Political and business leaders have clashed with government officials over £200 million of rail improvements in the north-east.
The Scottish Government is delivering the funding, designed to reduce journey times between Aberdeen and Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh, as part of the Aberdeen City Region Deal.
Work on the upgrades – which could cut trips between the Granite City and the central belt by up to 24 minutes – is expected to be completed in 2026.
However, transport chiefs are yet to confirm exactly how the savings will be achieved, with the final options for the work not expected to come forward until next year.
A number of investigations and surveys are due to be carried out over the course of this year to determine the best course of action.
Questions over delays to project
Members of the city region deal joint committee – which consists of leading figures from the north-east business scene as well as representatives from both Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire councils – expressed concerns over the time taken to complete the project.
Oil and gas tycoon Sir Ian Wood, a member of the committee, queried why the project is not further ahead.
“We are four years on and we are still spending time saying there will be people doing investigations. It doesn’t sound right,” he said.
“What the north-east could do with £200 million? We could do a whole lot of extremely useful things quickly which would have a major impact.”
Fears north-east will miss out on benefits
Aberdeen City councillor, Ryan Houghton, questioned whether the north-east would be the primary beneficiary of the investment, with the funding expected to be used for upgrades along the entire line between Aberdeen and the central belt.
Despite the £200m being part of the Aberdeen City Region Deal, it would be used for improvements in other areas along the route.
“For the people of Aberdeen and the north-east, if all the benefit is Dundee and south-focused it does not really fulfil the perception that people up here are going to see the benefits as opposed to those further down the road,” Mr Houghton said.
Transport Scotland’s head of rail delivery, Damian Briody, said Transport Scotland had had to “change course” on initial plans to carry out an upgrade of the Usan junction, leading to the projected completion date being pushed back.
“We have taken a grip of this and we are forcing it through at a pace that has never been done before,” he added.
“We are pushing this as hard as we can. There is a team working ferociously on analysing 20 possible interventions in the north-east and along the track at various locations, and they are going to be out on the ground because we need to understand which interventions are going to deliver the most benefits.”