East West Rail’s potential ‘perfectly illustrated’ by huge success of reopened Scottish railway

  • Reopened Borders Railway has seen passenger numbers almost treble those first forecast
  • Project hailed for ‘revolutionising’ Scottish Borders economy - increasing business investment, driving footfall, boosting tourism and improving work and leisure opportunities
  • Success of project shows how EWR can ‘create a huge positive legacy’ for Oxford to Cambridge region, as highlighted at recent Transport Select Committee hearing

A railway which has attracted almost three times as many passengers than originally forecast 'perfectly illustrates the huge potential of East West Rail’, EWR Co CEO Beth West has said.

Borders Railway, which connects Edinburgh and Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders, provides the blueprint for East West Rail in terms of the regeneration it has delivered, including business investment, more jobs, increased footfall and a boost in tourism which is reaping rewards locally.

At 35 miles, it is a similar length to East West Rail’s proposed new section of railway linking Bedford and Cambridge, which is 38 miles. The former Varsity line and the Borders Railway (which was then known as the Waverley line) were both closed in the 1960s. Through services from Oxford to Cambridge ended in 1966 and the Borders Railway closed in 1969.

Leader of the Scottish Borders Council, Cllr Euan Jardine, said the project has massively exceeded expectations, providing a “boom” to overcome initial opposition to the railway.

He said that initially it was thought Borders Railway would carry around 600,000 passengers a year but by 2018/19 that figure has risen to 1,789,467. Such high demand led to Scotrail introducing more carriages and a more frequent service. It has been so successful that a £10 million feasibility study has now been commissioned to look at extending the line from its current terminus.

Cllr Jardine said the town of Galashiels, which is served by Borders Rail, used to be a struggling, run-down high street before the railway’s arrival, but is now a rejuvenated town centre today.

He said: “There was a whole political party set up to stop the railway being put into place because they felt it was going to be detrimental to the countryside. They felt there wouldn't be any economic case for it, it was going to be a waste of money, but that has absolutely been forgotten about now because of the boom.

“It’s revolutionised Galashiels. We've got a lot of things happening. The streets used to have quite a few empty shops, but now, the shops are getting filled and people are coming in. Businesses have also started to invest in the Borders, businesses and law firms, which is very, very important for the local economy. But it's also bringing people here to get them working.”

A Transport Committee session examining East West Rail heard earlier this month how Borders Rail has been “extraordinarily popular”, has generated “lots of economic development” and that “tourism has increased massively” as a result of the railway.*

Beth West, CEO, East West Railway Company, said: “Borders Railway is an outstanding example of how a railway can be transformational for local economies and communities, helping places flourish and become more dynamic and desirable to visit.

“The positive turnaround that has happened in Galashiels as a direct result of Borders Railway perfectly illustrates the huge potential of East West Rail to transform Bedford in particular, as well as to deliver real long-term benefits along the entire route from Oxford to Cambridge via Milton Keynes.

“Successful case studies like Borders Rail provide an encouraging and inspiring blueprint for East West Rail to deliver a huge, positive legacy for residents, business and economies across the route.”


The Borders Railway was officially opened by the Queen in 2015 and connects Edinburgh with Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders and in total serves nine stations along its route. The East West Railway Company plans to re-establish train services between Oxford, Bicester, Bletchley, Milton Keynes, Bedford, Tempsford, Cambourne and Cambridge. 

Council and business leaders in the Scottish Borders have highlighted the many benefits that the railway has brought to the area such as an increase in footfall in town centres, more business investment in the region and better work and leisure opportunities for local people.

The Borders Railway has also provided a boom for the tourism industry within the Borders region.

Tourism performance reports show an increase in tourism activity from 2015 to 2019, including a 13% increase in visitor days, a 29% increase in the economic impact and a 3% increase in employment in tourism. Edinburgh is an internationally renowned tourist destination and a direct rail link from the Scottish capital into the Borders has encouraged more tourists to explore what the region has to offer. During the summer months tourist attractions like Abbotsford - the home of Sir Walter Scott - have laid on special buses to connect with rail services at Tweedbank station.

Paul Hutchison, assistant manager of the Kings Arms hotel in Melrose, said he noticed the new railway provided an immediate boost for the area. He said: “It’s made a massive difference. You instantly saw a lot more travel. It brought in a lot more of a diverse crowd, as well as just bringing in more money for the towns and the Borders. In doing that as well, obviously, you then saw a big increase in money being spent in the towns too, which is obviously made it a lot better for us all… it’s all basically been because of the start of the railway.”

The Campaign for Borders Rail was set up in 1999 to lobby for the reopening of the line and they are not surprised by its success. In fact, the line has been so successful a £10 million pound feasibility study has now been commissioned to look at extending the line from its current terminus at Tweedbank to Hawick and onto Carlisle. This would reinstate the full line which was closed in the 1960s. The Campaign for Borders Rail believe the Borders Railway represents a blueprint of what can be achieved in other areas.

Marion Short, from Campaign for Borders Rail, said: “I know that other campaigns all over the country are now watching us, because they see us as somewhat leading the way in having the railway reinstated. Even our national politicians were not supportive in the first instance about this railway being built. But they now see the benefits that it could regenerate the whole area.”


Notes to editor

Borders Rail case study video

*Gavin Newlands, Scottish National Party MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North and Shadow SNP Spokesperson for Transport, told an oral evidence session of the Transport Committee examining East West Rail on March 6 that Borders Rail has been “extraordinarily popular”, generating “lots of economic development” and that “tourism has increased massively” as a result of the railway.