Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont is calling for an extension to the Borders Railway to be made part of any plans to bring high-speed rail to Scotland.
Both the UK and Scottish governments are looking into options for bringing high-speed rail to Scotland, either by upgrading existing lines or creating a new track to join up with England’s High Speed 2 second-phase lines to Leeds and Manchester, and Mr Lamont is urging them to take the regional route into account.
Rail campaigners in the Borders fear that shackling the fortunes of moves to have the Edinburgh-Tweedbank line extended into Cumbria to an initiative not scheduled for completion for at least another decade and a half could hinder them rather than hasten them, however.
Mr Lamont has written to UK Government Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to urge him to include consideration of a business case for extending the Borders Railway in ongoing deliberations over adding Scotland to Britain’s high-speed rail network.
If such a study were to conclude that extending the 30-mile line to Carlisle would offer value for money, any contract for a high-speed rail link to Scotland could include a requirement for such an extension into England to join it up with the west coast main line.
“Scotland is already set to benefit from investment in high-speed rail, with journey times between both Glasgow and Edinburgh due to fall to three hours 40 minutes in the coming years,” said the Borders MP.
“The UK Government is investing a record amount of money in Scottish railways, so work should begin now on the business case behind extending the Borders railway to Hawick and on to Carlisle.
“One simple way of getting this project off the ground would be to write into planned future contracts to bring high-speed rail to Scotland an obligation to link the line at Carlisle.
“I’ve written to the Transport Secretary to suggest that the work currently being carried out on this needs to include consideration of extending the Borders Railway.
“I think the business case for a line to Carlisle is even stronger than the business case for the current line.”
Campaign for Borders Rail secretary Nick Bethune isn’t convinced that would be the best way forward, though, and is calling for a faster-track tack to be taken.
He told us: “Carlisle is already a major interchange point on the national rail network, and that importance is set to grow through developments such as high-speed rail.
“Without an extension of the Borders Railway from Tweedbank to Carlisle, the Borders, with a population of more than 100,000 people, will be unable to fulfil its economic potential or share in the opportunities created by investment in the west coast main line and High Speed 2.
“The Campaign for Borders Rail welcomes any moves to co-ordinate the planning of future high-speed rail infrastructure with the reinstatement of the Edinburgh-Borders-Carlisle railway.
“However, any northward extension of High Speed 2 to Scotland is likely to be many years off, and we would hope to see the actual delivery of a Borders Railway extension to Carlisle completed on a faster timetable.
“We think the proposed Borderlands growth deal offers a potential framework for detailed feasibility study and business case preparation to be taken forward on a cross-border partnership basis in the near future.”
Work on phase one of High Speed 2, linking London and the West Midlands, is already under way, and it is expected to be ready by 2026.
Phase-two links to Leeds and Manchester are expected to follow by 2033, and it is then envisaged that high-speed services would continue to Carlisle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Newcastle, Preston and York, although possibly, in parts, on existing slower tracks for those stretches of journeys.
Phase one of the £56bn initiative is set to cut journey times between Glasgow and London to under four hours.
A new high-speed route from the northern end of phase two of High Speed 2 to Scotland would involve the construction of more than 190 miles of new railway track, and extending the £353m Borders Railway, opened in September 2015, into England, via Hawick and Melrose, would require laying almost 70 miles of additional track.