Results of bus privatisation have varied

One of the last First-group buses in the Scottish Borders at Tweedbank Station before the services were taken over by Borders Buses recently.
One of the last First-group buses in the Scottish Borders at Tweedbank Station before the services were taken over by Borders Buses recently.

Bus services were de-regulated and privatised in 1986.

The large companies, such as United Automobile in North East England and the Scottish Bus Group, were broken up into smaller units and sold.

In Northumberland, the new operator was Northumbria, and in the Scottish Borders, Lowland Scottish. Before long, Northumbria was bought by Arriva, and Lowland was bought by First.

The intention of privatisation was that there would be competition from small, local operators.

This had a very limited effect in South East Northumberland. In the north of the county, however, Arriva has been reduced to just the spine services to Newcastle, and it grumbles about the viability of those north of Alnwick.

In the Scottish Borders, First lost many services to local operators. It managed to cling on to only a nucleus of its routes, administered from a base near Falkirk. It was inevitable that total withdrawal would occur eventually.

The dominant operator is now West Coast Motors of Campbeltown, which trades in the Scottish Borders as Borders Buses.

First attributed its total withdrawal to competition from the Borders Railway, which affected the northern part of its long route from Edinburgh to Carlisle.

This is a prime example of how bus operators fail to work with the railways, and it will be of great interest to see how Borders Buses resolves the problem, if it even sees it as a problem.

Network Rail took over construction of the Borders Railway following cancellation of the tender procedure by the Scottish Government.

In order to complete it within the enhanced budget, much of it was reduced to single track and much of the infrastructure was built in such a way that no allowance was made for eventual installation of double track.

At least provision has been made for electrification, though whether that will ever happen in the usual form is questionable with the development of ‘bi-mode’ trains.

There is increasing pressure for the extension of the Borders Railway to Hawick and Carlisle, thus restoring the former Waverley route in its entirety. This would not only benefit passengers, but also serve as a freight route.

The pressure on track capacity, with the ever-increasing demand from freight operators, will cause a re-think of the frequent short-train policy, rather than long trains less often.

Frequency raises demand. However, the short trains on Cross-Country services give rise to complaints of discomfort and dissatisfaction. This discontent seems unlikely to be resolved in the short-term.

In the meantime, the operator adds to the discontent by the seemingly inadequate provision of refreshment facilities on its trains.

As Arriva is now owned by Deutsch Bahn there was some hope that the situation would improve, but this does not appear to have happened yet.

The promised new station at Reston seems to recede further into the future, despite the continued efforts of Rages, the pressure group of rail users in South East Scotland.

In Northumberland there are voices in support of restoring local services on the East Coast Main Line, but increases in the Inter-City frequency and the demand of freight operators for more ‘paths’ makes this more difficult.

John Wylde is the author of Integrated Transport – a Will-o’- the-wisp? priced £14.95, post paid and signed by the author. Also Experiments in Public Transport Operation, at £11.95. Order at www.john-wylde.co.uk