Calls for the Borders Railway to be extended to Hawick are building up a fresh head of steam following the line’s first anniversary in September.
At the latest annual meeting of the Campaign for Borders Rail group, its chairman, Allan McLean, renewed his calls for an extension of the former Waverley Route to Hawick and beyond.
And that rallying cry has been boosted by last month’s announcement that the Scottish Government is to create a new enterprise agency for the south of the country.
Hopes are high that the new body will be supportive of moves to extend the 30-mile Edinburgh-Tweedbank line to Hawick and south to England.
Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP John Lamont said: “I would expect this organisation to play a key role in promoting the views of local businesses on key infrastructure projects like the extension of the Borders Railway to Hawick and Carlisle.”
Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame agrees, saying: “I have always supported the full reinstatement of the Borders Railway and set up a cross-party group in Parliament in 1999 for that purpose.
“I know there is to be a study of all transport modes across the Borders for the future which will include the option of extending the line, and that should report by the end of 2017.
“The resounding success of the current line, with passenger journeys well over expectations, I am sure will help support that case.
“It is also my understanding that the former track is now protected from development which would encroach on the line being extended.”
Among those at the campaign group’s meeting was Hawick and Denholm councillor Watson McAteer, and he spoke in support of the recent Scottish Government announcement of a potential feasibility study for extension of the line to Hawick and beyond.
He said: “Many, including myself, have welcomed this announcement, although it is important to realise that this is anything but a done deal.
“It is essential that the Scottish Government and Scottish Borders Council are lobbied hard and persistently to seek a guaranteed commitment, particularly from those that will be elected in May 2017, to have this matter firmly lodged at the top of the new council’s strategic agenda.
“The south east Scotland strategic development plan is very weak in reassuring that strategic development opportunities will be created by extending the railway.
“At the same time, there is a very clear reference to continuing opportunities at Galashiels and Tweedbank, and while this is logical given the current railway footprint, it must not become an easy way of pushing Hawick to the end of a long queue.
“Hawick businesses are feeling the impact of a one-way ticket that is seeing local shoppers travel from Tweedbank to all points north without any reciprocal arrangements.
“Opening the line to both the north and south is a sure-fire way of reversing the current trend.
“It is essential that we seize the opportunity to extend the line, with all its economic benefits.
“People travel from Hawick to join the train, and we want the railway to go there and other places.”
Mr McLean, re-elected as chairman for a second year, told the rail group’s annual meeting in Galashiels: “Hawick deserves trains, and other places can be served too.
“I welcome the fact that politicians from several political parties have put other differences aside to unite in support of a better railway.
“I believe that our future will see the railway enhanced to deliver a reliable service on the existing route and extended to serve more communities directly.”
Another councillor supporting calls for an extension of the £294m line was Galashiels representative Sandy Aitchison, as well as for an extra station at Heriot.
He said: “We must be serious about it and promote getting the railway to Hawick.”