The future of the Borders Rail Link

I was asked to contribute an article to the newsletter of the Campaign for Borders Rail on the success of our new line and where it is likely to be heading in the future. Here's the piece. 

In just a few short weeks since its opening, our new railway has confounded its critics. The longest new domestic rail route in the UK in more than 100 years, it has already attracted huge public interest, proved to be massively popular with commuters and leisure travellers, and demonstrably boosted Borders hospitality businesses. 

At the moment, though, we only have half a line. This is not a complaint: the route from Edinburgh to Tweedbank is the most important addition to our transport infrastructure for generations, and has the potential to transform our region. But there is an extremely strong case - and it's one which I'm backing - to take it on to Hawick and Carlisle. 

This, of course, was the route which the old Waverley Line followed until its controversial closure in 1969. To my mind, the job of competing our new railway will not be done until the original service is fully restored. 

A dynamic is building over this. My MSP colleagues Paul Wheelhouse and Christine Grahame, who did a huge amount to make the case for the route we now have, are in favour. Crucially, the Scottish Government and Scottish Borders Council are also behind a feasibility study into an extension which will hopefully prove the business case. 

I believe it is possible to complete this project, though I'm aware that it won't be easy. As the line will go to Carlisle, it will be a cross border route, which adds an extra layer of complexity and will probably mean it needs parliamentary legislation and funding from the UK Government. 

The good news is that there are encouraging signs we may be able to win cross party support on this. For instance, I've spoken to my neighbouring MP David Mundell, who is the Secretary of State for Scotland in the UK Government. He's broadly supportive and is planning to speak to the Department of Transport in London to gauge its views. 

I've also been in discussion with MPs on the English side of the border. They're also warming to the idea. In particular, I've had several discussions with Rory Stewart, who represents the seat of Penrith and the Border, and he's keen on getting it onto the agenda. 

One way forward would be to set up an All Party Parliamentary Group at Westminster on the subject, but David and Rory are both government ministers so under the rules of parliament, they wouldn't be allowed to join. 

A more practical way forward might be to apply for a debate on a route extension to take place in Westminster Hall in the spring. This is second chamber in the Commons where subjects can be discussed at length without a vote. 

It's generally more consensual than business in the main chamber but, most importantly, rules require that a minster from the Department of Transport comes to speak. That means that we will get an insight into the government's thinking and that civil servants will have to carry out research and analysis into a line extension, which means they'll be well briefed on it. 

Finishing the rest of the route will be a big investment and we will have to demonstrate there will be a commercial return. But it will offer enormous benefits . It will be a third railway line between Scotland and England, improving our UK transport infrastructure, providing new linkages and creating real potential for economic and tourism benefits. 

It's a fantastic vision and as I've said, I believe it can be done. But it will take an effort beyond CBR and politicians to make it happen. We need our businesses, communities and third sector organisations to  join us in demonstrating their enthusiasm and making the case. 

It will be a challenge, but success will offer huge opportunities. So let's pull together and put together the very best arguments we can. 

That way, people will listen, and there is every chance we will repair the errors of history and finally get the full railway line we want and need.