HOLYROOD has confirmed a major milestone has been passed in restoring a rail link between the central Borders and the capital.
Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson confirmed late yesterday afternoon that responsibility for keeping the Waverley line on track had been switched from local councils to the government agency Transport Scotland.
Experts from the national transport body have carried out a close examination of the Waverley plans and have told Holyrood ministers they can be given the green light.
It means responsibility for finding the cash and putting the work out to contract – the procurement stage – is now officially no longer the responsibility of the Waverley Partnership, made up of Borders, Midlothian and the City of Edinburgh Councils.
Speaking at Newcraighall – one of the stations on the planned route – Mr Stevenson declared: "The transition is a significant milestone and a defining moment in the evolution of this project.
"We remain committed to working closely with the three local authorities and look forward to the future with confidence."
The timetable for the multimillion pound line outlined by the minister will see invitations to tender published across Europe by the end of this year, final tendering starting in 2010, and the successful bidder being confirmed by the end of that year.
Work is due to start early in 2011, with trains running in the spring of 2013.
Companies will be told tenders must be within the 235 to 295million range.
Mr Stevenson added: "Procurement is a crucial phase of the Waverley project. Our market consultation exercise will set the parameters of the project for potential bidders and provide them with the information necessary to prepare the best tenders for this important transport scheme.
"It will also enable potential bidders to ask key questions before the procurement phase begins, and we expect significant interest from a number of companies."
The news was hailed by council leader David Parker as a major move forward.
He told TheSouthern: "This means that the burden of risk of the construction and costs have been removed from the council. The Waverley Partnership had looked at the possibility of forming a company for this purpose but the construction phase is now with the Scottish Government and Transport Scotland, which will now take the project to the market place.
"This is a major milestone. The line to towns in Midlothian and the Borders will serve a population base close to 200,000 people who currently have no direct access to a railway line.
"Other areas in the UK, with much smaller populations, continue to depend on their rail links. The future health of the Borders is depending, in part, on greater accessibility – both to the area, and to wider parts of Scotland."
And leader Parker confirmed Scottish Borders Council's cash commitment to the final bill has been capped at 30million plus inflation to be paid over 30 years after the first train runs. He said payments would be 175,000 a year with a final lump sum of 1.6million in 2043. The balance comes from a raft of other funding.
Compulsory contributions made by developers in certain parts of the Borders will pull in 8.7million.
Mr Parker told us: “Even if there were no more development contributions we can meet those figures. We have been cautious to get the best deal for the Borders.”
Midlothian councillor Russell Imrie added: “This represents a major step forward for the Waverley project, which will play a crucial role in creating jobs, improving access to the employment market and providing more housing in Midlothian.”
Chief executive of Transport Scotland Dr Malcolm Reed commented: “This is an important project for Edinburgh, Midlothian and the Borders and we will continue to work closely with all three local authorities, as well as in partnership with the rail industry, to deliver this new railway on time and within budget.”
Plans for the Waverley were approved by the Scottish Parliament in the summer of 2006 and signed off by the Queen during her annual holiday in Scotland in July the same year.