IT’S only been operating for a few days – but there’s no doubt the Borders Railway has already picked up a firm fanbase.
And now the Scottish Government has admitted it is “committed” to helping extend the line to Carlisle.
We’re very confident of its success, but we have to see how that worksKEITH BROWN
The Queen will officially reopen the historic Waverley Line today when she takes the train from Edinburgh to Tweedbank, along with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
The royal appearance comes amid growing calls for the £294 million route, which began carrying passengers on Sunday, to be linked up with the north of England.
Liberal Democrat South of Scotland MSP Jim Hume said the government should aim to extend the line by 60 miles to Carlisle as soon as possible.
“This week, we finally see its momentous return to the region,” Mr Hume said.
“This is a historic moment for the Borders. The Scottish Government must now acknowledge that the link to Tweedbank is the building block for real progress on an extension to Hawick and eventually Carlisle.
“I want Scottish ministers to get that feasibility study under way.”
Former first minister Alex Salmond had previously suggested the line could be extended to Carlisle, and was backed by the leaders of Scottish Borders Council and Carlisle City Council.
Labour’s South of Scotland MSP Claudia Beamish also called for ministers to look at taking the line across the Border.
She asked parliament: “Will he [Transport Minister Keith Brown] comment on the future of rail freight for the Borders and for Scotland – and possibly even on the extension of the line to Carlisle?”
Mr Brown, left, said any proposed extension would depend on how successful the current line proves.
It is hoped one million passengers a year will be using the railway within the next five years. “We’re very confident of its success, but we have to see how that works,” Mr Brown said.
“If the local council, as they’ve said, or the local transport partnership were looking to do a feasibility study of a potential future extension then we will help out with that.”
But he admitted that any plans could hinge on attracting freight on to the line.
He said: “One of the points that was made in relation to that by another campaigner was that that should also take into account the potential for freight because it may not be the case that we get a case which is sufficiently strong with passenger numbers.
“Of course that will be in the hands of those taking forward a feasibility study – but I’m more than happy and committed to the idea of Transport Scotland helping out in that process.”
The issue came under the spotlight of MSPs at Holyrood yesterday, where Mr Brown said the new railway will assist in halting the decline in the Midlothian and Borders populations.
It will also act as a catalyst for encouraging more than £30m of investment in the wider economy.
“It will connect communities, encourage more affordable housing, reduce carbon emissions and reduce reliance on the car,” he added.