Almost a year after Edinburgh councillors rejected Stagecoach's proposal to run a hovercraft service between Kirkcaldy and Portobello, the group has sent specialists to Granton and Burntisland as part of a high-level scoping exercise to look at the viability of a route between those two ports instead.
The move raises questions about the intentions of Orkney-Caithness operator Pentland. It has been in talks with Fife and Edinburgh councils and port landowner Forth Ports with a view to getting a service started by next year.
It is not thought likely that the route could support two rival services.
The last time a regular service ran over the Forth between the two ports was in the early 1990s, carrying up to 250 passengers at a time. A revival has been discussed for at least the past 10 years. Several reports have been written, including one by Hyder Consulting five years ago which said that a service would be viable if it ran a 75-passenger ferry every 20 minutes at peak times, and half-hourly at others. It estimated the cost of the terminal infrastructure would be about £8 million.
It considered various other services from other ports and found they would not work without a public subsidy. Nevertheless, Stagecoach trialled its Kirkcaldy-Portobello hovercraft service in 2007 and found Hyder had greatly over-estimated fuel costs. It said the route would be commercially viable with public assistance to build terminals, buy vehicles and run it for the first three years. Edinburgh City Council rejected it amid concerns about noise and the ramp design, ignoring support for the service from Forth Ports, Fife Council and regional transport agency, SEStran. At that time, Edinburgh stressed it remained in favour of a ferry link from Granton to Burntisland.
A spokesman for Stagecoach said: "Our scoping work looking at the potential for a link is ongoing. There's not much more to report than that."
Andrew Banks, managing director of Pentland Ferries, said that his own company's plans had been held up by discussions with Fife Council about building a carpark beside the proposed Burntisland terminal. He had hoped to get a green light earlier in the summer, but was still no further forward.
He said: "It has been a lot slower than we were expecting, but we are still hoping to get something going for next May."