Staging the case for railway

Nicholas Watson’s comments about the Edinburgh-Tweedbank railway and Borders Party manifesto are so full of holes they are of Titanic proportions.

Borders Party councillors were part of the scrutiny committee at Scottish Borders Council which in March “recognised that the Borders railway is coming and that future extension to Hawick and Carlisle is desirable”. They oppose the reopening to Tweedbank at, they say, colossal expense, but support the reopening all the way to Carlisle – how crazy is that?

The original line was built in stages and the full reopening of the line would also be built in stages. If you built a dual carriageway from Edinburgh to Carlisle through the Borders how would it be built? – in stages.Given that it opposes anything but full reopening, the people of Hawick and district must assume that the Borders Party would oppose extension to Hawick from Tweedbank prior to reopening to Carlisle.

It has been said at government ministerial level that the reopening of the whole route to Carlisle is a “perfectly reasonable ambition” and economic organisations support that aim, so why is the Borders Party not a member of the Campaign for Borders Rail (CBR)? It says it wants what CBR wants.

For a political organisation that claims to represent the wishes and aspirations of the Borders that contradiction is quite frankly laughable.

The Borders Party says the line cannot carry freight, but all new structures are to be built to maximum loadings with clearances for possible future electrification. Speaking at a recent engineering conference in Edinburgh, a Network Rail delegate stated: “No freight is presently envisaged.” This does not preclude freight in the future.

Nicholas Watson says there is no proper business case. The project has been through countless hoops and across countless hurdles to get to the stage it is now at – and he must know that.

He has said that the line will be a “slow line”. Well how does around 50 minutes by train compare with nearly an hour-and-a-half by bus? Legally, staying within the speed limits, how does he propose to better rail’s comfortable 50 minutes by road from Tweedbank to the centre of Edinburgh, even with a much-improved and colossally-expensive A7?

How often, Mr Watson, do you actually enjoy the wonders and joys of travel by bus to Edinburgh? We have asked you this before, but like so many other questions we have asked you we have not had a reply. Given good bus links from Selkirk, St Boswells, Melrose, Hawick and the surrounding communities to Tweedbank station, journey times to the capital will be dramatically reduced.

For the whole period of the Borders Party’s existence it has failed to provide one scrap of verifiable evidence to support its claims that the reopening to Tweedbank will be anything other than a success. As one of the main reasons for its very existence was opposition to the return of the railway, one can only agree that on that major issue it has been a complete and utter failure.

The line is coming and perhaps a more principled party would now put its shoulders to the wheel to make sure the project is of maximum benefit to the people of the Borders.

The Campaign for Borders Rail will continue to fight for the best possible railway to Tweedbank by 2014, and for its extension to Hawick and Carlisle, with or without the Borders Party.

Lorne Anton

(chair, Campaign for Borders Rail)