Rail mistakes

Alastair Dalton (your report, 12 September) rightly queries the enthusiasm for new railways. This is based on emotion, nostalgia and poor understanding of transport geography and economics.

There are very few places where building a railway is the most cost-effective solution to transport problems. That is why so few have been built in most countries and thousands have been closed. The vast majority of the “Beeching cuts” were justified.

The Institute of Economic Affairs said the line to Tweedbank offered poor value for money and civil servants said there was no economic justification for it going beyond Newtongrange.

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Political lobbying swayed MSPs to ignore expert advice. Audit Scotland said the government did not consider the “opportunity costs” of the project, ie other ways in which the funds used could be spent. The Borders has about 1 per cent of Scotland’s people and the great majority of these will never use the new link.

Even in and around the largest cities most people have no easy access to a train station; Dundee and Aberdeen, with six times the population of the Borders, have only two between them. (Coatbridge, with far fewer people, has six.)

The money needed for new railways would be better used to improve pedestrian, cycle and bus access throughout Scotland, benefiting many children and the poorest people. Most elderly people use travel cards, which are not valid on trains. Building new railways will only exacerbate social inequality.

Before any more are considered the performance of the new link over three or more years should be monitored. It is hard to see how an extension to Hawick can ever be justified. The cost would be huge.

The Scottish Government wants to finance a new high-speed railway north of the Borders, although the case for this is dubious. It would certainly pass close to the existing one via Beattock. To build another through the Southern Borders would be ludicrous.


Buccleuch Street