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Steam railway on track to help boost economy

By Gavin Musgrove

Railway trustees John Yule, Basil Dunlop, Linda Coe and Andrew McCracken at the pre-application consultation.
Railway trustees John Yule, Basil Dunlop, Linda Coe and Andrew McCracken at the pre-application consultation.

THE cost of completing the Strathspey Steam Railway line to Grantown is expected to be in the region of £10 million but the long-term financial benefits will far outweigh this, backers have said.

The Strathspey Railway Charitable Trust (SRCT) unveiled its proposals for the final phase of plans to connect Aviemore and the Strathspey capital by rail once more.

Key details of the R2G (Rails to Grantown) project went on display at the town's former library on Friday and Saturday.

And they generated a lot of interest with more than 60 people coming through the door within the first hour.

On show was the proposed route of the railway from Broomhill by Dulnain Bridge to the new terminus station at Dulicht in the town.

Trust chairman John Yule said there had been plenty of positive feedback both from local residents and public agencies.

Discussions are continuing with landowners including Muckrach, Seafield, Ballintomb and Highland Council.

Mr Yule said: "We are moving forward and we are getting very good co-operation from them all but we need to get contracts agreed that the Scottish Government will be happy with," he said.

The SRCT chairman believes that there has been a change in climate in more recent times that will help them achieve their long-held ambition to run locos between Aviemore and Grantown.

He said: "The Scottish Government is focusing spend on infrastructure as they see a direct benefit to the economy.

"We have seen it recently with the announcement of the Leven railway line in Fife which is in a depressed area.

"They are talking about £75 million which will largely come from Scottish Government for that railway.

"Now we are talking about £10 million in total to get our railway into Grantown with roughly half of that being raised by ourselves.

"Everyone sees this project as being the biggest economic driver being on the go for Grantown – the community initiative and business partnership and community themselves."

He said that despite the apparent lack of progress on the ground, it has been anything but with work behind the scene focused on getting the TAWS application in place.

Transport and Works (Scotland), or TAWS, is an order-making process which avoids the need for private Bills for transport-related developments.

"This has included an environmental study which has cost thousands of pounds and drafting of agreements supporting the TAWS order," said Mr Yule.

Indications are that the Scottish Government will provide funding of £5.5 million of the Gaick crossing of the A95 Aviemore-Keith – estimated at £7.5 million.

The entire total does not have to be raised ahead of the green light but there has to be proof it can be delivered. This could come from benefactors, corporate sponsorship, bequeaths and other sources.

The trust has a membership of around 900 people presently and a core of nearly 100 volunteers who assist with works and the running of the attraction.

SRCT vice-chairman Ian Stanworth said: "Developments of this sort always end up being somewhat elongated but hopefully we will get to a stage with the consultation exercises where we can make sure the project satisfies all the requirements of the consultees and we can get through without any delays."

Mr Stanworth said that point-to-point rail journeys are much more appealing to visitors and estimates travel numbers will rise from 85,000 to more than 100,000 per year once Grantown is reached.

Grantown Community Council chairwoman Linda Coe said making the connection to the town would be great news for businesses.

She said: "I am sure once footfall increases then the current empty shops would be taken up."

Related article: Plans for Grantown steam railway return to be unveiled

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