Rail link will do more harm that good – scrap it before it's too late

SO, THE ungrateful natives of the Borders don't want the railway? At a recent meeting, SNP MSP Chris Harvie's motion in favour of re-opening the Waverley Line was defeated by 206 votes to 67.

How can this huge majority have been hidden behind Scottish Borders Council's claims of "overwhelming support"? Simple: this, at last, was a public debate, widely-advertised, open to all and in stark contrast to the process that has excluded many people with genuine concerns. The debate's results should not be ignored.

This was not a battle between good, train-loving people and the wicked tarmac lobby: the two sides' aspirations for the Borders are probably much closer than it seemed. We all like trains and we all care for the future of our planet. However, detailed scrutiny of the Waverley project reveals a scheme that will do more harm than good.

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A train service taking more than an hour from Tweedbank to Edinburgh is useless to all but a tiny part of the Borders around Galashiels. Passengers on a slow, inconvenient and underused service would be right at the top of the carbon footprint scale, and top of the public-subsidy scale, too.

If we are serious about improving public transport, then we must remove sentimentality from the process. A first-rate, flexible bus service connecting our towns and villages to each other as well as to Edinburgh, and serving the whole of the Borders, could be provided at a fraction of the cost to the environment and to the public purse.

Delivery of the Waverley Line is tied to a very damaging pattern of development, which threatens the vitality of places such as Hawick and Jedburgh, as much as Galashiels itself.

Are ministers aware that Lochcarron Mill, described to the Waverley Bill committee as Galashiels' prime tourist attraction, has been demolished to make way for a new retail park, which is proudly supported by the Waverley project?

Even steam enthusiasts are troubled: steam specials are not on the menu – no turntable is planned at Tweedbank.

The proposed line cannot carry freight. Calls for freight services to the Borders are minimal, but the strongest case for extending the line to Carlisle – the prospect of relieving the main north-south lines of freight traffic – has been extinguished.

Many of the 17,200 who petitioned parliament for the return of real Waverley Line now feel betrayed.

Even the sensible option of building only the northern part of the line to Midlothian has been spitefully prevented by clever wording in the bill.

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Full marks to the government for commissioning a due- diligence review.

Some MSPs may be indifferent to rising costs, and ill-briefed on both the scheme's detail and its wider consequences, but others recognise the environmental and financial folly of the Waverley Line, and we call upon them to talk to ministers before it is too late.

There is no need to fear losing votes: the present scheme is, regrettably, flawed. Borderers would welcome its rejection.