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Railwatch 072 - July 1997

A Border line case for rail

By David Hansen

Even British Rail had second thoughts about closing the Waverley route from Edinburgh to Carlisle. It was realised too late it could have been a useful feeder for the electric West Coast route.

Since the line closed, the economy of the area has stagnated. And so far the massive road building promised to replace the railway has not taken place.

Now a more sustainable idea is being put forward - to reopen the rail line. The chances for a rail revival in the Scottish Borders were explained to RDS by Alan Bailey of Borders Transport Futures.

The line closed  - with Labour transport secretary Barbara Castle's approval - in 1969 to howls of protest.

Borders Transport Futures (BTF) was formed in the early 1990s to investigate reopening some or all of this line, partly prompted by the threat of massive road building by the road- obsessed Scottish Office.

A figure of £100 million was estimated by BTF in 1994 as the cost of reopening the whole line, £30million for the northern section, £20million for the southern section and £50million for the central section. There was no funding available for this level of expenditure, so the project was split.

The current plan is to open two sections of the line. First, a freight route from Carlisle to Kielder Forest. This would follow the Waverley route to Riccarton Junction and then via a branch to the heart of Kielder Forest in England.

The trains would carry timber to various pulp mills, relieving the rural roads in the area of large lorries.

With the aid of grants this is a potentially profitable service that could be maintained for years to come as Kielder Forest is just maturing.

BTF is also investigating the possibilities for containerising the timber to reduce handling costs.

Operation of the trains might well be by a contractor, such as English Welsh & Scottish Railway.

There is a small possibility of other traffic, such as timber waste to power stations, Minstry of Defence traffic and back loads, but this is probably dependant on the Govermment changing the basis of road and rail costing.

Because the route goes from England to England via Scotland, it is sadly not possible legally to use the simplified procedures for building a railway.

Instead a full Parliamentary Bill is necessary and the aim is to deposit the Bill in November 1997. Bills can be deposited only once a year.

Oscar Faber are consultants for the scheme.

Any profits from the southern section could be used to help open the northern section, from Edinburgh to Galashiels.

This would be a passenger operation and would help reduce traffic chaos on parallel roads, thus reducing the need for more road building.

This project is less advanced than the southern section, but a single-track Sprinter service is envisaged.

Reopening the line would be cheaper than the alternative roads and anyway Edinburgh cannot accommodate any more cars.

The scheme is vital for this reason and it would also partly serve the South-East Wedge development which local planners, in their infinite wisdom, have allowed.

This was approved in outline before the current administration got to grips with transport and land use planning.

They are now struggling to make it as sustainable as possible. One thing is clear, it will not be the traditional 1960s design with a spine road.

The prospects of opening the central section are few, under the current transport system. It is more difficult to undo a mistake than make it.

Had the line remained open it would now be a vital secondary link, like the Crewe-Newport line on the Welsh Borders.

It would be sensible if the Government transferred money from road building to the railways, but in the meantime other means of funding are necessary.

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