trains will be running through the central Borders countryside again by December 2014, Scottish Government transport minister Keith Brown insisted this week.
Mr Brown was speaking during a visit to Galashiels on Tuesday to view preliminary works and road improvements in the town.
There has been speculation that the reopening of the Borders rail link will be delayed until 2015 at the earliest, with unnamed industry sources being quoted this week as saying there was “not a hope in hell” the line would be completed by the end of 2014, as planned.
Construction work on the Edinburgh-Tweedbank route is not expected to start until at least this autumn – already a year late. But Mr Brown firmly stated the scheme was on course to be completed on time and that the project was a sign of the Scottish Government’s commitment to developing rail services.
“The town’s new inner relief road will assist the construction of this hugely-important scheme, bringing the very real benefits of around 300 jobs and vital investment to Galashiels and the rest of the Scottish Borders, whilst causing as little disruption as possible,” said Mr Brown, adding: “As well as the more obvious jobs and investment benefits, this line will also cut carbon emissions and congestion on the roads.”
It was five months ago that Mr Brown announced Network Rail would take over the scheme after two of the three shortlisted bidders pulled out.
But Network Rail is still assessing the design of the 35-mile route, the final bill for which will be met by the Scottish Government and the three partner local authorities, including Scottish Borders Council (SBC).
The Holyrood administration will pay 90 per cent of the costs, with the councils paying the balance from housing developer contributions and various grant funding.
SBC leader David Parker, who met Mr Brown while the minister was in Galashiels, admitted: “It is a very ambitious timetable to have trains running by December 2014. But that is what everyone is working towards delivering.
“Everything the government has said since the transfer of the scheme [to Network Rail] is that it will be December 2014. They have been absolutely unquestionable about that.
“But it will be a major feat because this is a big, big project. They can do it, though, but much will depend on getting the right contractor ”
Meanwhile, Mr Parker has welcomed a forced change of location for the Tweedbank railway station – which will be the southern terminus for the new link – as good news for the village. His comments came after rail chiefs revealed underground high-voltage cables mean when the reinstated link finally opens, trains will stop short of the original proposed Tweedbank site.
Transport Scotland has now lodged its plans for the new station, part of the near-£300million project, with the local authority. And the agency revealed that it now wants to construct the new station to run parallel with Jura Drive and Blakehope Court, on the opposite side of the Black Path. The original proposal was for the development to be sited on an area of land nearest the Black Path, opposite the junction into Craw Wood.
Although the road entrance to the new rail terminus will remain at a new roundabout in Tweedbank Drive, opposite the entrance to the industrial estate, the station will be slightly closer to where it was originally intended to be built, with the station pedestrian entrance near Jura Drive.
Mr Parker told TheSouthern this week the proposals were good news for the village as the station would be less visually intrusive because it will be in a railway cutting surrounded by trees.
He added: “It is also likely to be much more environmentally beneficial in general. The new pedestrian access is in a good location to serve the village of Tweedbank and overall the new proposals are a big improvement on what was previously proposed.”