Plan to link Grantown and Aviemore by steam train delayed by Transport Scotland gaffe
PLANS to connect Grantown to Aviemore by steam railway have been further delayed amid allegations of a mistake by Transport Scotland officials.
The initiative is considered the most important project to boost the economy of the capital of Strathspey, but it has been stalled for more than two decades.
The biggest remaining hurdle is getting the Strathspey Steam Railway line on the A95 trunk road to Gaich just outside the town.
The multi-million pound scheme will require the whiskey route to be realigned to accommodate an Armco tunnel allowing locomotives to continue to Grantown.
But Highland councilors were told at their last regional committee meeting that the Rails to Grantown project had been hit by further complications caused by Transport Scotland.
The Strathspey Railway Charitable Trust (SRCT) was set up to extend the line from its current northern terminus at Broomhill to the town approximately three miles.
Chair Linda Coe told the meeting: ‘Overall the rail part of the application (TAWS) is complete but unfortunately Transport Scotland is far from ready as quite late in the day they identified that the entry under construction at the Cairn Distillery has fundamentally affected the A95 and Under Bridge realignment plans which had been submitted with pre-application consultation.
“Despite various discussions with Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government’s TAWS unit, we have no choice but to wait for Transport Scotland to redo their plans and studies before we can submit the application.
“This potentially exposes us to having to redo the environmental studies, and as these are seasonal, for example for protected species like hibernating bats, this obviously equates to potentially much more delay.”
A TAWS Ordinance avoids the need for private bills for transport-related developments, but requires the approval of Scottish Ministers.
Providing the context, Ms Coe said: “Not only are we the first heritage railway to apply for a TAWS order, but we are also only the second request that Scottish Ministers have had – the first being the refurbishment of the station of Queen Street in Glasgow.
“It is made more complicated by the fact that this is the first road and rail application, so we are applying in conjunction with Transport Scotland.”
A pre-application was undertaken with statutory consultees in 2019 with the Cairngorms National Park Authority, Highland Council and many others, and the trust had resolved the issues raised when the Covid pandemic hit.
Ms Coe added: “The main requirement of this consultation was that we update our environmental surveys, which again is difficult during a pandemic, but we completed them in early 2021.
“We are now in the process of preparing the full application which requires some 14 key documents comprising over 1500 pages.
“In addition to these, we must demonstrate that we have obtained all the necessary land to build the railway and the station terminus.
“Transport Scotland is seeking compulsory purchasing powers for areas of land it needs for its road realignment, but we in the railway are buying and letting, and are in the process of finalizing suspensive letters for two leases and a purchase.”
It was then that Ms Coe pointed to the delay caused by Transport Scotland’s oversight.
The SRCT remains hopeful that it can make the TAWS order application this summer, but that depends on how quickly Transport Scotland finalizes its revised A95 realignment plans.
Strathspey MSP Fergus Ewing (SNP) has supported the extension of the railway for many years.
He said: “It is very disappointing given the commitments that have been received previously from Transport Scotland.
“It has been a very long struggle so far, and I will continue to press Transport Scotland to deliver what they themselves have promised, which is to navigate the necessary TAWS legal process.
“It has always been true that completing this process is the precursor to allowing serious fundraising to begin in earnest.”
Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes (SNP) said the steam railway was a popular attraction for the area and was sorry to hear of the delay.
She said: “It seems unfair that they may have to incur additional financial cost and resulting delays to the project through no fault of their own.
“I hope Transport Scotland can work constructively with all parties involved to resolve this issue.”
A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “Recent changes implemented on the A95 associated with the development of the distillery have meant that the previous design of the Gaich scheme at Craggan requires significant modification.
“Our design consultants have worked to develop a modified design taking into account engineering and safety standards, environmental issues and potential effects on nearby landowners, and will need to carry out further technical, environmental, detailed traffic and economic information in the coming months.
“We understand that the trust wishes to progress its request for a TAWS order, and we continue to meet with them regularly to discuss the program.
“Ongoing work is necessary to appropriately inform the Trust’s bid and allow its proposals to move forward, and we will continue to work closely with them as we move forward with this vital design and development work. devaluation.”