My first ever post on this blog (and indeed this website) was my trip in September 2017 to Breich station in West Lothian. When I visited the station, I didn't originally plan to write about it. However, in a moment of sheer boredom, I scrawled something down, set up a website and shoved my account up on the internet. Now, about 14 months later, I have a project that I'm working on. If you read my original post, then you may remember that I mentioned Network Rail proposed closure of the station due to the high costs associated with upgrading it ready for the electrification works. I also noted that the proposal for closure had been denied. For a long period of 2017-2018, Breich was closed whilst Network Rail entirely re-built the station, both to bring it up to date and to accommodate the extra electrification infrastructure. I decided that the rebuild was a reason for me to revisit the station and see the change for myself.
This post is also a chance for me to test my new phone (yes, exciting). My previous phone lasted for 3 years and has been used to take all the pictures so far for this blog. It finally started to die, meaning that I had to exchange it for a new one. The new phone lasted for a grand total of 36 hours before throwing a tantrum at my choice of radio station and died completely. Whilst I would have accepted this response if I had made it tune to Heart FM or some other ghastly “music” radio station, I don't accept this as a response to the BBC World Service. So, back to the phone shop it was. I visited various branches of the same company's shops 4 times in as many days before the situation was resolved satisfactorily. Of course, one of my biggest hobbies (outside the railways) is standing by a counter in a slightly-too-cold shop whilst a member of staff asks me questions such as “did you try turning it off and on again?”. It's almost as interesting as the harmonic progressions of a particularly exotic Wagner opera. However, I now have a phone, which works and has a better camera than my previous one did.
(For those of you who haven't read my original post on Breich, I would suggest that you do because the change from then to now is quite substantial. It is available here.)
Despite the re-building, Breich continues to have a very limited service of just one train per day in each direction, and no trains on Sundays. There is a service at 08:06 from Glasgow to Edinburgh, and a return at 18:38. This means that one has to use alternative transport in at least one direction because standing on a platform for 10 and a half hours is not something even someone as mad as me would enjoy.
Previously, I had used the train to get to Breich and the bus to return. This time, I decided to use the bus to get there and the train to return.
I found myself approaching Haymarket station on Saturday, armed with a 2 litre water bottle and hope. I had successfully chosen a day when there was a rugby match going on at Murrayfield. When I arrived, the match was still going on, but the queueing system had already been laid out. Having purchased my tickets, I weaved my way through the station before arriving on the platform in time for my train to peak out of the tunnel and stop at the station. I boarded the train and took my seat for the 20 minute journey to West Calder, where I would pick up a bus to take me the rest of the distance to Breich. The train vibrated violently as it attempted to reach the speed limit. This wasn't very pleasant, so I was glad when it dropped me off at West Calder, only a couple of minutes late.
I walked the short distance from the station to the main area where I ducked into a shelter to wait for my bus.
My grandmother recently told me somebody had said that it never rained in Edinburgh. As I sat in the bus shelter, watching the rain sheeting down, those words seemed rather hollow. To be fair, I was actually in West Calder, which is a whole 17 miles away. Furthermore, everyone knows that rain avoids Edinburgh altogether because there is a very big Primark in the city centre. If there's one thing rain can't stand, it's making a Primark and a Sainsbury's Local wet at the same time. I checked the weather forecast and saw that there was a 70% chance of precipitation right up until 8pm that night. It looked like I was going to be in for a wet visit to Breich.
The bus was 10 minutes away at this point. A car drew up to the bus stop and parked there and the driver ran into the shop. This isn't good behaviour, but I decided not to take a picture of the car out of respect for his privacy. Instead, I watched as a different bus held up traffic as it performed its normal duties due to the selfishness of this car driver. He returned 5 minutes later with a 12-pack of beer cans. All respect quickly vanished. The numberplate of the car is MX14YYZ.
Shortly afterwards, my bus arrived. Since I had last visited the town, the route had changed operator from First Group to Blue Bus Scotland. The single far from West Calder to Breich has reduced by 80p, but the service has been maintained. The route also doesn't insist on taking a huge detour via the whole of Addiewell on its way from West Calder to Breich. It is for this reason that I prefer Blue Bus Scotland.
I was deposited in the rain in the middle of Breich village along with one other person. The railway station is a 15 minute walk outside the village, which is one of the factors for its low use. That, the lack of a sizeable population nearby (other than the village) and the severe lack of trains.
After quite a boring trudge up the main road, made worse by the rain and the darkness of night (even though it wasn't even 5pm), I found myself on the approach to the station. Other than the main entrance from the crossroads, there is a short, steep footpath (which is much more convenient when approaching from Breich village). At this entrance, a new sign proudly tells me that this station was built by CTP Construction. I walked down it, only to be greeted by a some barriers and fences. I had to walk up a mud track (which is used by Network Rail vehicles) to the main entrance in order to legitimately gain access to the station, which involved walking back down this track, this time using the tarmacked ramp which was protected by fences at either side.
I do not like the new-look Breich station. It has lost all the original rural charm, un-kept vegetation and adorable little features that the previous station had. Instead, it has become a very standard, modern and bland place, only with the same awful level of service. The platforms are significantly shorter than they once were; They stop at the entrance to the station where previously they continued further towards the road bridge. At the other end, they stop well short of their previous length. The positions for trains to stop are at roughly the same place on the railway line as they were before, although these positions relative to the platforms have changed so that they are now at either end rather than roughly the middle. The footbridge has gone meaning that people have to use the road bridge in order to cross from one platform to the other. The only good thing about the new station (from my point of view) is that it is now fully accessible. Otherwise, I much prefer the old station.
The facilities are better than they were previously. There are now shelters, benches and a help point on both platforms, although the only Smartcard reader I could find was located on the Glasgow-bound platform (passengers for Edinburgh would have to walk all the way down the ramp to the opposite platform, touch their Smartcard, then return up the ramp to the road, cross the bridge and back down the ramp in order to board the train, which is a tripling of the distance). Where Breich previously had no CCTV cameras and a notice warning people of the existence of CCTV cameras, it now has two notices and 12 CCTV cameras. This is fairly excessive for a small 2 platform station. See if you can spot them all!
Despite the re-build, the station has drainage issues, as illustrated here.
After I had spent about an hour walking between the two platforms and getting some weird looks from motorists, I decided that my hands had frozen enough and I was due a break. I took refuge in a waiting room for the remaining hour. My phone had also got quite wet, despite my best efforts to protect it from the elements by putting it an old sock for the times I wasn't using it to take pictures. I dried it on one of my inner layers, un-smeared it using an old glasses cloth and walked around the small shelter on the Glasgow-bound platform waiting for the 18:38 departure. I was glad to be in one place by this point because I had been finding the logistics of taking pictures whilst also keeping track of my 2 litre water bottle quite a challenge.
At 17:58, 40 minutes before my train was due, it popped up on the departure board (previously these had either been displaying “please see station timetable posters or use the help point for more information” - I didn't see any such posters at the station, or “Please stand clear, the next train is passing through”). It then flicked from “on time” to “delayed” to “9 minutes late” before slowly increasing as the minutes ticked by. I realised that a lot of this delay would be down to the scrum of passengers coming from the rugby (pun intended).
The train arrived 14 minutes late. As the conductor got out of the back, I gave him a small wave. He released the doors and I boarded. I found a seat that wasn't too full of rugby fans and beer, and also wasn't too close to an open window. It was 6 degrees outside and still raining. Why windows were open, I have no idea.
Because it wasn't actually that late (it wasn't even 7pm by the time I was on board), I decided to explore some of the suburban Glasgow network that I hadn't previously done before heading back to Edinburgh and home. I bought a ticket from the guard from Breich to Lanark (in Lanarkshire). This involved a change at Bellshill. I changed there, and discovered that our delay meant I had missed the connection to Lanark. I got the next one 30 minutes later and enjoyed the short round trip to Lanark and back into Glasgow. I alighted at Glasgow and took a quick picture of the train before standing and fumbling for my ticket. This meant that someone mistook me for a member of staff and asked me if they could be let through the ticket barriers as their ticket had been mutilated. Given that I was wearing headphones and was looking blankly at the floor, I was unsure why he had decided that I was a member of staff. Possibly my blue raincoat, which (as everyone knows) is only worn by ScotRail staff. Nobody other than employees of Abellio ScotRail has ever worn a blue raincoat. My coat wasn't even the right shade of blue.
Given that this man had touched my arm without permission, I decided I deserved a reward of fish and chips. I bought some and ate them on the concourse at Glasgow Queen Street. The platform for my train to Edinburgh was announced and I joined the scrum at the ticket barriers. I was very pleased that my train was formed of the new class 385 electric train that ScotRail recently introduced. This was to be my first travel on one of these problematic beasts. I used the age-old trick of using the coaches furthest away from the entrance to get a seating area to myself whilst the majority piled in at the back. My quick review is that they are clean and fresh, although the announcements are far too numerous and the seating is much less comfortable than previous rolling stock.
I finished my water on the train home and discarded the bottle into a recycling bin near Haymarket station. Environmental.
Whilst upgrades must happen in the name of progress, Breich is a baffling case. Network Rail have spend an awful lot of money to completely re-build the entire station, but there are no other benefits. Currently, no additional trains stop at Breich meaning that it is as unattractive as it has always been for passengers, only now it has cost the taxpayer and fare-payer millions of pounds. I hope that, when the new electric services are introduced on the route that Breich gets at least an hourly service. This would put it on par with all the other stations on the line. Otherwise, it will have been a huge waste of money. I have already made my opinions on the aesthetics of the station clear, and it is a shame that so much of its charm has been removed in the refurbishment.
What do you think about the re-build? Do write in. (Or not, I really don't mind.)
Author - Felix