Borders rail campaigners refusing to be derailed by old opinions

Campaigners hoping to see an extension of the Borders Railway to Carlisle say they will not be deterred by opinions shared in “out-of-date” documents made public this week.

Thursday, 26th September 2019, 9:34 am
ScotRail train at Tweedbank station, the end of the line for the Borders Railway line

Members of the Campaign for Borders Rail are keen to see the Edinburgh-Tweedbank line taken south via St Boswells, Melrose, Hawick and Newcastleton, and they say that ambition is now closer than ever before to fruition.

That affirmation comes after papers, containing comments from the UK Government written last year, appeared to cast doubt on the feasibility of an extension.

Memos from the department for transport sent in July 2018 suggest that any extension would not include a freight service and point out that the UK Government alone has the power to give the go-ahead for any extension south of the border.

The Campaign for Borders Rail this week rubbished claims those documents, released in response to a freedom-of-information request, cast doubt on the viability of extending the 30-mile track into Cumbria.

Group vice-chairwoman Marion Short said: “The hard work of the membership and communities at large is not about to be undone by some unattributed and out-of-date comments made elsewhere.

“The support and communication from politicians both at Westminster and Holyrood speak loud and clear, and the group is not remotely deterred from our ongoing campaigning and lobbying, and we remain convinced we will move onwards to Carlisle.”

The signing of the Borderlands inclusive growth deal partnership in July has been hailed as a major boost for the campaign for an extension.

£10m was earmarked within the near-£400m deal for a study into the feasibility of extending the track by almost 70 miles.

Mrs Short added: “The heads of terms, signed at the beginning of July within the deal, including the additional specified funding available from both governments for a feasibility study is indicative to us that the project is definitely ongoing and should be treated as a message of encouragement to the campaign’s members, supporters and residents of the southern Borders and reaffirms our belief in the project.”

One memo also said the “slow and un-electrified” Borders Railway would not be an attractive option for taking on freight traffic from the west coast main line.

That’s another suggestion rubbished this week by the campaign, with chairman Simon Walton adding: “We’re on record as making strenuous efforts to have sufficient capacity built in to the Borders Railway for future freight and long-distance traffic.”

Borders MP John Lamont has pointed out that the memos predate the Borderlands growth deal and its expression of support for an extension.

“The UK Government is getting behind the campaign to extend the Borders Railway and has already pledged £5m to look at the business case for bringing the line through Hawick, Newcastleton and on to Carlisle,” he said.

“Because transport is devolved, this project was always going to require co,operation from Scotland’s two governments, and that is why they have worked together on the Borderlands growth deal.

“This memo from a department for transport official is more than a year old and addresses just one aspect of the potential benefits of extending the Borders Railway.

“I will continue to work hard to bring the Borders Railway to Hawick, Newcastleton and on to Carlisle.”