Plans for a £2million revamp of Inverness Rail Station are ready to go.
Rail bosses have revealed that they are poised to lodge a planning application for the long-awaited upgrade within weeks.
A complete overhaul of Station Square would be carried out to remove the current car parking and taxi spaces to create a new civic space in the heart of the city.
A striking new glass frontage will also be installed on the main entrance to the station facing onto Station Square, while improvements would be made at the two other entrances, and new shops opened.
Outlining a timescale for the project for the first time, senior figures at Abellio ScotRail revealed that a full planning application was due to be submitted to Highland Council by Easter.
Work could then start late next year and is scheduled to be completed in 2018.
Scott Prentice, Abellio ScotRail’s head of business development, said that the station was further ahead than any other currently scheduled improvement projects in the country.
He added that a number of large stations in terms of footfall were “nowhere near” where they needed to be for the modern day, including Inverness.
Entrances and approaches to the station have been identified as being in need of major improvement.
Mr Prentice said that studies had shown that all three entrances to Inverness station were used roughly equally, with about 500,000 people crossing the station concourse each year without boarding a train.
He suggested that created a largely untapped retail opportunity in the station.
Inverness Bid manager Mike Smith welcomed the progress on the plans last night – including improving looking at the demand for greater number of shops inside the station.
He said: “I think any improvements at the station have to be welcomed. It would be good for visitors arriving in the area by train and for locals using the station as well.
“There is a need for better entrances at all of the outlets for the station, whether it is from the bus station, from Falcon Square or from Academy Street.”
He also said there could be a better link between the station and Station Square with the Victorian Market which is directly across Academy Street from the main entrance.
The progress on work to upgrade Inverness station is one of several improvements scheduled for the railway network.
The Scottish Government announced a funding package worth £3.34million for a new railway station at Dalcross serving Inverness Airport and the new town of Tornagrain.
A review of performance on the Far North Line was also pledged by government minister and Highland MSP Fergus Ewing.
City MP Drew Hendry hailed the progress on the station revamp and the wider investments in the north’s rail network.
He said: “It is great to hear that the upgrades to the station are progressing well.
“The Scottish Government’s investment in connectivity is creating a very positive environment for tourism and business and, with the recent figures showing Inverness and the Highlands as a top destination choice for overseas visitors, we can look forward to a real boost to our economy.”
Mr Prentice said that plans are being drawn up for how the work would be carried out and offered reassurance that two out of the three entrances to the station would be maintained at any one time.