The Borders Railway this week marked the third anniversary of its opening by passing the 4m mark for passenger journeys made on it.
The 30-mile track linking Edinburgh and Tweedbank has seen year-on-year increases in passengers since its launch on September 6, 2015, with an official opening by the Queen following three days later.
Some 1.3m journeys were made on it in its first year in operation and 1.37m in its second. That increased to 1.5m in the year just ended, a rise of 5.8%.
The £353m track, the longest new line built in the UK for over a century, carries customers between Tweedbank and Edinburgh in less than an hour, offering a half-hourly service for most of the day.
Galashiels, Tweedbank and Stow’s stations are among seven new ones built along the line, the others being at Shawfair, Eskbank, Newtongrange and Gorebridge.
ScotRail Alliance managing director Alex Hynes has welcomed the line’s ongoing increase in popularity, saying: “The Borders Railway continues to provide a strong and reliable transport connection, benefiting employment, leisure, tourism, and business.
“We are committed to building the best railway Scotland has ever had, and this line is helping us to deliver that, transforming the way people across Midlothian and the Borders travel.
“Reaching the milestone figure of more than 4m passenger journeys demonstrates the success of what was an ambitious project, and I look forward to its continued growth.”
Scottish Government transport secretary Michael Matheson agreed, saying: “The Borders Railway has been a phenomenal success as it continues to grow in both popularity and bringing benefits to the local economy.
“The ongoing increase in passenger numbers since it opened three years ago demonstrates it is acting as a catalyst for investment while opening up employment, leisure and education opportunities for communities along its length.
“We continue to look at ways to develop the potential of the line and the recommendations from the Borders transport corridors study will, in turn, feed into the ongoing strategic transport projects review.”
Scottish Borders Council too has hailed the line’s journey count hitting 4m as further confirmation of its success.
Mid Berwickshire councillor Mark Rowley, the authority’s executive member for business and economic development, said: “The Borders Railway has provided significant work, education and leisure opportunities for Borderers and brought more visitors to our area, as highlighted by the exceptional number of journeys made on the line in the last three years.
“Since the Borders Railway opened to the public on September 6, 2015, the council and our partners have been doing our best to maximise the benefits presented through the blueprint programme.
“A wide variety of positive projects are being taken forward through the programme, such as the Galashiels and Tweedbank masterplans which include the creation of a visitor centre for the Great Tapestry of Scotland and the Borders Innovation Park at Tweedbank, steam train journeys and the launch of the Midlothian and Borders Tourism Action Group.
“The success of the Borders Railway strengthens the case for extension of the line.
“A request to support further feasibility work on the potential extension of the Borders Railway to Hawick, Newcastleton and on to Carlisle will be included in the Borderlands inclusive growth deal submission to the UK and Scottish governments.
“Scottish Borders Council remains fully committed to securing the extension of the line.
“This is a key priority project for the Borderlands partnership, with all partners understanding the strategic and economic potential of such an extension for the wider Borderlands area.”
Leaderdale and Melrose councillor David Parker, the authority’s convener, added: “The Borders Railway opening celebrations three years ago were a momentous occasion for our area.
“We were convinced the railway would be a success, but for 4million journeys to have been made in the last three years is extraordinary.
“The railway has enabled people to make journeys they would not have done previously, encouraged visitors to come to the Borders, increased the use of public transport, which has reduced car journeys and been a positive factor in attracting people to work and live in the Borders.”
Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame has also wished the line a happy birthday, saying: “I spent years campaigning, alongside many others, for the reintroduction of a Borders Railway because of the benefits I believed it would bring to the area.
“I was delighted when the stretch to Tweedbank became a reality three years ago, and I’m pleased to see the figures back up its success.
“Passenger numbers have increased year on year since the line opened, with 1.5 million journeys in the past year alone.
“This goes to show the real advantages the line has to open up employment, leisure and education opportunities for communities along its length.
“Given that the UK Government is spending at least £55.7bn on the HS2 line from London to Manchester, which comes from UK-wide budgets, meaning it is part-funded by Scottish taxpayers, the estimated £650m cost of extending the Borders line to Carlisle is peanuts, and the UK Government should stump up.
“I look forward to seeing the line continue to bring its benefits to Midlothian and the Borders in coming years.”