A £330million upgrade of the Aberdeen to Inverness rail line has been plunged into uncertainty amid a dispute between Holyrood and Westminster.
A question mark was last night hanging over the work, which is already under way, as Scottish ministers warned a cut in funding could have a “massive impact” on scores of projects across the country.
The UK Government announced this week that Scotland would get a “generous settlement”, with Holyrood to receive more than £3.6billion over five years from 2019/20 – an increase of £600million on the previous period.
But SNP ministers said it represented a real terms cut in Scottish Government funding, warning it could create a £600million gap in its programme.
The Aberdeen to Inverness line revamp is among the schemes potentially “at risk” of being rescheduled, as well as £200million of cash from the Aberdeen City Region Deal to help improve journey times and capacity between the Granite City and the Central Belt.
The shortfall casts doubt over achieving the aims of the project, including two-hour journeys between Inverness and Aberdeen, as well as an hourly service, new commuter services, and new stations at Kintore and Inverness Airport,
Work is already under way the first phase of the work, which includes a platform extension at Elgin and a relocation of Forres station, as well as signal upgrades between Inverness and Elgin, and a platform extension at Insch.
And next year major works were expected to start to redouble the track between Aberdeen and Inverurie for a new half-hourly commuter service, followed by further phases in future years.
Peter Argyle, deputy leader of Aberdeenshire Council and chairman of north-east transport partnership Nestrans, said: “It is vital that arguments between the Scottish and UK governments do not get in the way of this essential rail infrastructure work.
“I am confident that the Scottish Government recognises the vital importance of improved rail connectivity to this economically significant part of Scotland and will deliver on the promises that have been made.”
Transport Minister Humza Yousaf said: “This £600million shortfall will do serious damage to Scotland’s railways and our future enhancement projects.
“We want to continue to invest in improving our rail network and services to meet future demands, but the changes to be introduced by the UK Government are putting at risk our ability to do so in full and this will have a massive impact”
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “The UK Government is delivering on our promises to Scotland – any claims otherwise don’t stand up or reflect how Scotland continues to benefit from being part of the UK.
“It’s now for the Scottish Government to decide how it will use this funding, alongside its major tax and spending powers.”