Bid to get Hawick back on track going nowhere fast, according to Borders MP

How we reported Nicola Sturgeon's 2016 pledge of a feasibility study.
How we reported Nicola Sturgeon's 2016 pledge of a feasibility study.

Proposals to extend the Borders Railway east or south-west – or both – are among 21 options now being considered by ministers.

Both potential extensions into England, to Berwick and Carlisle via Hawick, remain on the table following the publication on Tuesday by consultant Jacobs UK of its final Borders transport corridors study pre-appraisal report.

The study, a follow-up to a draft version published last April and subsequently put out for consultation, also suggests that better bus services to nearby cities, enhanced park-and-ride facilities and more active travel options are worth looking into in greater detail.

Further consideration will also be given to improving the Borders’ rail and road infrastructure as part of a wider strategic transport projects review by Transport Scotland.

That will include assessing the potential benefits of dualling sections of the A1 between Dunbar and the English border and improvements, such as partial dualling and adding overtaking lanes, to the A7 Edinburgh-Carlisle road and A68 Edinburgh-Darlington route.

Proposals for extending the 30-mile Borders Railway from Tweedbank both southwest into Cumbria and east into Northumberland have not been ruled out, but Jacobs warns that both are expensive options that might not be deemed cost-effective, as well as potentially facing opposition due to their impacts on the natural environment.

Settling for double-tracking the existing £353m Edinburgh-Tweedbank line, opened in 2015, is another option under consideration.

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont has denounced the report as a disappointment, however, saying it falls a long way short of the full feasibility study for extension of the Borders Railway to Hawick promised by Holyrood first minister Nicola Sturgeon in March 2016.

“Many Borderers will look a this report and conclude it is a complete flop,” he said.

“This is classic Scottish National Party – promise the world just before an election, then kick the issue into the long grass.

“It has taken three years to produce the report, yet all we have to show for it is a wish list of projects which the Scottish Government may or may not consider at a unspecified date.

“The Borders is crying out for investment and for action to be taken.

“For years, we’ve been promised a feasibility study for the Borders Railway, a new station in Reston and decent investment in our major roads, but nothing has happened.

“The Scottish Government needs to stop writing reports and instead get on with the vital projects we need in the Borders like bringing the Borders Railway to Hawick, Newcastleton and Carlisle, dualling the A1 and delivering Reston station.”

Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Rachael Hamilton agrees, adding: “The report is very thin on new detail.

“The Scottish Government must support the Borders economy and commit to real investment in transport projects that could be transformational.

“We have seen large capital investment up north in the dualling of the A9 and A96, yet the A1, A68 and A7 haven’t had a look in.

“Before the 2016 election, the first minister went to Hawick and promised a feasibility study into extending the Waverley line to Hawick. There is no concrete guarantee of that in this report.

“This report simply kicks the issue of poor road and rail connectivity of the Borders into the long grass.”

Scottish Government transport secretary Michael Matheson believes the report is a step in the right direction, though, saying: “The Borders transport corridors study fulfils our commitment to consider the future transport needs of the area.

“We have already committed to rail stations at East Linton and Reston, and these will be delivered as part of work to improve capacity to Edinburgh.

“We will now go on to consider a further 21 options as part of the strategic transport projects review being taken forward during the lifetime of this parliament.

“The projects review is a nationwide appraisal to identify where improvements are needed and guide investment in Scotland’s transport infrastructure over the next two decades.

“The recommendations made in this study, underpinned by detailed evidence on problems and opportunities, will help ensure the case is made for improvements in the Borders.

“We look forward to building on the successful partnerships that we have developed as part of the study as we move forward with the next stage of this important work.”

The Campaign for Borders Rail has welcomed the fact that the report has retained all the railway-based proposals in its draft version, though, including extra stations and through services.

Simon Walton, its chairman, said: “Improving transport and communications in the Borders is absolutely vital if we are to see the region regenerated and play a full part in the modern economy of Scotland.

“Clearly, our number one priority is the enhancement and extension of the Borders Railway to make it a through route, fit for purpose, to reach through Hawick to Carlisle, providing an economic lifeline for the Borders and a new strategic cross-border link in the national rail network.

“As has been proved time and again, rail infrastructure development is among the most effective and achievable ways to stimulate the economy and social inclusiveness of any region.

“The Borders needs that more than ever.

“The main line that we seek to see reopened once supported a whole network of lines, directly serving communities large and small, including those on the axis through Kelso to Berwick.”

Mrs Sturgeon’s pledge of a feasibility study for an extension of the Borders Railway was made during a visit to Hawick at the end of March 2016 to support South Scotland SNP list MSP Paul Wheelhouse’s unsuccessful Scottish election campaign for the Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire seat now held by Mrs Hamilton.

She told the Hawick News at the time: “The Borders Railway has been a fantastic success – boosting the economy, leading to new housebuilding and supporting tourism in the region.

“Since it was opened in September last year, the number of passengers has exceeded all expectations, with over 500,000 people travelling on the line by January.

“With this kind of success, it makes sense to look at extending the line to other communities.

“I know there is support across the Borders for extending the line to Carlisle and, if re-elected, we will take the first step on that journey.

“Greater connectivity, through better transport links and improved digital infrastructure can ensure that all parts of Scotland reap the benefits of economic progress.”