Railway upgrades that could slash journey times between Aberdeen and the central belt by more than 20 minutes are on track to be completed in five years’ time.
Major improvements are to be carried out to the East Coast Main Line as part of the Aberdeen City Region Deal at a cost of £200 million.
There have been repeated calls for the line to be upgraded for more than a decade, with business chiefs claiming shorter journey times will lead to more business opportunities and encourage new visitors.
But proposals for wider upgrades along the route are expected to deliver far more radical results.
Quicker journeys between key cities
A series of proposals including line speed enhancements, signalling improvements and more passing loops could cut 24 minutes from journeys between Aberdeen and Edinburgh, to two hours and 10 minutes.
Eight minutes would be saved on journeys to Glasgow, down to two hours and 30 minutes.
And trips to Dundee would be three minutes quicker, at one hour and 10 minutes.
Transport Scotland had earmarked 2026 for completion of the work, and a new report has revealed the project is progressing on schedule.
An options selection process relating to stations along the route is also expected to be completed in July, and is described as “progressing well”.
The report reads: “Indicative planning work has provided assurance that the scheme is deliverable for the December 2026 timetable change.
“The Scottish Government has committed £200 million Scottish Government to
improve journey times and increase capacity on key rail links between Aberdeen
and the central belt for passengers and freight.
“NR [Network Rail] is currently transitioning to a new project governance system – Projects Accelerated in a Controlled Environment (PACE) – which is intended to replace Governance for Railway Investment Projects (GRIP) with more streamlined
processes to enable current and future projects to deliver passenger benefits more quickly with greater value for taxpayers.
“From summer 2021 the Aberdeen to central belt project will be moving from the strategic development and project selection of PACE to the project development and design stage.”
Business leaders welcome upgrades
The update on the project was welcomed by Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, which has been leading calls for rail upgrades.
The organisation’s policy manager Shane Taylor said: “Although Covid-19 has presented many immediate economic challenges, the pandemic has also illustrated the importance of continuing to invest in critical aspects of our region’s resilience, like our connectivity, which will define how we recover.
“With this in mind, it’s encouraging to see that the Aberdeen to central belt rail project remains on track, as the project will be crucial to reducing journey times and enabling the decarbonisation of our rail network in the future. Keeping our focus firmly on the delivery of major infrastructure projects like this one is the best way to ensure a resurgent north-east economy in the long-term.”