other communities, villages and towns. And even better for those 22 and under or 60 and over … it’s free.
I just hope the 4,500 residents of Swallowfield and Riseley in Berkshire don’t get to hear of Reston’s good fortune faced with their limited bus service under threat of withdrawal in the coming months as explained in a recent blog.
I took the opportunity yesterday to call in at Reston station and check out its new facilities as well as give Pingo a try out.
Work started on building the new station in March 2020 and construction involved a weekend closure of the East Coast Main Line to install the footbridge.
And what a footbridge. It’s not your usual boring modular design but sports a couple of rather fancy tall towers housing the lifts and a smart glass top to the over-bridge panels facilitating a good view of the tracks below.
However, i doubt the rest of the station will be wining any prizes for architectural merit, it being to Network Rail/ScotRail’s bog standard design for such installations as we’ve seen in other recent Scottish station openings at Robroyston and Kintore.
There’s no ticket office and just the one ticket machine which sadly was out of service on its first day ….
….. and each platform boasts two basic shelters ….
…. as well as the usual blocks of four metal seats and LED departure display screens …
…. a double deck cycle rack alongside a large blue cabinet, lots of lighting columns …
….. and that’s about it. You don’t get a lot for £20 million these days.
There is a 70 space car park with the usual charging points and priority blue badge bays….
… and there are two, albeit limited in frequency, scheduled bus routes that now call at the station including Borders Bus two hourly (4/5 off peak journeys a day) route 253 …
…. and Travelsure’s four journeys a day route 34 (Tweedmouth to Duns) …
…. but I’m sure the car park will be handy for people living in the new station’s hinterland, not least the 3,600 people living in Eyemouth on the coast, six miles to the north east of Reston, which is the largest nearby community – albeit small by rail station catchment areas. I can’t help thinking the business case must have had some heroic assumptions on people living in this part of Berwickshire switching back to rail.
It’s fascinating to check back through the timeline on projects such as this which shows back in 2011, MVC Consultants, who’d been commissioned to look into the business case, assessed the new station could be built for £2.53 million and the cost of operating a “local train between Berwick and Edinburgh would be £3.2 million” per annum. Hmph, 11 years later and those figures look somewhat optimistic particular the former which has grown almost ten times. That report for Transport Scotland was quoted by one of the advocates of building the station Berwickshire MSP John Lamont “the report concludes that the costs of this new service would greatly outweigh the benefits”.
As we now know the sums were reworked and the benefits reassessed not least “the social and economic opportunities for people in Reston and the surrounding communities”. An excited community council chairman Barrie Forrest, a long time campaigner for the new station, told local media back in March last year about the impact even as construction work was still progressing “there are two or three houses up for sale and one or two of them have been sold within minutes. People are coming into the village shop and asking when they’ll be able to get a train … everybody’s delighted it’s going to happen and it can’t happen quick enough”.
Sadly the train service for those excited local residents isn’t quite the one envisaged a decade ago when the campaigning was in full swing.
Although it’s a ScotRail run station the main service is provided by TransPennine Express (TPE) which is stopping its recently introduced Edinburgh to Newcastle shuttle trains at Reston six times a day; with LNER also stopping one train in each direction – at 07:27 towards Edinburgh (a Newcastle starter) and 21:41 to York (arriving there at the rather unsocial time of 00:16).
TPE departures from Reston to Edinburgh are at 08:11, 10:22, 13:13, 14:16, 16:27 and 17:20 and to Newcastle at 06:17, 10:11, 12:14, 14:48, 15:53, 18:13 and 19:50 with the 15:53 only as far as Berwick-upon-Tweed.
It’s all very odd to have a ScotRail station with TPE departures which don’t cross the Pennines, but that’s train branding for you.
I’m sure the lucky residents of Reston, Eyemouth and surrounding villages are delighted at their new rail service with others in East Linton, 25 miles further on towards Edinburgh, west of Dunbar, eagerly awaiting their own station now under construction. There were certainly enough people taking an interest yesterday morning.
After I’d taken a look around having arrived on the 10:11 arrival from Edinburgh (to Newcastle) instead of continuing south on the next departure at 12:14 it seemed a great idea to summon up a Pingo bus for a ride down to Bewick-upon-Tweed station and catch an earlier train departure from there – seamless travel and all that – not least as I spotted a poster for Pingo ….
…. even if the standard Onward Travel poster failed to mention it.
And that map of the ScotRail network confusingly shows trains from Reston with connections to the rest of Scotland, but nothing to England. That’s border control for you.
Pingo is operated by Borders Bus on behalf of Scottish Borders Council. It began earlier this month and as shown on the map further above covers a large rural area of what we colloquially call Berwickshire. It’s got the usual App booking system with algorithms sorting out bus routings and pick ups as explained in many previous blogs.
The Mercedes buses used have the usual interior set up….
…. and ticket machine arrangement as no payments are taken on the App.
And as also explained in many previous blogs I always now book my rides well in advance to ensure I get ‘ahead of the crowd’ and stand some chance of getting a ride when I want it (‘Demand Responsive’ and all that) and I’ve also now taken to using the phone number to book rather than use the App as it’s so much easier than faffing around with the App map when you live outside the area and have to manipulate the map with on screen finger spreading.
When I rang the number to book, answered by Borders Bus very quickly, earlier in the month I was told you can only book seven days ahead, so last Monday I gave it another try only to find an answerphone with no-one available to take my call – you definitely need to allow for this type of thing when booking your bus – so I left a message and an hour and a half later, while enjoying lunch on Southend-on-Sea Pier last Monday, the lovely Emma rang me back and we sorted out my booking.
I have to say Emma really was a delight, explaining everything I needed to know including what connecting bus I’d need to take me on from Berwick-upon-Tweed’s Morrisons (on the northern edge of town) to the railway station as it turns out Pingo isn’t allowed to take passengers right into Berwick-upon-Tweed itself which is a bit bizarre as the frequency of the 253 bus route, as explained isn’t exactly, well, frequent.
As mentioned earlier, being in Scotland young people benefit from free travel on Pingo right up to age 22, as well as those aged 60 and above and for those aged 23 to 59 inclusive it costs £2 plus 20p a mile which is an interesting charging arrangement. Pingo operates with two buses seven days of the week between 07:00 and 21:00 and both buses are equipped to take two bicycles on a rear mounted frame. There’s a third bus to press into service as needed.
I booked my Pingo journey for 10:45 and as my train pulled into a platform bursting with bagpipe playing pipers, TPE flag waving high-viz vest wearing excited school children, virtually all of Reston’s residents, suit wearing, lanyard dangling, name badge showing officials (ScotRail, Network Rail, TPE … the lot) and lots of media type folk…
… I spotted a Borders Bus Pingo branded minibus languishing on the bus stop by the rather full car park (it’s always fascinating to see how many dignitaries and officials arrive at these things by car).
That’s good, I thought. It’s arrived in plenty of time and after a quick wander around all the station’s facilities, admiring the lift towers, and listening to the statutory open day piper ….
…. it was time to wander over to the minibus.
Except Michael, its driver, explained he was only there as part of the station opening to give Pingo a presence and was logged off until 11:00. We concluded the second bus would likely arrive and be my conveyance.
As 10:45 approached I noticed the previously displaying reassuring message about my booked ride had disappeared from the App and replaced with a less reassuring message advising I had no scheduled rides.
Michael suggested giving Emma a ring but unfortunately it was on answerphone again but she soon rang me back just as an automated call came to my phone advising my bus was five minutes away. Emma also reassured me all was well and the bus would soon arrive. We agreed it might be better to receive the updated automated phone message before the deleted confirmation on the App. Ideally the App should show the location of the bus as it approached, as most do.
Anyway Eilidh soon arrived and after the usual pleasantries, a photo opportunity and a quick chat with Michael we were off to Berwick’s edge of town Morrisons.
As always Eilidh (and Michael) are great ambassadors for the service and full of pride. And as usual it was a solo ride for me and around half a dozen passengers had been carried in total over the last few hours.
It was a lovely ride down the A1 especially the section where it parallels the railway along the coast ….
…. and after about 20 minutes we arrived at Morrisons.
Google told me it was a 20 minute walk to the station but I decided to do the seamless bus interchange thing and wait for the half hourly Borders Bus local B1 route.
It was a bad call. It arrived five minutes late, a troublesome ticket machine not accepting concessionary passes cost another five minutes and a good number of passengers boarding at every stop meant a tortuously slow journey as we headed into town and meant I missed my connection at the station. Seamless integrated travel this wasn’t. Just as well I had no time commitments.
It wasn’t particularly helpful to find a blank case in the shelter at Morrisons …
… nor May 2020 outdated Covid information on the bus stop pole.
The QR code didn’t work either.
The whole concessionary pass situation in border territory is also far from satisfactory. Had I made my journey from Berwick-upon-Tweed’s Morrisons (in Northumberland) to Reston my pass would have been valid but as I travelled southbound it cost me £4. Had I had a Scottish concessionary pass it would have been valid both ways according to Eilidh which is somewhat anomalous.
Perhaps I should relocate and join the lucky residents of Reston.
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