There are some important questions I would like to raise in the debate on the Borders Railway. Firstly I would ask who is likely to use the train outwith commuter hours? A half-hourly service will not be sustained by the expectation of an influx of tourists. A service of this frequency depends on regular, not occasional passengers. It is unlikely that many over-60s will pay for a train ticket when they can travel free by bus – will the free travel permit be extended to include rail travel?
The Borders Railway is only going to serve a small proportion of Borders residents who live in the central Borders. It is foolishly unrealistic to expect that residents from outwith that area will travel to Tweedbank in sufficient numbers to merit their inclusion in the business plan.
Much is made of the success of reinstated passenger services serving Alloa and Bathgate. But these are much more populated areas in the Central Belt of Scotland. Their success has little bearing on the future of a rural link.
Waverley Station is currently full. It is likely that the Borders Railway will terminate at Newcraighall with passengers being required to alight there and wait for a connecting service into Waverley, and then further public transport to their final destination. So a passenger who does not live within walking distance of one of the boarding stations may have to change bus or train three or more times on their journey.
Finally, I am concerned for the financial implications. If the railway is a financial disaster and the operating company pulls out or folds, what are the plans? Is the Borders ratepayer expected to bear the continuing costs? I very much doubt if central government would be prepared to shoulder the costs forever.
I consider the business plan for the Borders Railway to be seriously flawed. Anticipated large housing developments in the central corridor have not materialised other than on paper and the housing market is flat. The new Scottish transport minister needs to have a fresh look at the whole plan before it is too late.