A legal battle is looming to determine who should pick up the bill for repairs to roads and bridges damaged during the construction phase of the £350m Borders Railway.
Scottish Borders Council estimates the repair bill at £1.6m, and it wants Network Rail to pay up.
However, the rail infrastructure management body disputes that claim, and talks to resolve the ensuing disagreement have hit the buffers.
The upshot is that the council is suing Network Rail for the sum it claims it is owed.
A preliminary hearing will be held at Selkirk Sheriff Court next month so the issues in dispute can be identified and procedural matters considered.
And if the warring parties stick to their guns, it could take 18 months to secure a judgement in the Court of Session, Scotland’s supreme civil court.
The catalogue of damage inflicted on and around the A7 corridor north of Galashiels – detrunked and thus the responsibility of the council since 1994 – was compiled in the weeks before the railway opened in September 2015.
The first indication that the compensation claim would be contested by Network Rail came in April last year in a report to the council’s scrutiny committee.
After that meeting, Selkirkshire councillor Gordon Edgar, the authority’s executive member for roads and infrastructure, admitted: “The costed and detailed claim in respect of excessive damage cause by the volume of traffic and heavy plant machinery during the railway’s two-year construction phase is being disputed. “We hope, however, this matter can be resolved without having to go to court and engage the services of expensive lawyers.”
However, the pending court hearing, due to take place during the week beginning Monday, February 13, confirms that no such agreement has been reached.
“The claim covers the cost of repairing damaged side roads and includes the extensive costs we incurred in keeping the road network open during the railway works,” said a council source not wishing to be named.
“Many people will recall how thousands of tonnes of earth were moved around and how the road had to be washed down regularly to keep it safe.
“That was carried out by the council, and we believe Network Rail has a contractual obligation to cover the costs.
“If we are successful, then all the money will be devoted solely to sorting that part of the roads network. If we are not successful, we will have to look at revisiting our capital spending priorities.
“At this point, we do not know Network Rail’s legal position, but we suspect it will argue that the damage was not as bad as we are claiming.”
A spokesperson for Network Rail confirmed the council claim was being disputed but added: “Given the ongoing legal proceedings, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”