Feared Borders Railway extension bid blow need not be end of road

A Borders Railway service at Low Buckholmside, Galashiels, this week.
A Borders Railway service at Low Buckholmside, Galashiels, this week.

Fears that a forthcoming report for Transport Scotland will advise against extending the Borders Railway south of Tweedbank have been mitigated by a reassurance that a second opinion is set to be sought in any event.

A transport corridors study by consultant Jacobs UK assessing the viability of extending the 30-mile track by almost 70 miles into England is due to be published later this month, and unconfirmed reports suggest that it will give any such plans the thumbs-down.

However, all hope would not be lost for campaigners calling for the recreation of the old Waverley Route from Edinburgh to Carlisle even in that case as the UK Government plans to have a feasibility study of its own carried out too.

That glimmer of hope was offered by the Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, at a business of the house session at Westminster today, March 1, in response to a question from Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont.

He told her: “It was recently reported that a Transport Scotland study had found that it was not going to be viable for the Borders Railway to extend to Hawick and on to Carlisle.

“If that is the case, it will be bad news for my constituency and those in Cumbria.

“Given that bringing the railway to Carlisle will involve investment from the UK Government, may we have a debate on the benefits of extending the Borders Railway to Carlisle?”

Mrs Leadsom reassured him that even if that setback for plans to have the Edinburgh-Tweedbank line, opened in 2015, extended materialises, it might not be the end of the road, however.

“The UK Government are committed to working with the Scottish Government to drive forward a cross-border growth deal, and we hope to agree a deal later this year which will see significant investment to transform local economies in the Borderlands area,” she said. “Funding for a study into reopening the line he mentions is being sought as part of this proposition.”

The Jacobs UK study, commissioned in April 2017 and originally due out in December, is now expected imminently.

Speaking after today’s reassurance, Mr Lamont said: “It is becoming increasingly clear that the only way the Borders Railway extension is going to get off the ground is through the UK and Scottish Governments working together.

“I am delighted that the Leader of the House today confirmed that the UK Government will be seeking its own feasibility study into extending the line as part of the Borderlands deal.

“The business case for this investment is strongest if the line comes to Carlisle and links up to a high-speed line set to come north from Manchester in the next phase of HS2.”

The cost of extending the £353m line into Cumbria is estimated at £650m-plus by the Campaign for Borders Rail.