North-east is on the right track

Yesterday, Elizabeth, Queen of Scots, became our longest-serving monarch overtaking Queen Victoria record of 63 years and seven months.

Suitably enough our record-breaking Queen stayed at her home at the Balmoral Estate – established as a royal residence by Queen Victoria – after performing the official opening of the Borders Railway, the longest new railway built in this country for a century.

“I hope that these great ideas can be taken forward and made into a reality”

On Monday evening, I watched the news and I was pleased to see so many new commuters using the resumed service – the first to do so since 1969.

I saw a young man being interviewed, smiling, explaining that his morning commute is now ten minutes shorter than it was when he drove.

I am sure the savings to his wallet will be something to smile about as well.

The 30-mile long line stretches from Edinburgh all the way down to Stow, Galashiels and Tweedbank however, the improved transport network means that passengers can travel the entire length of the new line in under an hour.

The re-opening of the Borders Railway represents the beginning of a major boost to the Borders economy.

In one of my last statements before I stepped down as First Minister, I stated that this new railway would bring one million visitors a year to the South of Scotland by 2020.

It is also expected to widen economic housing opportunities, with local businesses in the area feeling the knock-on effect.

An ambitious target, but nonetheless one that I believe is achievable.

The reopening of this historic railway line lead me to think about all the other lines and stations that were closed as a result of the Beeching Axe.

An “axe” that was well felt in the North East with no fewer than 24 station closures.

In 1966, the Formartine and Buchan Railway were closed, leaving towns and villages from Dyce all the way up to Fraserburgh effectively cut off in Mr Beeching’s great “reshaping of British railways”.

Earlier this year, councillors in Aberdeenshire voiced their support for reopening of part of this line – the proposal of approximately 14 miles of track to be redeveloped from Dyce to Ellon.

It was argued that should be included in the City Region Deal – a £2.9 billion investment deal for the North East of Scotland.

These ideas were supported by SNP Councillors Rob Merson and Stephen Smith and the then opposition SNP group leader, Hamish Vernal.

Given that the SNP now lead Aberdeenshire Council, I hope that these great ideas can be taken forward and made into a reality.

There are already plans in place to improve the train service in the North East.

The Aberdeen to Inverness represents a corridor of prosperity in the region.

The SNP’s local agenda for transport and economic development includes £170 million improvements to the railway line and the development of key tourist destinations around each station.

The plans also include a modal shift to cycling, the much-needed dualling of A96 by 2030 and the completion of Inveramsay Bridge by next year.

This will be one of our big focus areas ahead of Holyrood elections in 2016.

At the beginning of the month, Derek Mackay, Minister for Transport and Islands, unveiled the first of 40 new-look trains as part of a £14 million modernisation project.

These were the same trains that were seen running on the new Borders Railway and will soon be seen up here in the North East.

The Class 158 trains are tailored for use on Scotland’s scenic routes and I can only imagine the fantastic views passengers would be treated to if they were put to use on a new line to Fraserburgh.