Comment: £300m Borders Rail scheme missing a trick

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Looking at Scotland’s major infrastructure projects, this area is benefiting from some big spending at the moment.

The new Forth crossing, the tram project approaching completion, investment in ultra fast broadband for Edinburgh, modernised rail stations at Waverley and Haymarket, and the longest domestic railway construction project in the UK for 100 years – the £300 million Borders Railway.

I recently visited the Borders Railway project offices with our local Federation of Small Businesses branch chairman.

I’d read good news about a mini housing boom in Midlothian related to the project and there was a “meet the buyer” event which attracted more than 250 businesses. Did anyone get any work? It would appear that some of the businesses did and they might get more in the future. Great.

We heard that apprenticeships had been created. Good news. We heard that once the ducting that carries cabling is laid along the route then the tracks will go down next summer. Great.

We asked if among this cabling was fibre cabling to deliver faster broadband to Midlothian and the Borders. No, this hasn’t been asked for. Really?

The delivery of faster broadband to Midlothian and the Borders is not Network Rail’s job but why has nobody else thought of this obvious cost saving? Edinburgh is upgrading to 30–100 mbps broadband speeds while communities 40 miles down the railway line would be chuffed with 3-10 mbps.

We also discussed provision for cyclists on the new train service. The promotion of cycling in the form of mountain biking and cycle touring is a key plank of Scottish Borders Council’s economic strategy, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.

Sadly, the new rail route will carry a maximum of three bikes per train. What about cycle tourism and business commuters with a bike then?

The Borders Railway website states that cycle storage will be provided at stations – hopeless if you actually want to ride your bike.

There seems to have been a lack of thought about the wider benefits this new railway will provide to its users and local communities. The Federation of Small Businesses wrote to Scottish Government ministers this week to ask for consideration of these issues and I look forward to some positive action soon.

• Gordon Henderson is senior development manager, Scotland, at the Federation of Small Businesses