A VITAL £150 million rail line connecting Penicuik to central Edinburgh could be reopened for the first time in half a century.
Heriot-Watt University has been asked to carry out a feasibility study into opening ten miles of rail line that would allow passenger trains to run into Penicuik off the new Borders rail link.
At least six miles of the potential route have been preserved as a rail corridor and already crosses the City Bypass, meaning the project could come in cheaper than early estimates of £150 million.
One option being considered is for the rail link to connect Penicuik to the new Shawfair station being built on the 35-mile Borders rail route running from Waverley to Tweedbank.
The feasibility study requested by Midlothian Council is due to be completed next year.
A council spokesman said: “There were a number of studies into the provision of a heavy rail link around ten to 12 years ago. As there have been many changes since then, students from Heriot-Watt University have agreed to review these earlier studies, look at potential routes and consider the merits of heavy rail provision. The outcome of this work will help inform the council on what further action it may take.
“The route of the former Bilston Glen line is generally intact between Millerhill and Straiton and could provide part of any restored rail service. Beyond Straiton there are a number of possible options, some of which could use sections of former railway tracks.”
Rail consultant and author David Spaven threw his support behind the Penicuik spur, saying: “It looks like a sensible scheme to be examining. This is not a major scheme in the league of the Borders railway. It’s a fraction of the distance and potentially a fraction of the problems that the Borders railway had in terms of major breaches, like at the City Bypass.”
Paul Tetlaw, board member of sustainable transport alliance Transform Scotland, said: “It just highlights that one project like the Borders railway can encourage development of another.
“You suddenly get a snowball effect, which is clearly a good thing.”
Penicuik is one of the largest towns in Scotland without a direct rail link, with 20,000 people living in the area.
Ward councillor Adam Montgomery said: “When the Borders rail link was mooted and then it became a reality, I felt the line to Penicuik was far more viable in terms of the population it would serve and the lesser distance it’s travelling.”
However, Penicuik Community Council chairman Derek Cosens said the benefits of the project should be weighed up against the cost to taxpayers, warning the city did not need another “white elephant” like the Edinburgh trams scheme.
A Network Rail spokesman said: “We are always open to proposals to expand the network, but plans for any new stations or lines need to be supported by a sustainable business case and fit within the timetable.”