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Rail official rebuffs claim new link to Borders will be a 'white elephant'

Published: 25 Jun 2012 09:302 comments

RAIL passengers in the Borders could be charged an average of £7 for a single ticket between Tweedbank and Edinburgh in future.

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RAIL passengers in the Borders could be charged an average of £7 for a single ticket between Tweedbank and Edinburgh in future.

Jonathan Hepton, the Borders Railway community liaison manager, made the statement during a presentation on the construction of the new line at Galashiels and Langlee Community Council on Wednesday night.

He explained he based his estimate on an average 20 mile rail journey costing £3.48.

However, with a free bus pass scheme for older and disabled passengers, he was forced to rebuff a suggestion by a member of the public that the £295million project was "a white elephant".

Mr Hepton said: "There are more people using trains than ever before." And Scottish Borders Council's deputy leader, Councillor John Mitchell, added: "We had to prove the business case before the project went ahead."

Members heard there were no plans to include wi-fi connections - which would allow passengers access to the internet - on trains travelling on the route - much to the dismay of at least one community councillor.

However, Mr Hepton said the Scottish Government had agreed to investigate the possibility of installing the technology on all trains on the Scottish network during the lifetime of the Scottish Parliament.

Community councillor Rick Kenney said: "The decision not to include wi-fi on trains seems to be a bit of a backward step."

The meeting heard construction on the new rail line between the Borders and Edinburgh was due to begin later this year.

Mr Hepton pointed out that Scottish Borders Council had already spent almost £4million diverting local utilities during advanced works.

However, concerns were raised over the construction of a new rail bridge in Currie Road, Galashiels, amid fears it could block local residents views.

Mr Hepton said: "I recognise that is a sensitive area and we want to think very carefully about what they are doing there." But he added: "This is for Network Rail and the contractor to design. The council has fairly limited grounds for modifications or changes."

The community council was also told there were no plans to perform a u-turn over controversial proposals to demolish the road bridge in Galashiels at Plumtree Brae, which links the A7 with the A72, and replace it with a footbridge.

Mr Hepton, who admitted it was "a useful link" and its closure to make way for trains would "inconvenience" motorists, said: "I am aware there have been some concerns expressed about the closure of the Plumtree Hall Bridge."

But he added: "The Wheatlands road bridge has to be a certain height to allow vehicles to access the industrial estate and we want to avoid a rollercoaster if we can."

Members also heard some sections of the black path would have to be diverted to accommodate the tracks. That includes the building of a new cycle way between Galashiels and Clovenfords.

Mr Hepton revealed the contractors had no commitment to replace the entire route. But he added: "New paths will have to be brought into use before the old paths are closed."

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