Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Stand by for a remake of The Iron Horse?

Mrs Forrester insisted on a trip to Galashiels on August Bank Holiday Monday to indulge in a bout of light shopping. We hadn't been near the retail capital of the Borders for some time, and I was interested to see how vibrant and bustling the place had become as local businesses and residents gear up excitedly for the railway's return.

We were in for a bit of a shock.

Government agencies and the Borders council may have lavished millions on Gala in recent years to the virtual exclusion of other towns and villages in sheep and rugby country. But the impact appears to have been less than positive and we were certainly not left with the impression that the reopening of the Waverley line in 2015 was generating much confidence among the shopkeeping fraternity.

There appeared to be more empty retail premises than you'd have found in a Wild West town after the gold prospectors left, there didn't appear to be many potential customers about, and had there been a favourable wind I fully expected the tumble weed to be drifting down Channel Street and into the ornately restored Cornmill Square.

Surely by now the development department, or whoever arranges for the arrival of new retailers should be snowed under while trying to cope with demand if the Borders Railway is providing an advance energy boost for the local economy.

On the contrary, this week's Border Telegraph informs us there are 36 empty shop units in Galashiels alone, and there's talk of a special 'task force' being required to address the issue. The council's own report on town centre footfall for 2013 puts the vacancy rate at 15 per cent with similar levels of unused units in Hawick (16%) and Selkirk (15%).

The actual footfall figures paint an equally depressing picture with the Galashiels total down from 9,500 in 2007 to 8,100 last year, a drop of 15 per cent over seven years. Hawick and Selkirk have both suffered massive falls in their totals in the same period - Hawick down from 9,680 to 6,200 (36%), and Selkirk from 3,690 to 2,420 (34%).

Perhaps it is time for a promotional movie about the new Waverley line based on John Ford's classic film The Iron Horse (1924). The beautiful Borders countryside would provide the perfect backdrop for Iron Horse Two (or is it Three), celebrating the end of sheep and rugby country's status as a remote frontier and a new dawning of industrial and commercial conquest.

The 2014 epic could show the outside world how our £350 million rail project is about to forge our individual settlements into a new railway community. Like Ford, the maker of Iron Horse 2/3 could bring in large numbers of Cheviots and Aberdeen Angus, then fade them out to illustrate the industrialisation of Border Country.

In the interests of tourism - maybe VisitScotland will agree to sponsor this particular clip - I hope the producer retains one marvellous story line from the original version. It features a scheming businessman who likes to dress up as a Comanche warrior and scalps people to further his money making schemes. I reckon that would be a real crowd puller, and it shouldn't be too difficult to find a local entrepreneur who'd be perfect for the part..

The Iron Horse towns of the 1860s and 1870s - the period in which the film was set - were flimsy affairs. A town is constructed at the furthest end of the unfinished railroad for workers and hangers-on, "a seedy place, always about to erupt into violence."

When the railroad moves on, this town is abandoned, and the residents build another town further west. Could this be the future for Tweedbank and Hawick? Ah well that's the happy ending sorted!

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