A LANGHOLM community leader has criticised Scottish Borders Council for going it alone in pushing for the Borders railway extension to go through Newcastleton.
Denis Male, Langholm & Distrct Rail Group chairman, says Dumfries and Galloway and Scottish Borders council should work in partnership to lobby for an extension to be given the go-ahead without favouring one particular route.
He has now written to councillor Shona Haslam, Borders Council leader, and to councillor Elaine Murray, Dumfries and Galloway’s leader.
To Mrs Haslam, he wrote: “Our group is committed to the extension of the railway from Tweedbank and re-establishing, after an absence of more than 50 years, the Edinburgh to Carlisle link.
“It is recognised that, to a large extent, the route would follow the former Waverley line but, it should be recalled, the preferred route of both railway companies involved in the 1840s was through Langholm.
“It was only because of political wrangling that the final route chosen was through Newcastleton.
“We believe a route through Langholm remains the most viable option from an economic point of view and it would bring the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people.
“The Waverley route decision was based on the extraction and transportation of coal but that need no longer exists.
“The extraction of timber from Kielder is in decline and the focus of that activity for the next 10 to 50 years will be on the Esk Valley and Langholm.
“We’re concerned your council has decided to rubber-stamp the submission to the Union Connectivity Review which includes support for a route through Newcastleton.
“We believe that the stronger the economic case, the better the chances of the project succeeding and the Langholm option provides a stronger alternative to the Newcastleton route and should be properly investigated.
“We were promised that by the Minister of Transport in November 2019.
“We know the Campaign for Borders Rail has done a great job in promoting the Edinburgh to Carlisle route.
“Although many of our members are CBR members, it should not be involved in micro-managing the project and making decisions over which route the line should take.
“To bring the benefits ‘to the greater number of people’, Dumfries and Galloway must be involved.
“Current outline plans provide for four stations in the Borders. If the line went through Newcastleton, there would be five but none in D&G.
“Under the Borderlands Growth Deal, the two Scottish councils are supposedly equal partners with those over the border and the submission to the Union Connectivity Review should reflect that partnership.
“A united front will give the project a greater chance of success.
“Most rail users in your council area would prefer a link to Langholm rather than Newcastleton.
“Jobs are being created here with the recent inception of the Langholm and meaningful support from the South of Scotland Enterprise.
“The success of the Langholm Initiative in acquiring 5,200 acres of the moor indicate a major community commitment to reversing economic decline.
“We hope your council will reconsider its decision and give its support to whichever route is likely to bring ‘the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people’.
In a letter to councillor Elaine Murray, Dumfries and Galloway Council leader, he wrote: “We’re not sure whether you have made a submission under the Union Connectivity Review and, if so, does it include support for extending the railway onwards from Tweedbank to Carlisle?
“We have asked Scottish Borders Council to reconsider its decision and give its support to whichever route is likely to bring ‘the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people’.
“I hope you and your colleagues can support us in this view.”
A council spokesperson said: “We have received the letter and will be in touch with Langholm and District Rail Group in due course.”
Meanwhile, Oliver Mundell, Dumfriesshire MSP, took up the group’s letter with Michael Matheson, transport minister, in parliament on Monday.
He asked the minister whether the government would conduct a feasibility study on extending the railway to include an alternative route via Langholm.
Mr Matheson confirmed the second Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2) was underway and included consideration of options to extend the line from Tweedbank to Carlisle and towards Berwick-upon-Tweed.
He said phase two of the review would conclude this autumn.
He added: “Should an extension to Carlisle be recommended, the government will work with Borderlands Inclusive Growth Deal partners to progress to the next stages of business case development.
“This would include consideration of potential alignments (routes).
“Funding of £10m has been committed through the deal for more work, including £5m from the Scottish government.”