Lord Steel: Dawdling forced Borders Railway closure

THE £300 million expenditure being spent on the Borders Railway could have been avoided if politicians had worked together to save the northern half of the Waverley Line in 1969, according to former Liberal Party leader Lord Steel.

Extravagant spending on the Borders Railway could have been avoided, says Lord Steel. Picture: Stuart Cobley
Extravagant spending on the Borders Railway could have been avoided, says Lord Steel. Picture: Stuart Cobley

Recently disclosed Cabinet papers indicated that then secretary of state for Scotland, Willie Ross, had argued for the retention of the line from Edinburgh Waverley to Hawick to assist with economic development.

But he never enlisted the support of local MP David Steel and Conservative MP Lord Dalkeith and a specially commissioned expert’s report supporting his case arrived too late.

Speaking at a 45th anniversary dinner, marking the closure of the Waverley line, in the Grapes Hotel in Newcastleton, on Sunday night Lord Steel of Aikwood argued that the present “necessary but extravagant” expenditure to re-open the line could have been avoided if Ross had been more open with him.

He pointed out Cabinet papers from the time showed Ross was arguing to save the top half of the line from Edinburgh to Hawick as closure ran contrary to rejuvenating the Borders economy.


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Lord Steel – who was a MP in the Borders for 32 years between 1965 and 1997 and a former Liberal Party leader – said: “I had persuaded the local authorities in the three counties to commission a report from railway expert Professor John Hibbs who had argued precisely that case in his report, including the closure of smaller stations, single line track, and de-manning of larger stations. But the report came too late in the day and Willie Ross never let known his own views.

“The then Tory MP for Edinburgh North, Lord Dalkeith, who lived in the Borders was a stalwart supporter, who along with me and Madge Elliot delivered a petition to 10 Downing Street, but neither of us had any dialogue with Willie Ross who was an entrenched Labour man.”

Lord Steel, 76, said it was his biggest disappointment of his career as a MP when the Waverley line was lost as part of the Beeching cuts.

He travelled on the last train on 5 January, 1969, and said it was his ambition to travel on the first train on the newly built line in 2015.