Representatives of the Campaign for Borders Rail and the Newcastleton and District Community Trust have met with the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Transport Infrastructure and Connectivity, Michael Matheson MSP, to discuss the case for the extension of the Borders’ Railway beyond Tweedbank to reach Hawick and beyond to Newcastleton and Carlisle.
The meeting last week, was arranged by Hawick-based SNP South Scotland MSP, Paul Wheelhouse, who said that it had been a very constructive and productive discussion and had given the Cabinet Secretary an opportunity to hear directly from campaigners about some of the economic and social opportunities that would come from restoration of the line.
Commenting, Mr Wheelhouse said:
“I’m very grateful to the Cabinet Secretary for Transport taking the time to engage with the representatives of Newcastleton and District Community Trust and Campaign for Borders Rail for an hour, to hear about the substantial economic and social benefits that restoration of the old Waverley line along its full length can bring to communities such as Hawick and Newcastleton. We know that the restoration of rail connectivity could be truly transformational for Hawick’s economy, but it would be truly dramatic for Newcastleton – which is one of the region’s communities most disadvantaged by lack of transport access.
“We heard that, despite the Coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the timings around completion of the Strategic Transport Review Study (STPR), work is, reassuringly, still ongoing and that the Scottish Government intends to publish it in 2021. We also heard of the Scottish Government’s plan to electrify the existing Borders railway route, to improve train times and reliability, and to lower carbon emissions. The STPR itself will be a key milestone in terms of delivery of developing the case for the extension. However, equally, I know that the Scottish Government is already working very hard to persuade the UK Government to invest in some of the key strategic freight routes, especially through enabling electrified rail freight connectivity to ports of embarkation for cargo, to make the Borders Rail extension even more desirable and valuable to the national economy of Scotland.
“I was particularly proud of the contribution of our community representatives in the meeting, who made a passionate and evidenced argument to the Cabinet Secretary as to the positive impact extension of the route would have for Newcastleton on access to jobs, services, education and health opportunities, on rail freight and to facilitate regeneration following acquisition of the 750 acres at Holm Hill. I genuinely believe that there is an acceptance that there could be a strong case on the wider economic and social benefits, not just for those communities that will see rail return, but also for much of the existing network. If we continue to work together constructively, as we have, I have every confidence that we’ll see trains ‘Heading Holm’ to Newcastleton.”
Barbara Elborn of the Newcastleton Community Trust said:
“Newcastleton was delighted to meet with the Cabinet Secretary to push our case to try to secure the extension of the Border Railway through to Carlisle. We covered a wide range of topics; social as well as economic. The Scottish Government is looking at rail with a clear focus based on a strong decarbonised network, now we just need to seek the same level of understanding from the UK Government to maximise the full economic impact this investment might bring to the region.”
Simon Walton, chair of the Campaign for Borders Rail:
"There is now a tangible consensus behind building the Borders Railway, onwards through Hawick to Carlisle. The Campaign for Borders Rail has never been a lone voice, but now I really feel it’s part of a chorus of approval for this project. Meeting with Cabinet Secretary Matheson gave me renewed confidence that there is a will to make a difference. This will benefit many generations to come. Those of us who have lobbied for the reinstatement of the former main line have always seen this railway as the spine of a regeneration project that will benefit all of the Borders and beyond.”