Next week, something hugely significant is happening in the Borders. At long last, we are getting a railway again.
It may have been taken from us by the infamous Dr Beeching 46 years ago, but now it’s back – a new, 21st century service which is the biggest new rail infrastructure project in the UK for more than 100 years.
No longer will people in the central Borders have to drive on challenging roads or make a long bus journey to Edinburgh.
The full rail journey from Tweedbank will take less than an hour and trains will run half hourly at most times, with services from early morning until late in the evening. Fares will be affordable and reasonable.
The Queen has agreed to perform the opening ceremony next week on the very day she becomes the longest serving monarch in UK history. That in itself is a recognition of how much it means to the Borders.
I’m delighted that she is coming to join us on what will be a very special day for her and I know that we’ll give her a hugely warm Borders welcome to mark the occasion.
Building a railway is a significant achievement, and it’s worth exploring for a moment the work that’s been involved.
Nearly 100,000 new sleepers have been laid and 1.5 million tonnes of earth moved. There are 95 refurbished bridges and 42 new ones. Gala Water is crossed no less than 18 times.
By anyone’s standard, this has been a massive engineering project, and we should pay tribute to the 1000 people who have toiled for years to bring this railway back to life. They have done a sterling job and we owe them our profound thanks.
Now we will get to enjoy the benefits. It’s estimated that the economy will be boosted by £33 million as visitors from Edinburgh and beyond use the service.
The railway really does give us the chance to maximise our region’s potential as a first class tourist destination and to make the most of our world class attractions such as Abbotsford House, our ruined abbeys and walking and cycling opportunities.
The new line will also hopefully act as an incentive for jobs and investment, both by bringing new businesses into the Borders and by making it easier for people living here to commute easily to jobs in the Central Belt.
In short, it offers us some fantastic opportunities. I’m sure it will be a huge success and will make the case for the line now being restored to Hawick and on to Carlisle – in other words, the original route which was closed by Beeching in 1969.
It’s a fantastic resource, and the best transport service improvement we’ve had for decades. Now let’s make sure we get the most we can out of it. Enjoy the ride!
Calum Kerr is MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk