Report urges ministers to look further into plans to extend Borders Railway

A train on the Borders Railway at Stow.
A train on the Borders Railway at Stow.

Proposals to extend the Borders Railway east or south-west – or both – are among 21 options now being considered by ministers.

Both potential extensions into England, to Berwick and Carlisle, remain on the table following the publication today, March 5, by consultant Jacobs UK of its final Borders transport corridors study pre-appraisal report.

The study, a follow-up to a draft version publishedin April last year and subsequently put out for consultation, also suggests that better bus services to nearby cities and hospitals, enhanced park-and-ride facilities and more active travel options are worth looking into in greater detail.

Further consideration will also be given to improving the Borders’ rail and road infrastructure as part of a wider strategic transport projects review by Transport Scotland.

That will include assessing the potential benefits of dualling sections of the A1 between Dunbar and the English border and improvements, such as partial dualling and adding overtaking lanes, to the A7 Edinburgh-Carlisle road and A68 Edinburgh-Darlington route.

Proposals for extending the 30-mile Borders Railway from Tweedbank both southwest into Cumbria and east into Northumberland have not been ruled out, but Jacobs warns that both are expensive options that might not be deemed cost-effective, as well as potentially facing opposition due to their impacts on the natural environment.

Settling for double-tracking the existing £353m Edinburgh-Tweedbank line is another option under consideration.

Scottish Government transport secretary Michael Matheson said: “The Borders transport corridors study fulfils our commitment to consider the future transport needs of the area.

“We have already committed to rail stations at East Linton and Reston, and these will be delivered as part of work to improve capacity to Edinburgh.

“We will now go on to consider a further 21 options as part of the strategic transport projects review being taken forward during the lifetime of this parliament.

“The projects review is a nationwide appraisal to identify where improvements are needed and guide investment in Scotland’s transport infrastructure over the next two decades.

“The recommendations made in this study, underpinned by detailed evidence on problems and opportunities, will help ensure the case is made for improvements in the Borders.

“We look forward to building on the successful partnerships that we have developed as part of the study as we move forward with the next stage of this important work.”

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont has denounced the report as a disappointment, however, saying it falls a long way short of the full feasibility study for extension of the Borders Railway to Hawick promised by Holyrood first minister Nicola Sturgeon in March 2016.

“Many Borderers will look a this report and conclude it is a complete flop,” he said.

“This is classic SNP – promise the world just before an election then kick the issue into the long grass.

“It has taken three years to produce the report, yet all we have to show for it is a wish list of projects which the Scottish Government may or may not consider at a unspecified date.

“The Borders is crying out for investment and for action to be taken.

“For years, we’ve been promised a feasibility study for the Borders Railway, a new station in Reston and decent investment in our major roads, but nothing has happened.

“The Scottish Government needs to stop writing reports and instead get on with the vital projects we need in the Borders like bringing the Borders Railway to Hawick, Newcastleton and Carlisle, dualling the A1 and delivering Reston station.”

Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Rachael Hamilton agrees, adding: “The report is very thin on new detail.

“The Scottish Government must support the Borders economy and commit to real investment in transport projects that could be transformational.

“We have seen large capital investment up north in the dualling of the A9 and A96, yet the A1, A68 and A7 haven’t had a look in.

“Before the 2016 election, the first minister went to Hawick and promised a feasibility study into extending the Waverley line to Hawick. There is no concrete guarantee of that in this report.

“This report simply kicks the issue of poor road and rail connectivity of the Borders into the long grass.”