Governments split on Borders Rail future as campaign to extend line continues on fifth anniversary of opening

Five years ago, Queen Elizabeth II opened the largest new railway line project seen in Scotland for decades to a fanfare of excitement.

Sunday, 18th October 2020, 12:37 pm

Despite the new Borders Railway, which runs from Edinburgh to Tweedbank, being initially beset with problems, including overcrowding and service disruption, passenger numbers have boomed and pressure to improve the capacity of the railway has grown.

For some, the campaign for the Borders Railway didn’t end with the opening on the new line, with calls for it to be extended through to Carlisle via Hawick constant from the Campaign for Borders Rail.

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That option is being examined. Transport Scotland and the UK Department for Transport are both undertaking work including feasibility studies and infrastructure investment plans and have committed £10 million to the project.

The Queen opened the new Borders Railway in September 2015
The Queen opened the new Borders Railway in September 2015

However, as constitutional disagreements take hold, the governments are split on how best to take any potential project forward.

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The UK Government’s review of cross-border links, the Union Connectivity Review spearheaded by the former chairman of Network Rail Sir Peter Hendy, views an extension of the Borders Railway as being in its scope.

However, the Scottish Government has already criticised the Hendy Review and told the Scotsman that it would not be making a decision on the Borders Railway based on the review, instead preferring their own Strategic Transport Projects Review.

The Borders Railway celebrated its fifth anniversary this year

It leaves the future of an extension, which has already seen millions committed towards feasibility work, unclear.

Simon Walton, chairman of the Campaign for Borders Rail, said the cost should not stop the project from going ahead.

Speaking in the campaign’s film celebrating the five-year anniversary of the railway, he said: “[The extension] needn’t necessarily be an expensive project.

"When you compare it with other infrastructure projects around the UK, this will be 66 miles of mainline which will be achieved at a fraction of the cost of HS2, a fraction of the cost of Crossrail and a fraction of the cost of many other non-transport infrastructure projects.

"It will be a lot of money, but it won’t be as expensive as you might imagine.”

He added: “This communications spine will unlock an entire network of opportunities within the Borderlands.

“The advantage of a new cross-border rail link lies in the capacity made available on existing routes, while opening up new markets to the Borders.”

Asked in the film whether he could commit to an extension to Carlisle, Scottish transport minister Michael Matheson said there was a “slight misalignment” between each government on the extension.

He said: “We have already carried out some of the study work that they still have to do south of the Border, but I’ve got no doubt that they will press on and take that forward as needs be.

"There is a real potential idea here to see a further extension of the Borders Railway railway line. I can’t tell you what the timing of that will be.

“But I think in principle, given the success, the growth and the potential to link it in to other parts of the network south of the Border, I’m keen keen to look at this in real detail and look at how we can take that forward.”

The DVD set commemorating the opening of the Borders Railway is available in a commemorative souvenir box set from campaignforbordersrail.org.

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