The reopening of Moray’s railway following an £80million upgrade has been hailed as a “huge vote of confidence” in the region.
Yesterday, services began stopping at the new train station in Forres and passing through the revamped level crossing in Elgin.
The landmark was the culmination of nearly two years of work that concluded with a 10-day closure of the line.
Last night, business leaders hailed the upgrade as enhancing Moray’s links with Inverness, Aberdeen and the rest of the UK.
Transport Scotland is investing £330million on the railway between the Highland capital and the Granite City to drive the journey time below two hours.
John Cowe, chairman of Moray Economic Partnership, believes the region is perfectly placed to capitalise on passing trade between the cities.
He said: “The railway is a big part of what we are trying to work on for the future of Moray to help the economy, the growth deal funding bid and create jobs – everything is going in the right direction.
“The new train station at Dalcross should be ready before the end of 2020, which will have park and ride facilities for Inverness Airport. That’s going to improve Moray’s links to the rest of the UK even more.
“Reduced journey times to Aberdeen opens up possibilities to commute to Edinburgh and Glasgow in a day, which will make it easier for people from here to head south but also investors to travel north to see what Moray has to offer.”
Mr Cowe added: “I think the investment’s a huge vote of confidence in the whole north-east.”
The new sections of double track will allow an hourly service between Elgin and Inverness from next year before that is extended to the whole route.
Platforms have also been extended in Elgin to accommodate longer trains.
Contractors are expected to spend the next month finishing minor improvements on the railway between Moray and Inverness before temporary compounds are dismantled.The crews will then begin work on the line between Aberdeen and Inverurie in 2018 with the improvements, including a new station at Kintore, expected to take another two years to complete.
Stacey Macdonald from Network Rail described the project as the biggest investment in the north-east’s railways in living memory.
Engineers have been working round the clock for the last 10 days to complete the work in time for the first service at 5am yesterday. However, following hold-ups it was 9.30am before the first train at the new Forres train station could be welcomed with a guard of honour.
Mrs Macdonald said: “The whole impetus from the Scottish Government has been to improve connectivity – the railway is just one part of that alongside the dualling projects.
“Gradually improving the infrastructure makes Moray a more attractive proposition as a region – people looking in from the outside will be attracted to the north-east when they see this kind of investment.”
Yesterday, Moray Chamber of Commerce said the extra services would help to keep pace with thousands of new homes being built in the region.
A spokeswoman said: “At a time when our population is set to boom, we welcome these improvements to our railway infrastructure.
“Ongoing improvements to our transport system will help improve connectivity for staff and customers alike and this can only be of benefit to our businesses.”