THE gloves are off as campaigners in the Scottish Borders fight to bring a new railway line through Liddesdale, while those in Langholm lobby to bring it through Eskdale.
The debate on which route is the better has continued to rage, although both sides agree the Borders Railway must be extended to Hawick and onto Carlisle.
But whether it links those two places through Eskdale or Liddesdale is a hot topic which can only intensify.
“Building a new cross-border rail rink is the most important post-coronavirus project we can undertake to redefine ourselves,” said Simon Walton, chairman of the Campaign for Borders Rail (CBR).
The need for investment in the community is even greater in the light of the pandemic.
He added: “Governments in both countries and elected representatives from all political persuasions are united in understanding that economic development is vital if there is to be a meaningful recovery.
“Infrastructure, which demonstrably supports commerce and community, is the best way to invest in that recovery.
“The evidence of the success of the existing railway gives precedent to the business case the campaign made.
“We’re pushing for that consensus to be turned into commitment and move as rapidly as possible through the stages of development and construction to completion and operation.”
Nick Bethune, campaign secretary, said the need for investment represented by a new rail link had increased in the past few months.
He added: “Despite the trend for increased home-working, given impetus by the crisis, it’s clear the capacity and coverage of the rail network will need to expand.
“The changes in strategic priorities need to address the climate emergency and inclusivity goals. The ‘new normal’ may be very different but the need to extend the Borders Railway remains.”
Colin Smyth, South Scotland MSP and Scottish Labour’s transport spokesperson, has reiterated his backing for an extension to the Borders Railway but the case for it to run through Langholm was even stronger after the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr Smyth said: “The campaign has never been more important and one of the keys to rebuilding our economy will be investment in infrastructure.
“The importance of this project to the regional economy means it needs to be about connecting communities in southern Scotland, not passing through them.
“I believe the route should run through Langholm, linking one of the key towns to the rail line.
“The Borders Railway has been a huge success and there is a powerful case for an extension to Carlisle.
“It has been a genuine grassroots campaign which has united communities in the Borders and beyond.
“The economic benefits cannot be underestimated and it’s important Langholm is included in the route.
“It is not only the town itself which would profit but the surrounding communities would also gain a vital advantage.
“Including a stop in Langholm would bring significant benefits to the Eskdale community and an economy which has suffered a number of economic shocks in recent years.
“In a post-COVID-19 environment it has the potential to open new opportunities for tourism and attract visitors.”
But there is an equally strong case for Newcastleton, according to their MP, John Lamont.
He said: “It’s clear that extending the railway to Carlisle via Newcastleton will bring huge benefit to surrounding communities. It will improve connectivity and greatly enhance job opportunities.
“The extension enjoys cross-party support in the Borders and from councils.
“Similarly, it is my view that most people in Liddesdale want improved public transport links both north and south.
“I’m delighted the UK government and ministers are fully signed up to a feasibility study for a project which will benefit both sides of the border economically and environmentally.”
Rachael Hamilton, Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP, added: “The extension will significantly benefit Liddesdale and the surrounding area.
“It will provide greater opportunities to travel to Edinburgh and Carlisle and encourage inward investment.
“Infrastructure projects need large capital funding but I’m confident that, once the feasibility study gets the go-ahead, it will show the line is needed to unlock economic growth in the Borders.”