When it was recently announced that the Queen would open the new Borders to Edinburgh line on the day that she will become our longest-serving monarch, I was delighted not just as an ardent monarchist but also as a true railway enthusiast!
I spent some years with my former boss, Fife MSP Ted Brocklebank, poring over documents, letters, endless submissions and committee meetings when he was a member of the Waverley Railway (Scotland) Bill committee.
Why was he on that committee? The bill had to be dealt with by MSPs who were effectively divorced from local and party political decisions, ie politicians who couldn’t be lobbied by constituents or parties.
Ted sat on that committee with the now Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer, another Fifer, Tricia Marwick MSP. Let me say, having known that pair for many years, these are not two people who have real independent thoughts, so when it came to a final judgment on this massively expensive project they were not cajoled. When I was chatting to Ted the other day, he said that, as a fiscal-responsive Tory, he thought initially that the Edinburgh to Borders rail link was something for which the economic case was far from robust – especially in view of the journey time (slower than by car) and the failure of the scheme to go as far as Hawick and possibly eventually to Carlisle. Ted said to me: “But I was persuaded that the line couldn’t be judged on crude economics, but rather in terms of the boost in confidence it would bring to the whole Borders region, sadly neglected by successive governments. I was proud that eventually the whole committee lent their unanimous support to the scheme.”
I think the judgment Ted came to will turn out to be the right one. When we keep looking at Edinburgh expanding, we also need to look at transport links which means that people commuting from the Borders for work purposes have options other than using cars. If it proves successful, it will not only incentivise people to live in the beautiful Borders villages and therefore contribute to the local economy, it will reduce pressure on Green Belt areas in Edinburgh.
In October I’ll be going to Moscow and, although I’ll be flying, I was fascinated to hear from my friend, Green councillor Nigel Bagshaw, how his holiday to Russia this summer involved trains from London, various other trains and finally to Moscow! Obviously this takes planning but what sights he must have seen.
Rail travel is sometimes ignored as an option, but even if you do not see the benefits it brings in reducing carbon emissions, you will recognise how great it is to see our country and countries overseas.
Dominic Heslop is the Conservative city councillor for the Pentland Hills ward