South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has expressed his fear that the campaign for the extension of the Borders rail line to Carlisle will suffer a loss of support if the preferred route by passes Dumfries and Galloway.
The local MSP said that snubbing Langholm as a preferred stop in the campaign for any extended rail line would result in pressure within Dumfries and Galloway not to include a planned feasibility study within the proposed Borderlands Growth Deal.
Colin Smyth has now written to Simon Walton, the Chair of the Campaign for they Borders Railway, urging the campaign to consider backing plans for the route to go through Dumfries and Galloway. The local MSP believes that the case for the rail extension any further south than Hawick would be weakened if the preferred route fails to travel through any population centres between Hawick and Longtown.
Colin Smyth said, “The Borders railway has been a huge success and there is a powerful case for an extension not just as far south as Hawick but beyond to Carlisle. It has been a genuine grassroots campaign that has united communities not just in the Borders but beyond. That resulted in calls for a feasibility study to be included within plans for the Borderlands Growth Deal but that is clearly still only provisional. When I chaired Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Economy Committee, the council backed the Borders railway extension but also agreed that the route should include Langholm as a preferred stop. That support has continued through the development of the Borderlands Growth Deal but that was clearly on the understanding that Langholm is included as possible stop. The proposals in the Borderlands Growth Deal require the agreement of all five local councils. I have no doubt there will be enormous pressure from the local community in Eskdale for Dumfries and Galloway Council to remove its support if any submission in the Borderlands Growth Deal ignore calls for the preferred route to pass through Langholm. When a public meeting was organised by the Getting Langholm Back on Track campaign in May 2017 the spokesperson for the Campaign for Borders Rail said they did not rule out going through Langholm as a possible route. That seems to have changed since then and every time the issue is raised, including in Parliament, the route referred to completely excludes Langholm.
Failing to include Langholm actually massively damages the case for the extension. You can easily justify the line as far as Hawick but south of the town the case is weaker due to the fact the old route for the railway didn’t actually go through any population centres from Hawick before it reached Cumbria. Going through Langholm means the largest town in Eskdale would be served. The failure to acknowledge this has led to growing frustration within Eskdale that when campaigners talk about the line extension they make the mistake of taking for granted that it should follow the old route. Instead of looking to the past they we should look to the future and what suits the community and local economy now, not 100 years ago when the Waverly route was built. It is vital that we maximise support for the extension of the Borders railway, not alienate communities”