Passenger numbers for the new Borders Railway have exceeded original estimates by nearly a quarter in the first six months.
From opening last September through to the end of March this year, there have been 694,373 trips on Borders Railway, representing an increase of 22 per cent on projected figures prior to opening. It is estimated that passenger trips will be maintained at 21 per cent over expectations through to the end of the first year of operation.
It’s news that’s been particularly welcomed by the Borders Railway Blueprint partnership, which was set up to maximise economic benefits from the new Borders Railway.
The Blueprint partnership, which is chaired by Scottish Enterprise, includes Transport Scotland, VisitScotland, Scottish Government and the three local authority areas on the route – Scottish Borders, Midlothian and City of Edinburgh – as well as Abellio ScotRail.
Danny Cusick, senior director for Textiles, Tourism, and Food & Drink at Scottish Enterprise and chair of the Borders Railway Blueprint Leaders Group said: “With 126,350 trips more than anticipated in the first six months, it’s clear that there is demand for the new railway, even before the Blueprint partnership’s first phase of developments have been fully implemented.
“As part of these developments, the railway will open up new business and investment opportunities, connecting planned housing and mixed-use projects, business and industrial parks, and new visitor attractions.
“The recent announcement by global IT company CGI to locate a digital centre of excellence in the Scottish Borders which has the potential to create up to 200 new jobs is an encouraging early example of a significant investment decision linked to Borders Railway.”
What Blueprint partnership members say
Scottish Borders Council One of the biggest success stories for the new railway has been at Galashiels and Tweedbank, the Scottish Borders stations, where demand has exceed expectations by more than 600 per cent.
Councillor David Parker, leader of Scottish Borders Council, said: “These are exciting times for the Scottish Borders with passenger numbers for the first six months highlighting the potential to create transformational change. The Central Borders Business Park and major visitor attraction for the Great Tapestry of Scotland are just two of the developments which will capitalise on this to encourage further growth.
“The passenger figures also provide a boost to the business case for extending the line to Carlisle and they will be considered carefully as part of the scoping exercise that is being commissioned.”
City of Edinburgh Council Cllr Andrew Burns, leader of the City of Edinburgh Council, said: “These passenger figures illustrate the benefit of the new Borders Railway. A significant number of people are using the railway to travel into Edinburgh for work and to enjoy everything our fantastic city has to offer, while it is also helping to boost the wider region’s tourism offer.”
Midlothian Council Midlothian Council’s cabinet member for economic development, councillor Jim Bryant said: “We welcome the six month figures. Exceeding projected passenger numbers by 22% is great news for the line as a whole and is a real indication of the fantastic economic benefits the railway can deliver if we continue to work with our Borders Railway Blueprint partnership agencies.
“We are confident Midlothian passenger numbers will increase. For example, further demand will be created by the new town of Shawfair, which is being built from scratch in Midlothian and represents the biggest urban expansion in Scotland in modern times. The first 120 homes of 4,000 are due to become available this winter.
“Indeed, we are already seeing the potential economic benefits of the four new stations. More people are moving to the county. The latest figures by the Registers of Scotland, published in April, show Midlothian had the biggest increase in house sales (up 48%) in the final quarter of 2015/2016.
“Borders Railway is also already unlocking private sector investment in Midlothian. We have ambitious plans to regenerate town centres, attract new companies to set up businesses here and improve cycling and walking routes.”
VisitScotland Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland said:“These are very encouraging figures for the first six months of the Borders Railway, particularly considering they cover a time of year that is traditionally seen as off season for visitors.
“Our marketing activity is being increased to target more visitors from UK and international markets, encouraging them to visit Midlothian and the Scottish Borders as part of their Edinburgh experience this summer and beyond.
“The re-establishment of the Borders Railway line demonstrates the growing tourism potential in the southeast and illustrates that tourism is more than a holiday experience – it creates jobs and sustains communities in every corner of Scotland and is at the heart of the Scottish economy.”
Phil Verster, managing director of the ScotRail Alliance, said: “We are incredibly proud to operate services on the Borders Railway – a route which, as the numbers show, is hugely popular with our customers.
“The extremely positive first six months is a wonderful start, and gives us a solid foundation on which to continue to attract new visitors to and from the Borders. We are committed to ensuring the lasting legacy of the Borders Railway.
“It’s clear that the success of the line has been a catalyst for other communities to champion their own rail links and we are working closely with partners to encourage and support economic growth across Scotland.
“We have recently appointed a Borders Railway Programme Executive who is already working closely with the Blueprint Partnership to ensure the lasting legacy of the new line by encouraging and supporting economic growth throughout the regions the railway touches.”
The Blueprint vision sees Borders Railway acting as a catalyst to stimulate economic growth. An inward investment prospectus has been published promoting site-specific developments in housing, commercial and leisure sectors. These create major opportunities for existing and new businesses to take advantage of growing markets and new connectivity to and from Edinburgh city centre. There are also inward investment incentives through the new assisted area location in the Railway corridor.
Supporting the Blueprint, The Scottish Government has made a commitment to invest £10 million. An additional 57,000 jobs are forecast for Edinburgh City Region and 37,200 jobs forecast to be created in the Borders Railway area by 2030.