Borders rail campaigners hope prime-time TV exposure will boost chances of success

Campaigners calling for the Borders Railway to be extended into England are hoping that having their cause highlighted on national television will boost their chances of success.

By Darin Hutson
Friday, 1st May 2020, 8:38 am
Walking Britain's Lost Railways presenter Rob Bell with Campaign for Borders Rail chairman Simon Walton at Tweedbank station.
Walking Britain's Lost Railways presenter Rob Bell with Campaign for Borders Rail chairman Simon Walton at Tweedbank station.

The last episode of the latest series of Channel 5’s Walking Britain’s Lost Railways was about the old Waverley Route from Edinburgh to Carlisle, and it highlighted the Campaign for Borders Rail’s push for the remaining 60 or so miles of the track to be restored following the reopening of its northernmost 30 miles, from the capital to Tweedbank, four years ago.

That prime-time exposure can only add to the impetus being built up for the return of the cross-border track, closed in 1969, by extending the current line into Cumbria, according to campaign chairman Simon Walton.

“It certainly brought the Scottish Borders and the Campaign for Borders Rail into the spotlight,” he said.

Walking Britain's Lost Railways presenter Rob Bell and Tom Pyemont at the former Hassendean station, now Tom's home.

“It’s no coincidence that several locations from the Borders feature in the opening titles for the whole series, that a still from Stobs Camp features in the television production company’s publicity and that the schedulers definitely saved the best until last.

“Don’t forget, of course, that Channel 5, have also been promoting the Borders in every ad break over the entire six-part series, with their prize draw for a luxury visit to Edinburgh and the Borders, including a trip on the Borders Railway and a private dining opportunity at Abbotsford.”

Mr Walton was among those interviewed on the hour-long show, screened last Friday, by presenter Rob Bell, and he told him the return of the Waverley Route is now a more realistic prospect than ever before, saying: “We’re closer now to getting that ambition than we ever have been.

“It makes perfect sense to make it a through line.”

Bell agreed, telling viewers: “The exciting thing about this lost line is that it might just come back.

“There’s a real effort going on in these parts to re-establish the old Waverley Route.

“There were varied reasons for the closure of the Waverley Route in 1969 – it was a fairly slow link through the sparsely populated Scottish Borders – but now, 50 years later, come and meet the people who live here, come and hear from them the compelling reasons for it to be reinstated and you’d be hard-pushed to disagree.”

Cheered as he was by that support, Mr Walton said he’s been disappointed that no efforts have been made to exploit the show to promote tourism in the region once the current coronavirus lockdown ends.

“When I think of the time and co-operation that so many voluntary organisations and individuals gave to the programme, I am somewhat disappointed that, as far as I can see, none of the statutory bodies whose remit must include promoting commerce and trade in the Borders made any effort whatsoever to highlight this excellent opportunity,” he said.

“There have been officially sanctioned tourism campaigns lately for fantasy series and even a cartoon princess, but here is real-life drama played out on screen and not so much as a mention.

Mr Walton added: “Rob Bell made a really telling pay-off when he did his closing piece to camera down at Carlisle.

“His remarks were not prompted by the campaign, but I think that, having seen first hand the passion for the line, and the passion for Borders life, that he was in no doubt that what we’ve started we must finish.

“Like the man himself, as I waved Rob on his way from Tweedbank, it’s onward to Hawick and Carlisle.”

To see the show, available until June 23, on catch-up, go to my5.tv/walking-britain-s-lost-railways/season-2/episode-6