Lessons of railway history

Lorne Anton asks Councillor Nicholas Watson of the Borders Party for some verifiable evidence as to why the reopened Waverley Line ending at Tweedbank will not be a huge success.

In the 60s, Lord Beeching was instructed to investigate and close all non-viable rural networks throughout Britain simply because government and councils could no longer sustain the massive subsidies which enabled them to run. With our present astronomical debt, increasing daily, subsidies are never going to be available. Does Mr Anton really think otherwise?

Enough people simply did not go by rail and freight income was negligible. Mr Anton may doubt this but the fact is that in December 1965, the nine smallest stations in the Hawick area did not take enough money even to pay the porters’ wages. Steele Road had no regular passengers, Belses and Fountainhall could only sell two tickets a day on average. These facts can be verified by consulting the December 1965 British Rail, Hawick area staff bulletin.

The Waverley to Tweedbank passenger-only project, was indeed passed by the Scottish Parliament but the business case was never proved. MSPs voted for the line on the direction of their party whips who had votes and spinoffs in mind. The Borders is fortunate in having the Borders Party which, I believe, has no political ties or aspirations.

Why are David Parker and campaingners for Borders Railway averse to a referendum – the cost would be minimal. Scottish Borders Council (SBC) as the largest employer in the region, with employees throughout the area could easily send out a questionnaire with employees’ monthly pay slips.

They wouId then know the feeling of the public within weeks. £3.4million of administration costs have already been incurred by SBC staff on rail duties and no staff have since been made redundant so there is ample people to handle this. The Borders Party’s recorded 206 votes against the railway to 67 for, and only one public meeting, is classed by Mr Anton as undemocratic. Is he in the real world?

Many Borders councillors do not support the rail project but, like their party colleagues in the Scottish Parliament, they have to toe the party line.

Fortunes have been made and continue to be made in pursuit of this white elephant and, in the absence of entrepreneurial finance (businesses see no percentage in it), it will be ratepayers picking up the tabs. Protesters are not anti-rail, purely anti this ill-fated venture as Mr Anton has previously been informed.

Strangely, no tourist companies make Galashiels a stop-off for their coaches and no firm in Gala operates tour outings. Can Mr Anton explain this? Does he think a one-horse railway with passing places is going to change this? Can he give verifiable evidence for this unlikely happening?

Vested interests or downright stupidity are driving this rail project. Mc Anton can take his pick. Democracy is bypassed. Ratepayers are being suckered.

Jim Kirkness