SCOTTISH Borders Council Leader David Parker welcomed the return of rail services to the region for the first time in almost 50 years - and then promised: “This is just the beginning.”

He officially opened the new train terminus in Tweedbank on Saturday following the completion of the new Borders Railway, which traces the path of the former Waverley Line, closed in 1969, to Edinburgh.

And then he vowed to continue to campaign for it to be extended the full length of the route to Hawick and Carlisle.

Speaking to the Border Telegraph before taking his seat on the first train to carry fare-paying passengers on the line, the 8.45am service from Tweedbank to Edinburgh on Sunday, Councillor Parker said: “We always said that this was the beginning, Tweedbank was only ever going to be the first stop on this railway. All of us now need to come together again, redouble our efforts and get this line down to Hawick and Carlisle.

“The fact that we’ve already sold out all the steam trains before the line even opened just shows how much appetite there is for a railway. And we’ll only ever realise the proper economic benefits when we get to Hawick and Carlisle and I’m convinced we can make that happen.”

Last week the Border Telegraph revealed that all the steam train trips planned on the line, which boasts a 55 minute journey time from one end of the line to the other, have sold out.

This week extra carriages had to be attached to the trains on the regular half hourly services to cope with the demand from passengers, some of whom had queued for hours to ensure their place on the first train.

And with all 235 car parking spaces, as well as adjoining pavements, taken at Tweedbank on the opening day the park and ride may also have to be extended.

Councillor Parker said: “It’s an absolutely tremendous day. This is the first passenger train that will leave Tweedbank for 46 years, we’ve got a great crowd here, it’s a gorgeous day and it’s a really, really fantastic day for all those campaigners who have worked so hard over the last 17 years to make this railway a reality.

“The reaction has already been really exciting. The Golden Ticket winners all had a tremendous day on Saturday. I’ve been absolutely inundated with messages of goodwill and thanks. And the one thing that every single person was saying to me is that the train journey is quicker than they expected, it’s smoother than they expected and that it’s much more scenic than they expected. It really is a gorgeous line.”

The Queen will give the Borders Railway the Royal seal of approval when she travels down the line on board a steam train today (Wednesday) - the day she becomes the longest serving British monarch. She is due to arrive in Tweedbank shortly after midday for a plaque unveiling ceremony.

Among the VIP passengers on the steam locomotive Union of South Africa will be South of Scotland MSP Claudia Beamish who, with support from the Campaign for Borders Rail, successfully campaigned for the station platforms along the route of the new rail line to be redesigned to accommodate 12-coach tourist charter trains.

Ms Beamish said: “To be on the first steam train journey since the line re-opened is a real thrill as it brings home just what a huge achievement it is for all those who have campaigned for this moment. Often in the face of opposition from policy makers, the Campaign for Borders Rail stood firm in their belief that reopening this line would be good for the Borders but good for Scotland too.

“I was very concerned that although the line would be suitable for commuter services, it was missing a trick in not having a long enough platform at Tweedbank to accommodate steam trains. Thus I was delighted to have helped to draw this issue to the Scottish Government’s attention, alongside the Campaign and to get agreement on this. There is enormous untapped potential to attract tourists to use the new line and experience the Borders like never before.

“For the future, I am determined to continue to try to convince those in my own party and the Scottish Government of the importance of getting the line extended through Hawick to Carlisle and will be glad to work on this with CBR.”

Rail campaigners argue Hawick has suffered the most, out of all the towns in the Borders, following the closure of the former Waverley Line.

However, they believe the popularity of the new route, which cost £295 million to build, will boost the case for further rail reinstatement - although some experts say it could cost three times - some £900 million - to link the Scottish line with England.

CBR Chair Simon Walton said: “Hawick is the Borders town which has suffered most from the loss of the old Waverley Route in 1969. And to meet its full potential, the Borders also needs a direct rail link to the south.

“The key benefits of southwards extension would include social inclusion, economic regeneration and tourism opportunities – and sustainable transport for timber from Kielder and the Borders forests, getting log lorries off the roads. And a reinstated railway through to Carlisle would provide a strategic diversionary route, relieving pressure on the busy West Coast Main Line.

“It’s very encouraging that Scottish Borders Council, led by Councillor David Parker, is already pushing strongly for a major feasibility study to examine all the opportunities for passenger and freight traffic that an extended railway would provide. And CBR will be delighted to provide informed input, ensuring that the mistakes made in the original Scottish Borders Railway Feasibility Study in 2000 are not repeated this time round.

“The physical obstacles to extending the line to Hawick initially are far fewer than had to be overcome in construction between Edinburgh and Tweedbank – such as the massive multi-million pound structure needed to burrow under the Edinburgh City Bypass.”