The main contractor has been appointed for the £170 million upgrade of the Aberdeen to Inverness rail line.
Construction firm BAM, which recently completed the £294 million Borders Railway, is expected to finish the first phase by 2019.
It will provide an economic boost to the cities and communities along the entire length of the routeKeith Brown MSP Infrastructure Secretary
A half-hourly commuter service will be introduced between Aberdeen and Inverurie and more peak services between Inverness and Elgin.
Enigineers will double-track 16 miles of line between Aberdeen and Inverurie, extend platforms at Insch and Elgin to accommodate longer trains and infrastructure will be installed to allow new stations at Kintore and Dalcross.
A new station will be built at Forres and the rail alignment straightened.
Signalling systems along the route will also be upgraded.
Infrastructure Secretary Keith Brown: “It marks the Scottish Government’s landmark investment package of £170 million to improve a key route connecting both northern cities, which will make journeys shorter, more frequent and more comfortable for those who use this important line regularly.
“This project is especially valuable for the region for, as well as the clear benefits to passengers and freight users, it will also support jobs and growth, providing an economic boost to the cities and communities along the entire length of the route.”
Engineers are currently carrying out ground investigation, site survey and vegetation clearance work on the line as part of the project and main construction will begin in spring of next year.
Plans for the new stations at Kintore and Dalcross are being developed separately by Nestrans and Hitrans respectively,
The announcement was welcomed by local politicians.
Inverurie and District Councillor Bryan Stuart said: “This will be transformational for Inverurie, as it will greatly enhance connectivity with Aberdeen city centre, and significantly improve access to the airport.
“It also makes the whole Aberdeen-Inverness corridor more attractive as a location for residence and business.
“The use of the old freight yard as the main depot for the line improvement works is holding back redevelopment of Inverurie town centre, which we are trying to mitigate. However, the benefits, once these are complete, will be huge.”
Fellow Inverurie Councillor Richard Cowling said: “I am absolutely delighted to see the awarding of contract to get the dual rail track complete.
“With with the station at Kintore, this will make quite a difference to commuting to and from Inverurie. Also, it will help reduce the number of cars that are used to bring people into Inverurie prior to them using the train.”