Signalling the future for the new Borders Railway

Back in June 1972, the great architectural critic Ian Nairn made a BBC TV programme on the rail journey from Leeds to Edinburgh via the Settle to Carlisle and Waverley Lines.

At Carlisle, he could go by train no further. Due to the Beeching cuts, the track through the wild country of the Scottish Borders had been torn up three years before. In an evocative eulogy, Nairn stood amid the dereliction of Longtown signal box and sat on the platform of the trackless, wind-blasted shell of Riccarton Junction station.

Anger at the futility of what he called "useless dereliction" leached from his veins. Bizarrely, at Hawick the station remained in its full glory, busy with goods coming in and out by van and with a still-functioning buffet and bookstall.

The only thing missing were tracks and trains. Nairn caustically remarked: "It's as if someone is trying really hard to invent a railway."

Well finally, 43 years on, someone has. This Wednesday, the part of the line from Edinburgh to Tweedbank will be officially re-opened by the Queen - I'll be greeting her there - on the very day she becomes the longest serving monarch in UK history.

Thanks to the £294 million worth of funding provided by the Scottish Government, from next week trains will run half hourly in each direction for most of the day from early morning to late evening.

The journey from one end of the line to the other will take less than an hour and finally mean an alternative to long bus journeys and challenging car travel. At a stroke, the rest of Scotland is going to feel a lot closer.

The railway's impact will be transformational. Edinburgh becomes easily accessible, while Glasgow can be reached without a return road trip approaching four hours.

It should also help stimulate a major boost in inward investment and tourism. Borders economy will benefit by an estimated £33 million. Housing opportunities will be widened and visitors encouraged - not least because of the steam trains which take people to local attractions such as Sir Walter Scott's house at Abbotsford.

It has been a massive undertaking. The biggest railway construction in the UK for more than 100 years, it has required the use of nearly 100,000 sleepers. A total of 95 bridges have been refurbished and 42 new ones built.

Some 1000 people have been responsible for creating the infrastructure - no easy feat in countryside which is some of the most beautiful in Scotland but which can be brutally harsh and unforgiving in bad weather.

The Borders Railway is a visionary and welcomed investment by the Scottish Government which will now pay huge dividends. It is not in anyway to deny the staunch commitment of ministers to the project to point out that so far we only have half a railway.

The original line which closed in 1969 continued on to Melrose, St Boswells, Hawick and then across the wild Border country through Newcastleton and into Carlisle. Expresses thundered through on journeys from Edinburgh to St Pancras.

As well as offering a cross border alternative to the East and West Coast mainlines, it provided a lifeline for local communities. But it didn't pass through important Labour marginal constituencies. That helped prompt Harold Wilson's government to seal its fate.

I and others strongly believe there is a case for remedying the wrongs of the 1960s and reopening the whole 98-mile line. It will give the Borders a rail link both north and south, strengthen cross-border economic and social ties and provide Scotland and England with a huge new asset.

Scottish Government ministers want to see now the new line performs before making any decision about an extension. I absolutely understand and accept that. But I also believe it would make sense to carry out a feasibility study as soon as possible, so our arguments in favour are in place when an extension comes up for consideration.

A completely restored line would have another advantage. It would recreate Nairn's 1972 journey, providing a tie-up with the Settle to Carlisle line and allowing the traveller to enjoy two of the most beautiful rail routes in Britain. Linking a journey through the Dales with one through the stunning scenery of the Borders would be a compelling tourist proposition.

When the BBC made its documentary, the future of the Settle to Carlisle line also looked bleak. But it survived, and is now thriving. Services have quadrupled, and it has its own website, shop, community discount passes and even music and ale trains.

We can do that too. So let's enjoy our new railway, think big and look forward to a day when a fulminating Ian Nairn would no longer be able to dangle his legs over the barren path of a ghost line.

He thought we deserved better, and we do. Let's make it happen.