Proposed rail improvements could slash journey times between Aberdeen and the Central Belt by up to 24 minutes, it has been revealed.
However, while the predicted cut to rail journey times has been welcomed by council bosses in the city, they say they are “not convinced” by the plans and claim the proposed £200 million should be spent “in the north-east for the benefit of the north-east”.
Business organisation Aberdeen Inspired said “any investment” in the city is to be welcomed as it makes it “more convenient” for both business travel and visitors.
The issue has rumbled on for more than a decade after a proposal was first mooted to upgrade the Usan junction, the last single-track stretch on the east coast line.
However, as revealed in the Evening Express last year, the plan was eventually ditched after it emerged the move would only shave up to two-and-a-half minutes off journeys.
A new paper for regional transport partnership Nestrans reveals that instead, a series of proposals have been tabled, including signalling improvements, passing loops and line speed improvements.
Combined with improvements to the network around Perth, Edinburgh and Glasgow, rolling stock enhancements and changes to timetables, the paper claims there is an “opportunity” to cut journey times between Aberdeen and Edinburgh to two hours and 10 minutes – 24 minutes quicker than the current average journey.
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Meanwhile, the figures show rail journeys between Aberdeen and Glasgow could be reduced to two hours and 30 minutes or better, down from a current average journey of two hours and 38 minutes.
The journey between Aberdeen and Dundee could be cut by three minutes from one hour and 13 minutes to one hour and 10 minutes.
Aberdeen City Council co-leader Jenny Laing said she was “not convinced” by what has been put forward, adding the cash should be ring-fenced for the region, instead of being part of a package of rail improvements which benefit the rest of Scotland.
However, bosses at Transport Scotland claim ministers are adamant the £200m must only be used to aid journey time improvements between Aberdeen and the Central Belt.
Ms Laing said: “I’m not convinced by what they have put forward and we have said it should be spent on our region.
“If we can get the journey times down then that’s welcomed but our argument is that what the Scottish Government is proposing now will benefit all different areas and would have been carried out anyway. What we would like to see is them honouring the commitment to spending it in the north-east for the benefit of the north-east.”
Ms Laing wants to instead see the money diverted to other transport projects in the north-east which were included in the City Region Deal.
Adrian Watson, chief executive of Aberdeen Inspired, said: “Any investment in the rail network coming into the city is to be welcomed, as this makes it even more convenient for both business travel and visitors alike.”
Shane Taylor, research and policy manager at Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, said: “Faster rail travel between Aberdeen and the Central Belt is a priority for the Chamber and represents a long-standing ask of our members.
“It’s something that we want to see delivered. However, given the difficulties encountered to date in delivering this commitment, it’s understandable that there might be some scepticism across the region.
“Transport Scotland should respond constructively to calls for clarity around the timescales and feasibility of this new plan, and provide assurances that it represents the best possible use of the £200m investment.”
A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “Ministers have been consistent and specific in their view that the £200m, over and above the City Deal funding, must only be used to aid journey time and capacity improvements between Aberdeen and the Central Belt.
“The £200m will be invested in a new and enhanced signalling system, improving capacity and journey time for passenger and freight services along this route. Our investment in rail is already delivering more services, faster journeys and infrastructure enhancements.”
A letter has been sent from the director of infrastructure services at Aberdeenshire Council on behalf of the City Region Deal Joint Committee to Bill Reeve, director of rail at Transport Scotland, calling for a meeting.