A FUNDING gap that threatens vital rail improvements in Gloucestershire has narrowed, the Government has revealed.
And efforts are continuing to be made to close it further, insist ministers.
The update on the dualling of the Swindon to Kemble track came during a Parliamentary debate into the scheme, secured by Tory MP for the Cotswolds, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown.
The project is seen as critical to the county's economy and a 'gateway' to the region.
The current single track limits the reliability and frequency of trains on the line, which is vital for access to London.
Westminster had heard that while there was £45 million available for the scheme, a feasibility study had priced the project at £52.4 million – a shortfall of £7.4 million.
But yesterday Rail Minister Chris Mole revealed that this gap had been reduced by £2.6 million after taking off the cost of the feasibility study.
Further options were being examined to cut costs further, including contracting arrangements and offsetting the future cost of maintenance on the current single-track line, MPs heard.
He also agreed with the suggestion made by MPs that using the same team working on redoubling the north Cotswold line could save money.
Mr Mole was confident the cost could be brought down even further. Network Rail was due to report back in June on the latest costings.
"If a positive result is forthcoming, I hope a deal can be struck," said Mr Mole.
But he said issues remained, including the "formidable challenge" posed by the existing track layout.
However, he acknowledged the importance of the scheme.
"I recognise redoubling the line is a regional priority which could facilitate growth."
Mr Clifton-Brown said, "We are getting there", but he warned: "The longer we take to try to find funding, the more it will cost."
Highlighting the cross-party support for the scheme, Mr Clifton-Brown said: "Doubling this track would provide a significant extra benefit.
"Many of my constituents fail to understand why a scheme with ministerial support has failed to progress. There's a clear window of opportunity if the go-ahead is given soon."
Skills and equipment could easily be transferred from the North Cotswold line.
Labour MP for Stroud, David Drew, agreed. He said: "We need to know now that the team will come over from the Cotswold line, and that has to be the absolute priority."
In November, more than 800 individuals and 60 local businesses had signed an online petition, launched by Gloucestershire County Council.
If the money is finally agreed, the redoubling scheme could start in – or even before – 2011.