Fresh concerns have emerged a multi-million pound plan to dual a crucial piece of the main east coast rail line running through Angus has hit the buffers.
A decade after a promise to slash train travel journey times between Aberdeen and Edinburgh by 20 minutes, an MSP has said he believes long-awaited improvements to the section at Usan, south of Montrose, have now been “kicked into the long grass”.
In 2003, the single track at Usan was identified as a reason for uncompetitive Dundee to Aberdeen rail journey times.
The cutting is the only stretch of single track on the east coast main line, but doubling it would involve major engineering works at the rail bridge and viaduct over the River South Esk, at an estimated cost of more than £100 million.
North East Conservative MSP Liam Kerr has criticised Transport Secretary Michael Matheson after seeking a firm response on dual tracking the Usan junction by 2023.
Mr Kerr said: “Improving Usan was a key part of the £200 million which was promised to the north east of Scotland way back in 2008.
“That announcement was very welcome at the time and it was good news when it was announced again in 2016 – at the same time as the UK Government announced the Region Deals.
“But 10 years has come and gone for this money which was promised by the SNP Government.
“I made a point of asking the new transport minister when the money is being spent and whether he will pay it to the region if Usan is no longer a priority.
“He hasn’t answered my questions – which is worrying for people in Angus. It looks like Usan has been kicked into the long grass.
“And I worry that the final offer will be watered down after various consultants, groups and Ministers have had their way.”
Mr Matheson’s response to Mr Kerr said the Aberdeen to Central Belt Reference Group, led by Transport Scotland, is looking at options to improve capacity and journey times between Aberdeen and the central belt, including consideration of options for double tracking between Usan and Montrose.
Mr Matheson said the Usan issue remained under review, saying that the location was “complex and challenging due to its topography, and further complicated by the area around Montrose Basin, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
“Exploring all engineering options for double tracking will be complex and expected to be at a high coast,” added the reply to the MSP.
A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “This is not the position of Transport Scotland or the official position of the Reference Group and no decision has been taken.
“Consultants commissioned by The Aberdeen to Central Belt Reference Group have recently completed the data gathering phase of work, and are now focusing on producing a report detailing options to improve connectivity and journey times along the entire length of the route.
“We expect the final report this summer and the proposed options will then be considered by the Reference Group, and presented to Ministers before a decision is made on progress towards delivery.
“The Scottish Government is determined to improve journey times, capacity and performance for passengers, for sustainable freight transport and for businesses on the Aberdeen to Central Belt corridor, which is demonstrated by our £200 million investment as announced alongside the Aberdeen City Region Deal in January 2016.”