THE UK government has announced it is backing a full feasibility study into extending the Borders Railway to Carlisle.
David Mundell, Scottish Secretary, confirmed the government supported the study as part of the £345m Borderlands Growth Deal.
Mr Mundell wrote to fellow Conservative MP John Lamont, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk who raised the issue in Westminster last week.
The deal is jointly funded by the UK and Scottish governments so the progress of the study now depends on Scottish ministers agreeing to give it the go-ahead.
It is expected that the heads of terms for the Borderlands Growth Deal will be signed in June so the feasibility study could begin this year.
Mr Mundell told the E&L Advertiser: “The UK government and myself, as Scottish Secretary, are funding the part of the study from Carlisle to the border.
“The study for the Scottish bit will be agreed between the Scottish government and the councils.
“As MP, I support the Langholm option but it’s not something I can dictate as a government minister.
“Ultimately, that will be determined by the Scottish government and the councils.
“There is a complication in that Transport Scotland came up with a different route unexpectedly – from Tweedbank to the East Coast main line – and councils on both sides of the border don’t support that route.”
Mr Lamont said that before the 2016 Scottish parliamentary election, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon promised a feasibility study on extending the railway.
To date, it had produced a transport study which listed extending the railway as a possible option to be considered at a future date.
He said: “This is great news for the campaign to bring the railway to Hawick and beyond.
“We need to improve transport links in the Borders and extending the railway is part of this.
“A full feasibility study will look in detail at the costs and benefits of bringing the railway to Hawick, Newcastleton and on to Carlisle.
“I’d expect this to look at the impact on businesses, jobs, tourism and the implications of getting freight off roads.
“With the UK government now publicly backing the study, the ball is in the SNP’s court.
“It is time for the First Minister to fulfil her promise with some funding and get this campaign properly moving.”
Barbara Elborn, Newcastleton Community Council secretary, added: “This is a huge leap forward in our campaign to push for the extension of the line to Carlisle.
“We can only hope now that our Scottish parliamentarians see the benefits of undertaking this wide-reaching study.
“There is no doubt the benefits of reinstating the line will be felt by all in the Borderlands Growth Deal catchment but a feasibility study, which delves deeply to understand the full opportunities, must, in our view, include freight.
“Communities, which have lived through the last 50 years without the line, have no doubts at all about the rewards it will bring.”
Oliver Mundell, Dumfriesshire MSP, revealed he had received confirmation from the Scottish government transport secretary that no decision had yet been taken on a route for the proposed railway’s southern extension.
He said: “The first objective, in my view, has to be securing a decision on the principle of extending the line to Carlisle.
“Which of the two main route options, Langholm or Newcastleton, will be subject of a subsequent decision and supporters of the various proposals will have the opportunity to make a case.
“I’m pleased by the reassurances I’ve received that the Langholm option will be fully considered as part of the scoping process.”
Mr Mundell said it was quite natural for MPs and MSPs to be most supportive of any railway route which would maximise the benefit to their own constituency.
He added: “One of the biggest challenges facing Langholm and district rail group is ensuring they receive Dumfries and Galloway Council’s full support.”
Denis Male, chairman of the group, said that once the line passed Hawick, the study should look at the economic benefits to the communities.
He said: “That should be a major part of where the route goes. While Langholm didn’t have a rail route, it had a very good branch line which carried passengers and goods.
“As timber extraction grows at Eskdalemuir and other areas, there’s an economic argument in our favour.”
He said the railway would fit into the community action plan being drawn up through the Langholm Alliance working with SURF.
“I’m delighted we have the support of our councillors and we’re trying to set up a meeting with all the political groups.”