Moves to have the Borders Railway extended south into England are building up a head of steam now that the Scottish Government has announced a study of transport links in the region.
Consultant Jacobs UK has been hired to produce a new study suggesting ways of improving transport provision in the south of Scotland.
Its seven-m onth study, due to get under way this month will consider possible improvements to roads through the region, but weighing up the viability of extending the £350m Edinburgh-Tweedbank railway south to Hawick and onto Carlisle in Cumbria is expected to be top of its list of priorities – and that has been welcomed by rail campaigners and the region’s MSPs.
The findings of the study, expected to be completed in November, will be taken into account by the Scottish Government in revising its strategic transport projects review.
Transport minister Humza Yousaf said: “In the Scottish Government’s programme for government, a commitment was given to examine the case for an extension of the Borders railway, along with improvements to the A1, A7 and A68.
“This study will take forward that commitment by considering how we improve accessibility in the Borders, link communities to key markets through strategic transport routes and identify where improvements to transport links are required.
“We want to build on the existing Borders Railway by considering whether it should be extended to Carlisle.
“The study will also look at how we improve access from the Scottish Borders to key markets in to Edinburgh, Carlisle and Newcastle.
“Working with partners at Scottish Borders Council and the South East of Scotland Transport Partnership, Transport Scotland will identify a range of options for improving transport that can be considered as part of the review of strategic transport projects, which will look at future transport infrastructure projects for the whole of Scotland.
“These options could include new rail services, improvements to existing road infrastructure and improved public transport provision.”
That promise of new rail services has been welcomed by the Borders’ MSPs.
Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP John Lamont said: “I welcome this progress into looking at whether we can extend the railway to Tweedbank onwards to Hawick and onto Carlisle.
“The feasibility study was promised almost exactly a year ago, so I’m glad we are now moving forward.
“Clearly the Borders Railway has been a huge success in terms of passenger numbers, but we’ve already seen its effect on existing transport links with the withdrawal of First Group from the Borders.
“Any further study must look at the economic benefits of the line but must do a better job of making sure we develop a properly integrated transport system so that the whole of the Borders benefits from any further investment.
“It would be a missed opportunity to spend more money on extending the railway unless we also look closely at how the line links up with existing public transport and local bus routes.”
Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame agrees, saying: “As the Borders Railway beds in, now is the time to look at the next steps in modernising the Borders’ transport network.
“I want to see the Borders Railway extended to Hawick and Carlisle and beyond, and this is the first step on that journey.
“I also want a bus system that is fully integrated with the railway and that serves other parts of the Borders which do not have direct access to the railway.
“I am pleased to see this study being launched and look forward to its findings at the end of this year.”
Campaign for Borders Rail chairman Allan McLean is also hoping the new study will be the breakthrough his group has been hoping for.
“This is very welcome news, and we certainly hope that the railway does reopen and that the study’s announcement will prepare for that and not just kick the idea into the long grass.
“Galashiels and Tweedbank have now got the railway back, but Hawick is still missing.
“The Waverley Route was a major part of the national transport network, and it should never have been closed in 1969.”
“It’s good to see that the study is taking reopening it into account.”
Extending the line, opened in September 2015, to Hawick, via Melrose, would add about 17 miles to its current 30-mile length and carrying onto Carlisle, via either Langholm or Newcastleton, would add another 50-plus miles on top of that.