NEXT week, we’re going to see the most important event in the Scottish Borders for decades. After nearly half a century, we’re finally getting our railway back.

It’s hard to put into words just what a great benefit this is set to be. Suddenly, we’re closer to the rest of Scotland. Regular trains from early morning until late evening will reduce the travel time to Edinburgh and the Central Belt to less than an hour.

It will also hopefully mean we’ll get a big economic, social and tourist boost. Young people heading off to higher and further education, commuters travelling up and down, shoppers and older people making the most of easy and affordable travel - it will help them all.

We’re launching the new Edinburgh to Tweedbank service in style. The Queen has agreed to perform the official opening ceremony next week, travelling at the whole length of the line on a special steam service and meeting local people.

She’s coming here on the day she becomes the longest serving monarch in British history, so it’s going to be a special occasion for her as well as for us. And I’ve no doubt we’ll mark both of these historic events with the kind of warm Borders welcome for which we are renowned.

This £294 million project is a huge investment in our futures, and it’s worth looking at some of the statistics. The biggest new railway development in the UK for more than 100 years, it’s required the laying of more than 95,000 sleepers, with 95 bridges being refurbished and 42 new ones built. Some 1000 people have worked on the infrastructure in all weathers. Of course we owe them our thanks too.

It’s a new railway, but it has a long, distinguished and controversial history behind it. The route largely replicates part of the former Waverley line, an engineering project to link in Edinburgh with London via Carlisle, with the Borders section finished in 1862.

Building it was a huge physical challenge which involved driving the line through some of the toughest and bleakest countryside you can imagine. It meant hard graft in dreadful weather conditions, accidents and at least one murder. At least this time, we’ve managed to avoid that!

The route served communities in the Scottish Borders and beyond well for more than 100 years, but it was marked for closure under Dr Beeching’s infamous cost reduction programme in the 1960s. Looking back now, history has recorded this senseless shutdown as arguably the most foolhardy of Beeching’s short-sighted cuts.

The campaign to save the 98-mile-long line was vociferous, with a petition containing nearly 12,000 signatures taken to Downing Street by local campaigners. It didn’t succeed. Borderers rallying against the closure fought all the way and even blocked the last train down the line to London in 1969, but the authorities were determined to axe it and they did.

Now, finally, it’s back and it offers us some massive opportunities. The new railway should dramatically increase our attractiveness to tourists, bringing them into the heart of the region. They’ll come not just to enjoy our distinctive towns and shops but also visit iconic destinations such as Abbotsford and our ruined abbeys and engage in cycling and walking opportunities.

The route will hopefully also act as a magnet for investors and entrepreneurs. That will mean more jobs locally. And the new £5 million transport interchange next to Galashiels station will mean that the benefits will spread to the wider area too.

It’s estimated that our local economy will be boosted by some £33 million as a result of the railway. In an area like the Borders, that’s a lot of money. It’s a great resource: let’s now ensure that we capitalise on the investment and we use it.

To have this new line is an act of commitment to and confidence in our region by the Scottish Government. It demonstrates that ministers at Holyrood really are working in the interests of the whole country and not just of our major cities or the Central Belt There’s just one issue remaining. While undoubtedly we will now gain a huge improvement to our transport infrastructure, we’ve only partially restored the wrongs of the Beeching cuts. We still have only half a railway.

To restore that original service on to Hawick and Carlisle would of course require a lot more public money and the social and commercial case would need to be made. Government ministers say that they want to see how the new line performs before any decisions are made on any possible extension.

That’s right and proper, but I believe it would still make sense to carry out a feasibility study into continuing it to Carlisle. Here in the Borders, we need to make the case for ourselves now, so that when it comes up for discussion, we should have the strongest possible arguments in place. I believe it would be helpful to begin that process of evaluation as soon as possible.

Having a railway north from Tweedbank to Edinburgh is going to make a significant difference. Having the same line extended south into England would be even better. It would create some terrific opportunities. Taking traffic off the underinvested and unloved A7 would reduce the risk of accidents, could lead to easier transport of goods, would create less disturbance and would cut down on environmental impacts.

It could also boost the economies on both sides of the border to our mutual benefit and create a fantastic tourist trail from Yorkshire right up to Edinburgh. The marketing opportunities offered by a Railway route including the Settle to Carlisle line – England’s most beautiful rail journey - and a restored Waverley line would be huge and create a whole new stream of visitor revenue.

That, though, is all for the future. For now, let’s use and enjoy the fantastic new resource we have. It’s been a long journey to get here, but we’re finally back on track. Now let’s celebrate and make the most of it.