Next steps for the Borders Railway

In the three years since it reopened, the Borders Railway has become one of the great success stories, and an inspiration to other rail revival projects. Ardent Borders Railway supporter Ashley Butlin, who reported on the construction and opening of the line to Tweedbank, takes a look at the prospects for extending the line south towards Hawick and beyond.

Even before the new Borders Railway opened in September 2015, the sceptics were already saying it would be a ‘white elephant’ and ‘would be closed within a year’. How wrong they were.

Within months of the line opening to Tweedbank, official figures were almost double predicted numbers. Since that time the line has gone from strength to strength and is proving highly successful.

On September 6, 2015, the day the Borders Railway re-opened, Class 170 Nos. 170458 and 170414 (carrying the Borders Railway branding) climb past Heriot towards Falahill with a well-loaded 13.45 Tweedbank-Edinburgh Waverley train. CHRIS MILNER

It should also be remembered a huge planned housing development at Shawfair has only just started and when complete will dramatically increase passenger numbers using the station. So successful is Tweedbank the car park was increased by an additional 82 spaces in early 2018.

So where next for this route? From the outset the Campaign for Borders Rail has advocated the need to extend the line to Hawick and onwards to Carlisle. Government and local authorities are backing the campaign.

John Lamont, MP for Berwick, Roxburgh and Selkirk is a keen supporter and raised questions in the House, and Jeremy Corbyn added his support when he visited the Borders in February 2018.

Hassendean station has been beautifully preserved, along with associated buildings and footbridge, by architect Tom Pyemont, a keen supporter of the Campaign for Borders Rail, and is now a lovely family home. The return of the railway would inevitably mean the loss of his home, but a price Tom is prepared to accept if it means trains once more pass this scenic location.

Tourism along the line has flourished and plans are in hand to further develop facilities, including refurbishing the station buildings at Newtongrange, Gorebridge and Stow.

There are also plans to turn a disused building at Newtongrange into a community space and bistro. The latter will be on the ground floor while upstairs there will be office space, a learning centre, an IT suite and a flexible meeting space for community groups.

A partnership between Gorebridge Community Trust and the council will see the former railway station house become a cafe, gallery and office space, creating four or five full time jobs within a year and 10-15 employment opportunities in the two upstairs offices.

With 15 arches, Shankend is still a most impressive structure constructed using grey-wacke rock. Shankend is in a wild and remote setting, with only Shankend Farm for company. Even on a summer’s day mist hangs over the hills. Seeing trains once again crossing this Category B-listed structure would be one of the iconic locations on the line.

Beyond the present terminus at Tweedbank, other opportunities are taking advantage of the line and hopefully an extension.

One such group launched in 2018 is based in Hawick and called The Town of a Thousand Trails. The organisation is aimed at attracting groups such as walkers, cyclists, horse riders, runners and canoeists, and wants to put the area on a par with other attractions, including the Lake District.

If the railway can return to Hawick it would be a tremendous asset to the group, bringing in tourists for the day from Edinburgh and further afield.

Read more and view more images in the September issue of The RM – on sale now!

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