Campaigners have welcomed the UK Government’s backing for a full feasibility study into proposals to extend the Borders Railway to Hawick and Carlisle.
Scottish secretary David Mundell has confirmed that ministers want to see such a study carried out as part of the £345m Borderlands growth deal announced last month.
Hopes are high that heads of terms for that deal will be signed off in June, so, if the Scottish Government and five councils involved in the initiative agree, work on a study could begin within months.
That news has been welcomed by the Campaign for Borders Rail and MPs and MSPs. Campaign chairman Simon Walton said: “We’re delighted with this progress, confirming the secretary of state’s support for a feasibility study into extension of the Borders Railway through Hawick and onwards to Carlisle.”
Mr Mundell’s pledge of support was made in response to Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont raising the issue at prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons last Wednesday.
Mr Lamont said: “We need to improve transport links across the whole of the Borders, and extending the Borders Railway is part of this.
“A full feasibility study will look in detail at the costs and benefits of bringing the railway to Hawick, Newcastleton and on to Carlisle.”
A Transport Scotland spokesperson added: “We understand the importance of connectivity in the area and have already completed pre-appraisal work through the Borders transport corridors study. This identified the option of extending the Borders Railway to Carlisle as one of 21 potential transport interventions for further consideration through our strategic transport projects review.”
Among the 21 options identified in the Borders Transport Corridor study was creating an east-west rail link between Teedbank and Berwick.
Extending the £353m line, opened in September 2015, to Hawick, via Melrose, would add about 17 miles to its current 30-mile length, and carrying on to Carlisle, via Newcastleton, would require another 50-plus miles of track.
Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Mrs Hamilton said: “I welcome the commitment from the UK Government to look into a full feasibility study. The extension is vitally important to cross-border travel.
“The Borderlands deal provides some much-needed investment for infrastructure, and I hope this will attract more businesses investment into the area as a result.”