Parker fears delay to rail reopening

DAVID Parker has admitted the Borders Railway Project could be delayed until 2015.

Scottish Borders Council’s leader said the scheduled reopening of the 35-mile line for 2014 is now an “ambitious timescale” in the wake of delays in the current procurement process, but he insisted the scheme was still on track.

TheSouthern reported in November 2010 that Transport Scotland expected the £230million construction contract for the rail link to be awarded this month.

But delays – believed to centre around sole Dutch bidder BAM seeking more cash, as well as the government agency considering its options after two other consortia withdrew in the last year – mean it will be the start of next year before the tender is handed out, with work due to commence next summer.

And Mr Parker said he would “not be surprised” if the project now missed its 2014 deadline.

However, the independent councillor told TheSouthern he was aware the project would be delayed but was not concerned as the procurement route being used is “novel” and was always likely to take time.

Mr Parker added: “Transport Scotland is totally committed to delivering the project efficiently and at a value for money price and it is working very carefully to make sure that the procurement process is robust.

“It is very important at this stage that time is taken over the procurement to ensure that we don’t have the difficulties that some other major projects have experienced.

“I am very relaxed about how the project is being managed and the current rescheduling of the procurement timetable is not only perfectly understandable but also desirable to ensure that we get the best possible outcome.”

But he added: “As for opening the railway in 2014, this is an ambitious timescale but it is possible to achieve, although I would not be surprised if ultimately the project did not operate until 2015.”

Jim Hume, Liberal Democrat MSP for the South of Scotland and his party’s transport spokesman, met transport minister Keith Brown with Michael Moore MP earlier this month for assurances over the scheme, which has seen two bidders pull out in the last year.

He added: “People in the Borders and Midlothian are becoming increasingly frustrated at the Scottish Government moving the timescale deadlines. These delays will only increase costs.

“I was told in a meeting with the transport minister that the project would be delivered on time but that it would be ‘very tight’. There are now real doubts as to whether the line will be operational in 2014 and the Government has tough questions to answer.”

Long-term rail critic Nicholas Watson called for an end to the current preliminary works being carried out at a cost of around £60million to the public purse.

The Borders Party leader told us: “If MSPs still haven’t grasped that this one’s a dud they should get Transport Scotland to put it through a Strategic Transport Project Review – it is a scandal this was never done in 2008 – and then they’ll see why experts have long-questioned its value.

“Better still, arrange a proper poll in the Borders and listen to what the people say, or is that too simple?

“At a time of financial crisis, politicians do not please voters by pursuing white elephants.”

However, on the other side of the track, Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale MSP Christine Grahame remains confident the line will be opened on time and within its £295million budget. She also discussed the project with Mr Brown last week, alongside members of Campaign for Borders Rail.

The SNP member said: “The preferred bidder stage is early next year and this triggers the start of the normal, expected preparatory work by the main contractor on the ground. This would then be followed by main works construction by the same contractor.

“This is entirely expected and represents standard practice for Non-Profit Distributing (NPD)-style projects and was used on the recently completed M80 scheme.”

A Transport Scotland spokesman repeated 2014 is the expected opening date.

He added: “In spite of the difficulties we have encountered following the withdrawal of two bidders, we are confident we will deliver this project efficiently and successfully for the people of the Borders.”