New doubts over Borders rail link as majority insist they won't use it

NEW doubts have been raised about the planned Borders railway line after a Scotsman-commissioned poll showed most people living near the route are unlikely to use it.

The survey also found a minority backed the project, which could cost nearly 300 million and is running five years late.

The results of the poll – one of the most extensive tests of public opinion of the scheme – comes as the latest of a series of setbacks.

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Ministers' commitment was called into question in March when they opted for a non-profit private funding method untested for such projects.

The 31-mile line should have been finished this year, but work will not now start until at least 2010 and end in 2013.

The poll found that 54 per cent of those questioned were "quite to very unlikely" to use the service, even if train times suited them. Just 17 per cent were very likely to use the line, with 24 per cent quite likely.

The survey of Borders residents near the line included areas where developers are required to contribute to its cost.

The poll was conducted by Accent, a research consultancy specialising in assessing public opinion about transport. It said: "To achieve a representative sample, our research was carried out with 400 people in the 20 postcode areas that would be most affected by the line re-opening. Because our interviews were so targeted, we have a good indication of residents' views."

The poll also showed the project commanded only minority support, with just 48 per cent thinking the re-establishment of a rail link between Tweedbank and Edinburgh was a good idea. More than one in three – 36 per cent – thought it was a bad idea, while the remaining 16 per cent were unsure or neutral.

Those who backed the line said there was a need for more efficient public transport, and it would reduce congestion.

The greatest concerns among people opposing the project were its construction cost and anticipated low usage.

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Nicholas Watson, an anti-rail line Borders Party councillor on Scottish Borders Council, said: "The survey shows the project has been developed without reference to the needs of the people of the Borders. I hope politicians will be struck by the distinct lack of enthusiasm it reveals."

Miranda Mayes, the head of Accent's Edinburgh office, said: "Planners can have views on what is the right way to proceed, but you need to have the support of those who are going to be using the service every day. If you build something people don't want, you could be left with a costly white elephant."

Jeremy Purvis, the Liberal Democrat MSP for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale, which covers the Borders section of the line, blamed the poll results on the cost increase and delay.

He said: "This has been matched by what many constituents have told me over recent weeks that, while they still want the rail line reinstated, their strong support has been affected by delays and lack of security over funding sources."

A spokeswoman for the Waverley Railway Project, which is behind the scheme, said: "We are pleased to see that by far the largest group of respondents favoured the reinstatement of the Waverley railway line."