LOCAL businesses are being urged to take advantage of the opportunities provided by special chartered tourist trains that could run on the Borders Railway.
Last week it was announced during a visit to the region by Scottish Government cabinet ministers that talks are being held at the highest level about bringing ‘iconic’ engines to the route.
First Minister Alex Salmond said that discussions were taking place with charter firms to secure the use of symbolic trains to run on the line, to attract more tourists and railway enthusiasts to the Borders.
Speaking in Hawick, Mr Salmond announced that the initiative would begin as soon as the line opened, with plans already underway to secure a famous steam train for the launch ceremony.
The First Minister said the “stunning scenery” that lines the 30-mile route would be a major draw for visitors, with plans also well advanced to expand the proposed terminal station at Tweedbank to ensure that the infrastructure is in place to handle tourist trains carrying hundreds of passengers.
Mr Salmond said: “There can be few railway journeys anywhere to match the stunning scenery that will line the route of the new Borders Rail when it opens in 2015, more than 40 years after the last rail service to the region closed.
“As well as a vital commuter route, the reopened line will provide outstanding opportunities for tourism in the Borders, with passengers expected to flock to see the many fantastic attractions and experiences on offer here, not to mention the attraction that the new line will have for rail enthusiasts.
“It’s important that we maximise these opportunities, offering passengers every reason to travel on the new line, and I am delighted to announce that talks are now under way with charter train firms to ensure that people have an unforgettable experience travelling along this incredible rail route on some iconic rail engines.”
The First Minister added: “We have already announced plans to expand the proposed new station at Tweedbank to cope with the influx of tourist trains expected on the line after its completion, and I hope that the glorious thought of some historic and symbolic trains winding their way down the new 30-mile track will be enough to tempt even more people to spend some time in the Borders.”
Phil McCreadie, tourism business adviser at Scottish Borders Business Gateway, said: “The reintroduction of the Borders Railway offers an excellent opportunity for businesses in the Scottish Borders.
“I am already talking to tourism businesses about how they can make the most of the increased numbers of tourists that will use the line.
“Some of the things we are looking at are setting up minibuses from their businesses to offer a shuttle service from the stations. Conversations are also being held with businesses looking to set up around the stations to attract tourists as they come off the trains.”
Mr McCreadie added: “Businesses are being encouraged to advertise the new railway on their websites, telling potential tourists that they are not far from Edinburgh and that they will soon be able to come by train.
“Ideally this will encourage more tourist to come and stay rather than just for a day trip.”
Paula McDonald, regional director of VisitScotland, said: “There is no fixed agreements for charter trains to run on the new line, but this is one of the many discussions taking place and this would require a feasibility study.
“We would expect charter trains, should they happen, would offer a great opportunity for tourism businesses in the Scottish Borders along with many other benefits the new line will bring.”