Reopening Waverley line for timber 'not justified'
THE volume of timber traffic from the Borders and Kielder forests would not justify the reopening of the Waverley rail line south of Hawick, and the beneficial impact on the local roads network would be minimal, a major study has concluded.
Many rail campaigners have claimed that the southern half of the former Borders railway should have been developed before the proposed 130million Galashiels- Edinburgh section to allow a switch of freight from lorries to trains.
The increase in timber harvesting activity between now and 2015 has been cited as the main reason for creating a single-track freight line through the heavily forested areas of southern Roxburgh, with spur lines to Kielder, the largest man-made forest in Europe.
But that argument appears to have been largely demolished by the study, commissioned by Scottish Enterprise, the Borders Timber Transport Group and the forestry industry.
The study of timber traffic investigated various future options, including no investment, reopening the whole of the Waverley route from Edinburgh to Carlisle, and the development of a timber-processing mill in the Borders.
According to the study report, Hawick was identified as the best location for a sawmill and a railhead to serve the local forests.
However, the difference between siting these major developments at Tweedbank, near Galashiels, where the planned rail link will end, would be virtually non-existent. So the choice of Tweedbank over Hawick could be merited by other environmental, social or economic factors.
"The ability of rail to offset growth in timber tonnages is somewhat limited in the Borders, primarily because the average distances for sourcing [less than 100 miles] are too short to make alternative modes economic," the report from IBI Group states.
Even with the inclusion of the Waverley line and a sawmill at Hawick, the shift in total tonnage is relatively limited, with less than a 3 to 4 per cent switch from road to rail in each case.
The study indicated that about 100,000 tonnes per annum would be moved along the Waverley route, with the inclusion of line-side loading facilities and railheads at Hawick, Riccarton Junction and Kielder.
But this represented a significant shift of timber from the west coast main line to the Waverley line. It is assumed that the west coast line will have a much greater capacity than a single-track railway through the Borders, especially with the expected high demand for passenger travel between Galashiels and Edinburgh.
"The relatively minimal impact of rail on stemming road-tonnage growth is not entirely surprising, given rail’s niche role in longer timber hauls, and the limited number of destination plants which are rail-connected," say the consultants.
A re-instated Waverley line would reduce tonnage on the A7 between Selkirk and Hawick. But the number of timber lorries on the B6357 through Newcastleton village - probably the busiest forestry route in the region - would show no reduction.
The report concludes: "The study does not suggest that the volume of timber freight alone would justify the reopening of the Waverley line south of Hawick although there is some evidence from the timber-mapping exercise that timber freight may eventually have some significance in any justification for the reopening of the line.
"This would be dependent on the uptake of rail technologies and the associated decreases in distance below which rail transport becomes economically viable."
Valerie Robson, who represents a sprawling council ward in and around Newcastleton, said the report had clearly ruled out a freight line for the foreseeable future.
She added: "Now it is time to pay attention to our local roads, so that they can cope with the hammering they are taking, while making better arrangements for road safety.
"The deterioration of parts of the B6357 and of bridges in the Newcastleton area are serious matters which will present headaches for the local authority, as well as for those who have little option in the way of alternative and safer routes."
She added: "We were promised better roads when the railway was removed in 1969, and we are still waiting."
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