PASSENGER services returned to Laurencekirk at the weekend after a gap of 42 years.

The first train stopped at the new and refurbished station on Sunday, then on Monday morning, an official opening was performed by the Minister for Transport, Stewart Stevenson MSP.

Mr Stevenson arrived on a train from Aberdeen - at exactly the scheduled 09.37 and was piped over the footbridge to unveil a plaque at the refurbished station building.

He said it was 42 years since the cuts of Dr Beeching closed Laurencekirk to passenger services and it was his pleasure to reopen it.

"The new station will provide a real boost to the local community delivering more trains and new services for commuters and improving access to jobs, education and leisure," he said.

"This is a special day for the people of Laurencekirk and the surrounding area, particularly those who have campaigned over the years to have their station reopened.

"This project demonstrates this government's commitment to investing in transport infrastructure that encourages drivers out of their cars and on to more sustainable forms of travel. It is expected that the new station will attract 36,000 passengers a year with the potential for many more."

The minister paid tribute to the local campaign, started 19 years ago by the Villages in Control Committee and its secretary Norman Banski.

"Villages in Control made sure this station did not disappear off the radar. Norman Banski petitioned the parliament in 2003 and it was noticeable that the project has cross-party political support.

"I am pleased to see MPs and MSPs from a range of political parties here today. 21 trains a day will stop in Laurencekirk, which I feel will meet the needs of the community."

The minister was welcomed by Provost Bill Howatson who said: "This is a home-grown project and has been brought about by a sustained local effort for a considerable time. This is a milestone in the history of Laurencekirk, when it has been restored as an important link in the national rail network."

The Grade B listed station has been transformed through a 3.5 million investment with Scottish Government funding provided by Transport Scotland and NESTRANS, supported by Aberdeenshire Council and a Railway Heritage Trust grant.

Network Rail managed delivery of the project on Transport Scotland's behalf, with Galliford Try awarded the design and build contract that included the restoration of the station building, a footbridge, two new platforms and installation of customer information stystems.

Mike Rumbles MSP said: "This is a fantastic day for Laurencekirk and the local community. This is what it is all about and there are good times ahead for the Mearns. This has been brought about by the past Scottish Government, the present government, Aberdeenshire Council, NESTRANS and the local community. It has taken many years of hard work, but this is the proof of the pudding."

Alex Johnstone MSP said: "I welcome the opening of the station and I am delighted that the community and politicians of all parties have been drawn together.

"A change of government sometimes means a scheme lands up on the scrapheap, but this has been a great example of how cross-party political support for a wonderful project can actually accelerate it towards completion."

Councillor George Carr said: "Many people have moved to Laurencekirk because of the station reopening and it will give opportunities to many to access work and leisure. I hope it will be well used."

Councillor Jean Dick commented: "I am absolutely delighted. I have lived in Laurencekirk for 20 years and for the whole of that time there has been a campaign for the station to reopen. Many people have worked very hard and I am looking forward to using the train."

Mearns councillor Tom Fleming said: "Let us hope we derive an economic boost from the reopening. A big thank you to everyone who played a part."

Norman Banski said: "This is a wonderful day for the whole community and for the whole of South Aberdeenshire. The opportunity opens up for the development of the area and help the economy. It is 19 years since Villages in Control began a campaign and it has come to fruition. I could not wish for any more."