Steel laments failure to halt 1969 axing of railway

Failure to halt the axing of the Borders railway in 1969 is the biggest disappointment of David Steel’s near 50-year parliamentary career.

Friday, 10th January 2014, 1:44 pm
Madge Elliot, Sir David Steel and the Earl of Dalkeith in Downing Street before they handed in the petition against the proposed closure of the Waverley line

The former local Lib Dem MP, first elected in 1965, made the admission at a dinner held in Newcastleton on Sunday, marking the 45th anniversary of the line’s original closure.

Now Lord Steel, he said recently-disclosed cabinet papers indicated the northern half of the line could have been saved if then Secretary of State Willie Ross was more open with him and fellow MP Lord Dalkeith.

Therefore, he said, the “necessary but extravagant” £300million cost to reopen it could have been avoided.

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He said the papers revealed Ross was arguing to save the top half of the line to Hawick as closure was contrary to plans for economic regeneration. But an expert report arguing that case came too late and Ross never let known his own views.

“The then Tory MP for Edinburgh North, Lord Dalkeith – later Duke of Buccleuch – was a stalwart supporter, but neither of us had any dialogue with Willie Ross, who was an entrenched Labour man,” said Lord Steel.

“If the three of us had been united we could probably have saved the line to Hawick.”

Mentioning next year’s 50th anniversary of his first election as an MP, Lord Steel said failure to save the railway was his biggest political regret.

He added: “I was on the last train out of Galashiels, and my remaining political ambition is to be on board the first train back in.”