MSPs vote 114-1 to give final go-ahead to Borders rail link

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THE 155 million project to reopen a rail line to the Borders was given final approval by MSPs yesterday in a landmark decision that will deliver train services to the area for the first time in four decades.

The Scottish Parliament voted by 114-1 to rebuild a stretch of the Waverley line, between Edinburgh and Tweedbank, south of Galashiels, that was closed by Beeching in 1969.

There will be 31 miles of new track, joining an existing line at Newcraighall, on Edinburgh's south-eastern edge, and the first trains are due to run in 2011.

The decision, for which The Scotsman has long campaigned, was met with applause from MSPs. It completes nearly three years of consideration at Holyrood - the longest for a bill since devolution - which created a 4ft-high pile of paperwork.

Scottish Borders Council, which is leading the project, hailed the vote as "the single most important economic and social decision to impact on the Borders and Midlothian communities for decades".

It came despite a last-minute intervention by Bristow Muldoon, the Livingston Labour MP, who had tabled amendments to enable the project to be built in stages, rather than all at once, and to remove a station at Stow, which had been added by MSPs scrutinising the plans.

He was accused by supporters of the project of attempting to wreck it so the railway extended only as far as Gorebridge, one of four planned stations in Labour-voting Midlothian, rather than into the Liberal heartlands of the Borders.

However, Mr Muldoon withdrew the changes after few MSPs voiced support. Brian Monteith, an independent former Tory MSP, ended up as the sole member to vote against the scheme.

Mr Muldoon argued that if the whole project had to be completed at the same time, cost increases might take money away from other rail schemes, such as the Airdrie-Bathgate line, which is close to his constituency.

He also said adding a third Borders station at Stow would be poor value for money and could increase journey times.

He was backed by John Home Robertson, the East Lothian Labour MSP, who said flexibility in the construction timescale was vital as it was inevitable that costs would rise.

However, they were rounded on by other MSPs, including members of the committee that scrutinised the plans. Last month, they concluded that the line must be built all the way to Tweedbank and include a station at Stow.

Tricia Marwick, SNP, the committee convener, said: "This bill is too important for it to degenerate into an infantile squabble between Labour and the Lib Dems about who holds sway in the coalition."

Christine Grahame, a South of Scotland SNP MSP, described Mr Muldoon's intervention as "really ridiculous". She said: "This is a political decision in advance of an election year."

Jeremy Purvis, the Liberal Democrat MSP for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, said a staged approach would "fundamentally undermine" the project's business case, while Chris Ballance, a South of Scotland Green MSP, said: "This is a wrecking amendment designed to stop the railway at Gorebridge."

Tavish Scott, the transport minister, said the Scottish Executive supported the entire line and would fund the lion's share of the cost, subject to a "robust" business case.

Although end-to-end journeys may take up to one hour, passengers would avoid traffic congestion and parking problems in Edinburgh. However, he said concerns remained about the impact of a station at Stow on the viability of the scheme.