The campaign to reinstate the former Waverley line through Hawick to Carlisle “absolutely transcends politics” according to Scottish Borders Council leader, Shona Haslam.
Speaking at the Campaign for Borders Rail AGM on Saturday, which featured a public ‘Question Time’ style debate, Mrs Haslam emphasised the benefits being closer to rail services would have for communities around the Borders.
Addressing a 200-strong audience of campaign members and guests in Hawick High School, she said: “This absolutely transcends politics, and we have to work together to make sure this is achieved.”
Also on the panel were John Stevenson MP from the Borderlands Growth Initiative; John Lamont, Conservative MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk; the SNP’s Paul Wheelhouse, MSP for South Scotland; transport and tourism academic Brian Eaton; and Richard Morris, chairman of the Friends of the Carlisle and Settle Line.
During the lively debate, chaired by campaign chairman Simon Walton, Mr Lamont and Mr Wheelhouse clashed over their respective track records on support of the campaign’s cause, with Mr Lamont accused of “flip flopping” over the issue - a charge he denied.
However, answering questions from the audience, they did agree on the benefits that rail infrastructure would bring to the community.
Mr Walton said that was a real endorsement of the campaign’s hard work over the past year.
“That politicians demonstrated they are united behind the project, proves how far we’ve come,” he said.
The meeting heard that the Holyrood will take forward two rail proposals from the recent Borders Transport Corridors Study, compiled for Transport Scotland, which identifies reopening the line from Tweedbank to Carlisle as an option for examination, as well as a possible link to the East Coast Main Line.
“This time last year we were anticipating the Borders Transport Corridor Study with some trepidation. However, the report has been taken forward by Government, and there’s not just one option for further investigation; we’re told there are two,” Mr Walton said.
“The report has put forward for further evaluation an option to reinstate the former Waverley line through Hawick to Carlisle, but also to consider a connection to the East Coast Main Line at Berwick.
“We’re not ruling out any such possibility, but our aim remains onwards through Hawick to Carlisle, and we will be lobbying for that route as a priority in the coming year.
“The bottom line is that a new rail service through Hawick and the Scottish Borders will go a long way towards solving many of the economic and social challenges faced by the region. It will be the most tangible and achievable way to kick-start that regeneration process, and bring about the best return on investment for the benefit of the widest possible cross-section of the community.”
Brian Eaton, who has extensive experience of the value of rail development around the world, cited other examples of sparsely populated areas generating larger than expected traffic flows, including the New Zealand National Park, which has virtually no resident population, but due to the accessibility afforded by rail transport, is among the busiest places on the North Island.
Richard Morris recounted how the Carlisle and Settle Line, which was threatened with closure in the 1980s, had helped support enterprise in the rural economy, and greatly raise the profile and attraction of the region to a worldwide market, while Carlisle MP John Stevenson reiterated his support for funding of a full feasibility study into reinstating the link through the Borders to Carlisle.
Concluding,Mr Walton insisted the campaign was “closer now than ever” to seeing its ambition achieved.
“Every day the campaign brings us closer to achieving what we once thought was an impossible dream.
“We now know it isn’t impossible it’s very much on the agenda on both sides of the border,” he said.