Rail line sufferes another setback before it’s open for businesses

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SCOTLAND’S jinx hit £300m new rail line has suffered yet another set-back – after a planned visit by the First Minister was scrapped because of snow.

The Airdrie to Bathgate line is supposed to open for business on Sunday and Alex Salmond was to complete a tour of the new route tomorrow (Fri).

But planners were forced to concede defeat and put off the trip after thousands of passengers had services between the Bathgate and Edinburgh sections axed because of winter weather.

Network Rail – who operate the new line – said they still planned to go ahead and kick off services on Sunday.

However it’s the second blow for the new route in a matter of weeks.

They suffered embarrassment back in October when under fire Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson opened the new Bathgate Rail Station – only for passengers to be herded onto coaches after a power failure saw services suspended.

Now locals have been left wondering if they will be left stranded again.

One said: “If they’re not confident enough to risk the First Minister’s trip ending up in the sidings – what chance is there for the rest of us?

“There hasn’t been trains for the best part of a fortnight. They bungled the opening of the station when we were shipped onto buses.

“I think I’d be better off staying home – or taking the car.”

However Network Rail – who said they cancelled the First Minister’s visit two weeks ago because of long range weather forecasts – insisted it would be back to business come Sunday.

A Network Rail spokesman said: “The railway has been open since the beginning of October and services should begin as planned on Sunday.

“Everybody in Scotland is suffering the effects of the weather at the moment.

“The weather is always a factor with any railway line but it is set to open on the 12th.

“There was originally going to be an opening event but because of the weather we cancelled it.

“We received forecasts from the Met Office about the weather all over Scotland and it was particularly clear that this weather was going to continue for at least two weeks.”

A spokesman added: “Trains are running between Helensburgh and Airdrie at the moment and that is the line the new trains will run on. 

“The weather is to get better at the weekend so it will open on the 12th as planned.

“The new line will improve journey times by a lot. It will cut journey times by about half for those travelling from Airdrie to Edinburgh and vice-versa.”

ScotRail were equally bullish that the new line would run on time.

A spokesman said: “We look forward to running services on the new line between Helensburgh and Edinburgh.”

The new line, constructed by Network Rail and funded by Transport Scotland, is on schedule and on budget and will be the longest new passenger line constructed in the UK for 100 years.

The project has seen 15 miles of new track built and will provide a vital service to passengers travelling to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Passengers from Airdrie will now have a direct link to Edinburgh, while those from Bathgate will be connected to Glasgow.

Dave McDougall, chief executive of West Lothian Chamber of Commerce, said: “As far as West Lothian is concerned it is fantastic.

“It‘s great to see a new project being completed on time and in budget.

“The real benefit is going to be in the long-term. It is going to create new jobs and attract more people. It will make it a lot easier for people in West Lothian to travel to Edinburgh and Glasgow.

“At the moment it’s a nightmare. It will be good for employers as they can attract employees to come and work in West Lothian which is really good news.”

Douglas Millar, chief executive of Lanarkshire Chamber of Commerce, also said that the rail link will be great for local residents.

He said: “From a Chamber of Commerce point of view we recognise that it will provide fast and frequent links to Edinburgh which will provide employment opportunities for some people.

“It will also encourage more people to come to Airdrie and Lanarkshire who perhaps have never been before.”

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