The Shotts line is one of the many routes from Edinburgh to Glasgow. It is not the fastest, and certainly is not the most popular. However, it does link various semi-important places in the Lothian and Strathclyde areas such as Calder, Livingstone and Shotts. Such a commuter line is not where one would expect to find stations with so few passengers as Breich does. Most people don't even know it exists. A glance at a map says nothing about its current status. The many commuters of the line don't view it as anything special either. Because of the differences in station usage between the stations (example: Carfin and West Calder), trains often run through lesser-used stations meaning that most commuters pay little attention as their train trundles past another little platform. Or they assume it is disused. The only things that alert one to the lack of train service is the banner on the station information page on national rail enquires and the timetable.
Breich station opened in 1869. It currently lies near a fairly major crossroads and about half a mile from the little village of Breich (itself named after Breich Water, which is nearby). It has always been comparatively small to most of the rest of the stations on the Shotts Line, but has remained open for all of nearly 150 years. During First ScotRail's ownership, Breich had about 6 trains a day (none on Sundays), 3 in each direction. This was cut to 3 (2 to Glasgow, 1 to Edinburgh) and then to the current level of 2 (1 in each direction). They operate Monday to Saturday, with no Sunday service. The usage has remained very low (around 100 since 2010). The current level is the lowest it has been recently, at only 48 (April 2016-2017). The highest recorded was the 2015/16 period (138).
Network Rail propose to close the station. This is not because of the low numbers (or not purely because of the low numbers), but mainly because the cost to improve the station along with the rest of the Shotts line to prepare for electrification is too high. The footbridge that links the Edinburgh platform to the Glasgow platform and the rest of the world would have to be replaced, the cost of which does not justify the low usage. Hence, closure.
However, it was decided a couple of months after the visit that Breich would not shut and instead Network Rail would work with the surrounding community to increase the service and passenger numbers.
Getting to Breich Station
It requires planning. Because of the way the trains are spaced out, it is very unlikely that one would want to buy a return ticket and wait for the 2nd train of the day. This is because the departures are at 08:04 (Glasgow Central to Edinburgh Waverley) and 18:38 (Edinburgh Waverley to Glasgow Central). Over 10 hours of waiting is tedious. Therefore, other transport or walking is required. There is an hourly bus that runs through Breich, linking the actual village (about a 10 minute walk back down the track along an A road). This saves the walk (only 2 miles, but it is along an A road) to nearby Addiewell. Plus, Addiewell is one of those stations that only gets half the services stopping at it. The bus moves on to West Calder. I chose the only departure of the day from Edinburgh Waverley which is at 17:58 on a Saturday, arriving at Breich at 18:38.
Buying the tickets requires a person. The ticket machines won't sell return tickets because it is impossible to do that. However, returning from West Calder (which is between Breich and Edinburgh) is an acceptable use of the ticket. “You know, you won't be able to get back from there tonight” explained the ticket office man. I doubt they sell many tickets to Breich. It's possibly some form of novelty when they do. “Yeah, I got one of those mad rail enthusiasts going to Breich. What? Yeah, I know. What a dick.” I can do ticket office banter.
I armed myself with a pasty (because it's a train for goodness sake) and moped around on platform 9W until 156504 crawled in. Doing these unusual train journeys always excites me as to what the conductor will say. The more conversational will make a comment about you actually doing that mad thing that most people don't, while the rest will just check off the ticket as their job entails. Having asked if Breich was a request stop (which it isn't – although one late night train (at about 21:15) did stop at Breich on request before the new 2 trains a day minimal timetable came in), I went back to blocking out beer and shouting. (Edinburgh to Glasgow service on a Saturday evening? What does one expect?)
However, what Breich station does mean is that the conductor only opens one set of doors. This time she chose the very back set, because she can retreat into the unused cab at the back of the train, away from the general public. It's what I would do. Having made my way to the back over people's bicycles, legs and rubbish, it was explained “there's a big step onto the platform so watch yourself”. For step, read jump. This is the gap that met me (picture opposite). Having got off (safely), I waived my thanks to the retreating conductor, watched my train depart (into the sun, which was annoying given the picture taking requirement) and then surveyed the station around me.
It is wonderful. The quaint gravel platforms, the old wooden footbridge and waiting shelters, the invasion of plants onto the platform. The solitude is perfect. As I walked away for the first time up a little path (to the left of the picture above), I had to go back. I spent 30 minutes wandering the platforms, talking to myself about how brilliant it was and exploring parts of the station that probably haven't seen feet in years. I mean, with a maximum of 4 coach trains stopping and the low usage, nobody will have stood at the end in a long time. Except nutters like me. It bears all the hallmarks of a station left on its own. One can see the creeping vegetation for yourself. Both the Edinburgh ends of the platforms are pretty inaccessible without straying quite close to the edge. (Don't do it with passing trains type thing.)
However, like with all places it seems, the modern ways creep in. It appears ScotRail could not allow me 30 minutes without another “See it. Say it. Sorted.” BTP announcement over the tannoy. And, let me tell you, I have not jumped so much at an automated announcement before. My main thought was that someone was looking at the CCTV (which existed according to a sign but I didn't see at all) and was about to tell me to get of Network Rail property. It wasn't. It was the same over-played, over-loud commuter tat that is bleated out of every speaker on every railway station at least 5000 times a day. The other thing that exists is a SmartCard reader. So adorable. A station with only 138 people and yet ScotRail needed to put in a SmartCard reader. I'd love to know how many people actually use that thing.
All too soon, it was time for me to leave the wonderful atmosphere of Breich behind for the tedious walk to Breich proper. The bus was late, as befits Worst-I mean-First Group and then proceeded to take me on a guided tour of all the backstreets of Addiewell on its way down a straight A-road to West Calder. There I enjoyed a nice station building before another 156 came to take me back to Edinburgh.
As Breich was under the threat of closure, there was more urgency to do it than the other stations. In this project to try to visit all these tiny stations, it is probably not the most interesting, but the atmosphere and feeling one gets where there, as well as being the only person around, was wonderful and very therapeutic. It is a typical poorly used, poorly located station that are scattered across the country, and has the character that only this kind of station can have.
I also artificially inflated the figures for Breich for the next year as I brought a return. I only got one train there. I'm not waiting 37 and a half hours for the Monday morning service.
Author - Felix