Fresh plans for a “bigger and better” rail station for Inverness Airport are due to be lodged – more than a decade after the idea was first tabled.
Transport chiefs have confirmed they are in the final stages of drawing up revised designs for an enlarged station with two platforms and a double-track at Dalcross.
The move emerged as the agencies involved were accused of “dropping the ball” on the vital infrastructure project for the north, amid growing frustration at long delays.
After more than a decade on the drawing board, proposals put forward by transport partnership Hitrans for a £5 million station won planning permission in 2017 amid hopes it would finally be operational the following year.
The scheme – which included a 568ft platform and a 150-space car park – has long been viewed as vital to accommodate growing airport passenger numbers, as well as improving links to the nearby business park and the thousands of new homes being built at Tornagrain.
Forecasts predicted that within 50 years it would overtake Elgin to become the second busiest stop-off in the north, after Inverness city centre.
But construction work did not start on the project in 2017 as expected and the planning permission is now just a few months away from expiring.
The scheme was taken over by Transport Scotland and it has now confirmed that a new design is currently being completed by Network Rail.
Unlike the original proposals, which envisaged opening a first platform and then building a second a few years later, the new design will feature two platforms and double-tracking from the outset.
It is expected to be similar to the recently relocated Forres station and the new Kintore station, both of which are also being delivered as part of a major upgrade of the Inverness to Aberdeen rail line.
A Network Rail spokesman said: “The project to deliver a new station for Dalcross is progressing well and we are currently finalising our proposed design for the facility.
“The development is being expanded to deliver a bigger and better station with two platforms and a double-track railway which will mean increased capacity on the line.
“As we are expanding the development, we will require fresh planning permission.”
However, Transport Scotland and Network Rail have been unwilling to confirm an anticipated start date for work at Dalcross.
Douglas Ross, Conservative MP for Moray, said last night he had written to ministers to demand a “firm timetable”, claiming the Scottish Government had “completely dropped the ball on this vital project”.
He said: “Last year, after writing to the cabinet secretary for transport, about delays with the project and when works would begin I was told it would be delivered ‘in the very near future’.
“Here we are nearly a year later and they are still no further forward as the Scottish Government haven’t even announced a start date and there is now a danger of having to go back to the start with this project.
“It would seem that since Transport Scotland and ministers became involved this important project has slipped even further.
“The Scottish Government really needs to prioritise the north of Scotland for a change.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said the existing planning permissions were “being updated to reflect enhanced plans for Dalcross Station”.
He added: “We expect the station to be delivered in first half of the current five year rail funding period and will be a position to confirm the starting and opening dates once Network Rail has completed its feasibility work and third party funding has been secured.”
The current rail funding period runs from 2019 to 2024.