Borders to Edinburgh rail deal signed
Responsibility for delivering a rail route from the Borders to Edinburgh has been officially passed to Network Rail.
Transport Secretary Keith Brown signed the agreement at a ceremony at Newtongrange in Midlothian.
Once completed, the project will see trains return to the Borders for the first time in more than 40 years.
Ministers still hope the multi-million pound project will be completed by the end of 2014, although the contract sets a final deadline of summer 2015.
The agreement passes responsibility for completing the Borders line, with 30 miles of new track and seven new stations, from Transport Scotland to Network Rail.
Some preparatory work, like clearing vegetation and demolition of buildings and bridges, has already been carried out.
However, the project will begin in earnest early next year.
Total capital costs will be £294m, which the Scottish government said were in line with the last official estimate, and the contractual completion date has been set for the summer of 2015.
Critics say the figures do not take into account more than £50m already spent paving the way for the project.
Mr Brown said that funding the project via Network Rail would allow savings of £60m to ensure the "whole life costs of building maintaining and operating the line over 30 years" could be delivered under budget.
Mr Brown said: "The official handover of the Borders project to Network Rail today marks a milestone in our efforts to provide a fast and efficient rail link that will significantly contribute to area's economy.
"The Borders Railway will bring inward investment for the local community plus approximately £33m of benefits for the wider Scottish economy.
"It will support 400 jobs during the construction phase and act as a catalyst for increased business development and housing opportunities within easy commuting distance of Edinburgh."
He said the route would cut car journeys and also confirmed that the project would allow for tourist trains at Tweedbank station.
David Simpson, route managing director for Network Rail Scotland, said it was delighted to have reached an agreement to bring Midlothian and the central Borders "back into the railway network".
"This agreement sets out an achievable delivery schedule and allows us to have trains running along the route in summer 2015," he said.
"Network Rail has already been involved extensively with advance works and we have begun actively engaging with communities along the route to prepare communities for the impact of this major engineering challenge.
"We're proud to be delivering this prestigious project and look forward to delivering what will be a hugely important new asset for Midlothian and the Scottish Borders."
Passenger trains last ran in the central Borders in early 1969 and, if all goes to plan, they will return to the region after a 46-year gap.
The contract process for the route between Edinburgh and Tweedbank has taken more than two years to reach this stage.
In June 2010, three organisations were selected to bid for the multi-million pound project.
However, once two consortia dropped out it was decided to scrap that process in September last year.
It was agreed at that time that Network Rail would help take the project forward.
Those in favour of the work claim the new line will bring major economic and social benefits to the Borders by connecting people to increased employment, housing and leisure opportunities.
Opponents believe it would be better to invest even a fraction of the funding in the region's roads network instead.
Last week, Mr Brown confirmed that journey times between the Borders and Edinburgh would be under an hour along the new track.
He also said that the Scottish government was "not complacent at all" about the costs of the scheme.