MINISTERS are to be advised to scrap a direct rail line to Edinburgh Airport in favour of a tram link from nearby stations, The Scotsman has learned.
The plan would see passengers alighting at a new station at Gogar and transferring to the already approved tram line to the airport terminal. The recommendation by the Scottish Government's Transport Scotland agency comes after ministers ordered a review of a 650 million scheme for the airport to be served by terminal station and through line.
The SNP-led government attacked the cost and risk of the scheme, and an Audit Scotland investigation found serious problems with the way it was being run.
Stewart Stevenson, the transport minister, is due to announce the fate of the scheme to MSPs on Thursday.
However, opposition parties said they have yet to give up the fight for the original scheme, which was backed by the last Labour-Liberal Democrat administration and won approval at Holyrood in March.
But Mr Stevenson will be advised by the transport agency that the tram option would be much cheaper and would avoid having to dig a tunnel under the runway.
Instead, trains from the west and north would stop at a new station on the Edinburgh-Fife line near the Gogar roundabout, south-east of the airport. Trains from Glasgow and Dunblane could also be diverted via the station by using a link line between Winchburgh and Dalmeny, near South Queensferry.
It is understood that the plan would involve a tram stop beside the new Gogar station, which would also be close to the planned tram depot. Rail passengers, including those from Bathgate, could also switch to the airport-Newhaven tram line at an already planned interchange at Edinburgh Park station to the south.
Most passengers currently travel to the airport by car, taxi or a bus link from Edinburgh city centre, which operates every ten minutes and is among the most frequent in Europe.
Opposition parties insisted yesterday that the original scheme was not dead, pointing to the defeat they inflicted on the Scottish Government in saving the Edinburgh tram project in June. One MSP said: "It would be premature for us to give up the ghost on the airport rail link - things could change. No-one at Holyrood will accept the ministerial statement on Thursday will be the last word on the project."
Tavish Scott, the Lib Dem transport minister until the election in May, said scrapping the airport rail link would be a "huge error". He said: "Scotland's economy would benefit best from the project. Any other kind of proposal being dreamed up is more about getting the SNP out of a spending hole than in the strategic interests of Scotland."
Charlie Gordon, Labour's transport spokesman, said he would be "questioning the minister closely on Thursday".
The Audit Scotland review, ordered by John Swinney, the finance secretary, found in June that the rail-link project lacked co-ordination and a decision on how the scheme would be completed. He said the report raised "a number of serious concerns about governance and development issues, which we would have expected to be in better shape."