Borders railway completion date put back as cost of project soars

The village of Stow on the Borders rail route
The village of Stow on the Borders rail route
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THE cost of the ill-fated Borders Railway has soared again by £50 million to £350m – but the figure was omitted from an official statement yesterday announcing a landmark deal with Network Rail to build the line.

Ministers were yesterday accused of covering up the real cost of the project as a deal was announced for Network Rail to build the 30-mile route between Edinburgh and Tweedbank, south of Galashiels, for £294m.

The figure does not include £54m already spent on other parts of the project, such as land purchase and preliminary work.

The increased cost confirms an exclusive story last month by The Scotsman’s sister paper Scotland on Sunday.

Transport minister Keith Brown has insisted he wants costs to remain within the previous budget of £235m-£295m.

John Lamont, Conservative MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, said: “There has been a huge increase in the cost of the project over the years and it now looks like the government is trying to cover up a further increase in the cost.” Network Rail said the railway will also not be finished until the end of June 2015, rather than the end of 2014. However, passengers will not be able to use it until autumn 2015, because up to three months will be needed for driver training.

The latest cost increases and delay follows ministers scrapping their planned novel private-sector method of building and maintaining the line a year ago, after two of the three short-listed bidders pulled out.

Network Rail Scotland route managing director David Simpson said the £294m construction cost – up from the previously expected £230m – also included more spending on stabilising old mines at the northern end of the line, which had not all been previously spotted.

Mr Simpson said construction would allow for potential future electrification and more sections of double track, to enable more frequent and faster trains to run.

The initial service will be half-hourly. The journey will be 55 minutes, which Network Rail said was 25 minutes faster than by bus.

Seven new stations will be built, at Shawfair, Eskbank, Newtongrange, Gorebridge, Stow, Galashiels and Tweedbank.

Tourist trains, such as the luxury Royal Scotsman, will now also be able to use the line with the planned lengthening of Tweedbank station to accommodate 12-coach services.

Mr Simpson told The Scotsman that despite detailed checks of the line, including tunnels and viaducts, completion by June 2015 remained a “challenging date”. He added that finishing the line by the end of 2014 – still Mr Brown’s target – would be “very difficult indeed”. This was because there remained “a lot of unknowns”, such as the extent of the mineworkings, and restrictions on working near rivers close to the salmon spawning season.

However, Mr Brown said that nine months after contractors move on to the site, a “robust” review would be held to see if completion could be brought forward to late 2014. He said: “The additional time is needed to remove underground mine working. That way we will have a more realistic timetable.”

Construction will start next year, with BAM Nuttall – the last remaining bidder under the previous plans –due to be appointed shortly as contractor, after helping Network Rail with preliminary work.