An industry coalition has backed the extension of the Borders Railway as a means to facilitate three-hour journeys between London and Glasgow, Edinburgh and the Borderlands.
Jim Steer, director of the High Speed Rail Group, has argued for a shift in emphasis, to make Carlisle a connecting hub for future HS2 services.
This would, he wrote in a just published newsletter, not only put Cumbria on the High Speed map, but would also make a completed Borders Railway a vital part of the national network.
The call came in the latest edition of the Campaign for Borders Rail newsletter.
Simon Walton, chair of the Campaign for Borders Rail, agreed with the High Speed Rail Group position on the connectivity afforded to the national network.
He said it was vital that the strategic importance of a completed Borders Railway was recognised.
He wrote “Completing the Borders Railway, through Hawick and on to Carlisle provides a nationally important infrastructure asset.
“It is also hugely beneficial to the Borderlands region and a force for economic and social regeneration for communities at a local level.”
“This communications spine will unlock an entire network of opportunities within the Borderlands,” he said.
“The advantage of a new cross-border rail link lies in the capacity made available on existing routes while opening up new markets to the Borders.”
Rail freight traffic has become an increasingly important part of the business case for the completed Borders Railway.
In his column, Jim Steer says freight traffic routed through and also originating in the Borderlands is becoming more commercially attractive.
“Freight companies crave service dependability. Investing in the rail option has to work, every day, year-round.
“Having a usable alternative route north of Carlisle to reach the freight terminals in Scotland’s central belt will be a real boost to market confidence.”
In May Network Rail awarded Arup a contract for engineering work on the planned Portobello Junction Enhancement Project aimed at boosting rail services to the Scottish Borders.
Arup’s work on the project has been valued at about £800,000 but there is a further £23m worth of work that could be added, Network Rail said.
Alex Hynes, managing director of Scotland’s Railway, at the time stressed the importance of the Portobello project.