Passenger numbers rise adds to pressure for extension of Borders Railway
Calls for an extension of the Borders Railway into England are continuing to gather momentum now the number of passengers using its stations annually has hit the two-million mark for the first time.
According to statistics issued by the Office of Rail and Road, station usage along the Edinburgh-Tweedbank track last financial year was 2,026,186, up from 1,961,528 passenger movements the year before.
Those figures are estimates of the number of entries, exits and interchanges at each station in the Borders, garnered using information from ticket sales and other data.
The statistics also reveal that Tweedbank is by far the busiest station in the region, with 443,766 entries and exits, up 1.6% year on year, with Galashiels following on 360,416, up 1.2 %, and Stow in third place with 71,222, up 2%.
Those increases are being cited by politicians and rail campaigners as further evidence of the transport, economic and social benefits of the network, launched in 2015 as a partial reverse of the closure of the Waverley Route linking Edinburgh and Carlisle in 1969, and as support of the case for it to be extended into Cumbria.
Simon Walton, chairman of the Campaign for Border Rail, described passing the two-million number for passenger movements as a “landmark day”.
He said: “This is the first time that patronage has gone over two million, which is excellent news, but I have to say I am not surprised because we have always said the original business case was far too pessimistic.
“Given the shortcomings of the service, the campaign would still be looking for improvements in reliability, in provision of the service and, of course, extension of the service to Hawick and Carlisle.
“To be honest, the two million is just the beginning of something much greater.
“If, as a branch line, which it is at the moment, it is already generating something like twice the numbers that were anticipated by the business case, just imagine how much better it would do as a through main line, serving not just the Borders but the national network, giving access to a great many more destinations all over the UK.
“I believe the momentum for an extension is unstoppable and is gathering pace, and I think we are closer now than we ever have been to seeing that ambition realised.”
In the past, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont has warned that delays, cancellations and overcrowding on the £353m line could undermine the case for its extension on to Hawick and Carlisle, but ScotRail has now added 1,500 extra seats a day to services to and from the Borders in a bid to help tackle those concerns.
However, it failed to honour its vow, made at a public meeting last year, to upgrade Stow from receiving an hourly service to getting one every half-hour.
Despite his misgivings over the reliability of the service on offer, Mr Lamont has hailed the latest usage figures as a further endorsement of moves to extend the line already boosted by last year’s announcement of a £10m feasibility study as part of the UK and Scottish governments’ Borderlands growth deal.
Mr Lamont said: “More and more Borderers seem to be using the railway, which is great news for our environment and for reducing congestion on our roads.
“Tweedbank has by far the largest usage figures, with almost 450,000 entries and exits. I know that for many people living in the southern Borders, this is their closest station so this is no surprise.
“However, this shows that there is a definite need for an extension of the Borders Railway to Hawick and then on to Newcastleton and Carlisle.
“I am pressing ministers at a UK level to ensure that the extension of the railway remains at the top of the pile.”
Christine Grahame, MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, agrees, saying: “Like many other campaigners over the decades, I have always known that restoring the Borders Railway would be a success, and I am delighted this has proved to be the case.
“The latest statistics, with passenger numbers topping two million, adds weight to the campaign to continue that line across the Border.
“A Scottish Government pre-appraisal has concluded, and it is now a matter of funding.
“This would involve a commitment financially from the UK Government to help fund the line, and we have yet to hear from the new Tory government whether there is that commitment from them.
“I am pleased however that at last John Lamont, who opposed the railway initially, has now been converted, and I would expect him to push his London colleagues for a feasibility funding commitment.”
Extending the current line, opened in September 2015, to Hawick, via Melrose, would add about 17 miles to its 30-mile length, and carrying on to Carlisle, via Newcastleton, would require a further 50-plus miles of track on top of that, taking it to just short of 100 miles in length.