Living in Edinburgh gives you a particular perspective on transport. The Central Belt of Scotland (roughly Glasgow / Stirling / Fife / Edinburgh) is a highly urbanised region far, far North in Great Britain. Transports are therefore very well developed, with many suburban train lines, subways in Glasgow and trams in Edinburgh. Intertown buses are well developed (in Fife for example), and it is fairly easy to navigate in the region. However, coming originally from France (a country that has built -too?- many high speed lines), travelling to the South or to Europe remains a mission. Trains to London are frequent and comfortable, but they still take at least four and a bit hours. As for the North of Scotland, where tourism and outdoor activities are well developed, the choice remains pretty weak.
Therefore, a new railway line project in the region is always interesting, which is why I am trying to stay updated on the Borders Railway project which is underway and should open in 2016. I won't explain the whole project, but the idea is to reopen an old line stretching between Waverley and Tweedbank. This is not a high-speed line and it will not be linked to any other railway on the way. It is a cul-de-sac line from/to Edinburgh which will make commuters' journeys far more enjoyable than what buses can offer.
Don't get me wrong: this project is a promising one. Towns like Galashiels or Tweedbank (or St Andrews, but this is a different story...) should have their own stations, trains, and all that lovely/bonkers railway universe I read too much about when I was a child. Those towns did have all of that, many years ago, until the GB network was gradually deboned.
However, although I fiercely support it, reopening old railway lines is extremely delicate in terms of symbols. As a Historian in the making, I am seeing this debate as a dangerous conflict between Securing the Future and Blaming the Past.
Historians often have to differentiate History from Memory: we need to address and question the past, not criticise it and blame it. The same has to be done here. Pretty awful railway policies were undertaken in the second part of the 20th century, that is true. It is extremely stupid to rebuild something that our ancestors decided to destroy, true again. Then we need to make sure that public transport isn't just a trend, but a sustainable investment that will still make sense in fifty years time.
At the moment, for many reasons (irregular timetables, fares that aren't always fair, some stations' questionable location), not enough has been done to convince local populations that public transport is a real and durable alternative to cars. When it comes to what railways mean, each small line such as the Borders Railway (or the one near my French hometown, which I will not rant about just yet), is bound to all similar ones in the country. Opening one "for fun" makes little sense, but having a nationwide coordinated network with many destinations to offer does at a completely different scale.
Thus, if we are going to keep spending m(b?)illions of pounds to accommodate public transport users, let's make sure these people aren't a minority anymore. Marketers, Communicators, Policy Makers, it is time to brag and brand.