SNP ministers have been told to “go back to the drawing board” after multi-million-pound plans to overhaul a notorious rail bottleneck near Montrose hit the buffers.
In 2003, the single track at Usan was identified as a reason for uncompetitive Dundee to Aberdeen rail journey times.
The £100m overhaul was included in £218m proposals to cut journey times between Aberdeen and Edinburgh by 20 minutes which were first unveiled by the SNP in 2008, and announced again in 2016.
However, a meeting of the Transport Scotland reference group overseeing the project heard the £218m investment will only scrape a two-minute improvement at that price – with “full-fat” reductions weighing in at much more than £8800m.
Scottish Conservative MSP for the north-east region Liam Kerr has now challenged the Scottish Government to look again at how it can deliver on its pledge to improve rail connectivity.
Mr Kerr said: “The SNP must deliver on the promise made three years ago to improve rail links between Aberdeen and the Central Belt.
“It is now clear that the £200m figure quoted at the time was simply plucked out of thin air.
“If any work had gone into it, Scottish ministers would have known then what they now know – that £200m makes a negligible impact on journey times.
“That is not what north-east businesses and rail passengers have been asking for, nor what they expected.
“It is very disappointing that it has taken three years to get to this stage.”
Dundee and Angus Chamber of Commerce CEO Alison Henderson has now demanded “long-term planning, upgrading and investment” of Scotland’s railway system.
Business body Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce also said in a letter to Transport Scotland that the options put forward were “unworkable” and “would never see the light of day”.
Mr Kerr said: “The north-east business community has made its views clear – this is not good enough and they expect answers.
“SNP Ministers must now go back to the drawing board and tell the north-east public how they are going to make good on the promises that were made in 2016.”
The one-and-a-half-mile section of single track between Usan and the South Esk viaduct at Montrose Basin, means that at certain times trains have to slow down and wait for others to pass.
The cutting is the only stretch of single track between Aberdeen and London, but doubling it would involve major engineering works at the rail bridge and viaduct over the River South Esk. Transport Scotland has said it is “too early” to divulge any new plans, but insisted it is “committed to reaching the right solution.”