Working together we'll see extension to Hawick and Carlisle - My piece in the CBR Newsletter
Updated: Jun 22, 2020
Given its economic and social importance, for almost 13 years I’ve supported restoration of the Borders Railway along the full length of the original line. As a Hawick-based Regional MSP, from 2011 I’ve used my voice within Parliament, from my very first speech onwards, and my influence with the Scottish Government, to champion delivery of the project in the face of some high profile ‘naysayer’ local opponents.
It was a relief to overcome opposition, and a great honour to attend formal re-opening of services to Tweedbank and to share that joyous day with those who’ve campaigned for restoration for decades as well as those who had delivered the project, including the then Scottish Transport Minister, Keith Brown. While I know we’ve faced growing pains, as passenger numbers greatly exceeded forecasts, I believe we can all look on at the very popular service we now have with growing satisfaction. We need to remember: if some had had their way, there would be no railway at all. However, extension is truly the real prize.
During my re-election campaign in 2016, I secured commitment to a feasibility study within my Party’s manifesto. This was announced during a campaign visit to Hawick by my party leader, Nicola Sturgeon MSP. I have continued to push for this and I’m delighted that study has now received a formal £5 million funding commitment from the Scottish Government within the Borderlands Growth Deal. The scale of investment needed will likely exceed Phase 1, and technical work is required to establish if we can re-use existing infrastructure such as the B-listed, 1.1 km long Whitrope Tunnel, and for route options within Hawick. The study is essential. The Scottish Government has no legal power to deliver rail infrastructure outside Scotland, and this is key context, as the line will presumably connect to the West Coast mainline west of Longtown, so UK Government support of £5 million for their own study is welcome, too.
Prior to the pandemic, I secured a commitment to a meeting with my colleague and Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Michael Matheson MSP, to discuss the next steps in Transport Scotland’s feasibility study and to see what assurances Scottish Ministers have received from UK Ministers over progress on their own pre-appraisal and feasibility work for the route south of the Border.
I am assured that, while delayed, our meeting will go ahead as soon as possible, allowing an opportunity for CBR and Newcastleton Community Development Trust to brief Mr Matheson on the benefits that the railway could bring to specific communities like Hawick and Newcastleton. Both communities, and others along the route, would, I am sure, see significant regeneration and economic development opportunities fulfilled by overcoming their comparative disadvantages in terms of accessibility to tertiary education, health, and local and wider employment and economic development opportunities.
Extension will open communities for inbound, sustainable tourism, jobs and housing-led regeneration.
The feasibility studies will underpin an overarching outline business case. As I made clear at CBR’s AGM panel [in 2018], and to local councillors, I’m determined to do all I can to make the case and will work with others on that. I’m confident that rail’s renaissance will continue locally and nationally and, regardless of any argument around connectivity via Carlisle to HS2, a strong low carbon case can be made. If we work together, ensure widespread and constructive engagement with the studies and build as compelling a case as I believe can be marshalled, then I believe we will see the Borders railway extend to Hawick, Newcastleton and beyond to Carlisle. That prospect is one that is certainly worth working for.
Paul was writing for the Campaign for Borders Rail Newsletter (June 2020)