Rail Industry Focus

31.10.19

Borders Railway delivers for entire network

Source: RTM Oct/Nov 2019

 

Simon Walton, chair of the highly influential Campaign for Borders Rail, argues completing the reconstruction of the line though the Scottish Borders will deliver benefits for the entire UK network.

Uniquely, our national infrastructure owes its existence, or indeed resistance, to public lobby. There’s plenty of pride in chairing a twenty-year old organization that can rightly claim to have changed thinking on rail regeneration.

The Campaign for Borders Rail contends that railways represent the most tangible catalyst for a whole portfolio of economic regeneration, but only if built and fit for purpose. The Campaign was bitterly opposed to the build-down-to-a-budget attitude which means the Borders Railway struggles to meet even Transport Scotland’s outrageously pessimistic business case, let alone the actual demand.

The shortened dynamic loops, only used to such intensity in punctually-precise Switzerland, fail hopelessly to cope, and road structures have choked the line to a single track. The cost of rectifying these actions will be borne long into the future.

Meanwhile, five years on, the climate has shifted. The heat is on for rail regeneration. The Levenmouth campaigners are finally vindicated, albeit over a preposterously long timeframe. The Aberdeen-Inverness project has rectified much of the blight experienced on that line, and may even be a precursor to some reconnections in Buchan and Braemar.

Given that the ‘network’ is so called for a reason, it’s not unreasonable to propose that what happens in Elgin can have repercussions in Exeter. The strategic importance of a new cross-border rail link must be acknowledged in that context. Completing the Borders Railway in purely local traffic terms is a mistake that must not be repeated. This railway will generate the patronage that goes hand-in-hand with economic regeneration. It must be built to an optimum standard. For me, that’s a single ‘dynamic loop’ of 66 miles in length, and we take the hit to upgrade the existing line.

To their credit, the Scottish Government is reviewing £6bn of proposed spending on the A9 and A96 roads. However, even in these environmentally enlightened times, the Department for Transport gleefully announces £25bn over five years for so-called investment on the strategic road network in England. Of that, the 12-mile Huntingdon Bypass will swallow £1.5bn.

That’s precisely twice the cost of the 66 route-miles from Carlisle to Tweedbank, which will provide a modern, environmentally sustainable, socially inclusive and economically regenerative communications corridor that does the exact opposite of a bypass. It delivers growth into the heart of communities and puts money in the pockets of citizens, not duplicitous transport ministers. Now that would be something worthwhile for which to lobby. It’s just unfortunate that the former transport minister cannot be exhumed from his tax haven to do the rebuilding.

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