Campaigners’ hopes of seeing the Borders Railway extended 70 miles south to Carlisle have been hailed as a “rock-solid” prospect.
That confident prediction came from Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP and long-term Borders Railway supporter Christine Graham this week.
She told the Campaign for Borders Rail’s annual meeting in Edinburgh on Tuesday that she has every confidence its plans will be realised.
“You will get it through Hawick,” she said. “You will get it to Carlisle, I have absolutely no doubt about that.
“Already, feasibility studies are happening, and the success has made it absolutely rock solid that this extension will happen.
“It won’t just be a network to England – it will be a network to Europe. It takes us to the Eurotunnel and connects the Scottish Borders and north of England to the rest of Europe.”
Usage on the 30-mile line between Edinburgh and Tweedbank has exceeded expectations, carrying more than four million passengers since it opened in 2015.
“Passenger journeys have well exceeded projections, running at over 1.7m in the year 2017-18 up from 1.5m the year before,” Ms Grahame added. “There have been problems, though many have been resolved over the five years.
“To some extent, it has been a victim of its own success, but rather that than a victim of failure.
“The campaign has encouraged other communities to push for reinstatement of rail links lost to them in the years of the Beeching cuts when the rail network in Scotland was decimated.
“This isn’t any old line. This isn’t a line that policitians fought for – this is a line that people fought for. This is a grass-roots railway line, the Borders’ railway line.
“It is completely different to any other line in the network in Scotland.”
Now campaigners wanting to see the £353m line extended south via St Boswells, Melrose, Hawick and Newcastleton are hoping to build on the confidence shown by Ms Grahame.
“I am very encouraged to hear Christine speak in such absolute terms about extending the railway,” campaign chairman Simon Walton said.
“That gives us an excellent basis to lobby for a positive feasibility study.
“It’s the sort of certainty that businesses in the Borders need to have confidence to build opportunities.”
Mr Walton, of Edinburgh, added that achieving a positive outcome from a planned £10m feasibility study, funded by the Borderlands inclusive growth deal partnerhip agreed in July, on a possible extension south remained the group’s priority.
“I have always regarded the existing Borders Railway as phase one of our ambition for the Borders,” he said.
“Getting commitment to build the remainder has to be our next goal, and we’re moving closer to that every day.
“The political climate has moved significantly in favour of environmentally sustainable economic development. That means railway projects like the completion of the Borders Railway make even more sense as a means of rejuvenating communities at the same time as greening the environment.
“The extension would be a strategic intregration project for the entire country.”
Mr Walton, group chairman of seven years was re-elected to his post alongsde vice-chairwoman Marion Short, of Hawick, this week.
Guests at Tuesday’s meeting included author David Spaven, Hawick rail campaigner Madge Elliot, and environmental campaigner Petra Biberbach, who was the first chairwomaon of the campaign group in 1999.