THE plan to connect the airport serving Glasgow with a new rail and tram link to the city centre is being revived despite the controversial cancellation of the project by the SNP government.
Trams which can also run on railway lines are among the options which will feature in the airport’s latest strategy for improving links to the city centre, to be published later this year.
The move comes as Glasgow Airport chiefs become increasingly concerned about mounting road congestion, nearly three years after the previously planned £210 million Glasgow Airport Rail Link (GARL) was axed by SNP ministers.
A one-mile tram spur to the airport terminal from the main rail line to the south of the airport is considered to be cheaper than a railway branch and could include tighter curves to avoid obstacles such as the airport’s fuel depot. Such obstructions were a major factor in the cost of the proposed GARL soaring, which led to it being scrapped.
But supporters of the plan hope that the SNP’s new commitment to using capital spending projects to revive the economy will attract both public and private sector investment. Glasgow remains among the few major European cities not to have a direct rail or tram link to its airport, with most passengers relying on motor transport.
Other less costly options in the airport’s new “surface access” strategy include extending a planned busway from the city centre to the Southern General Hospital in Govan further west to the airport. Funding for that project, known as Fastlink, which could later be converted into a tram line, was promised by finance secretary John Swinney when he cancelled the rail link.
A further option is for a dedicated bus lane to operate at peak times on the M8 between the airport and city centre.
But the “tram-train” option could capitalise on those parts of the airport rail link scheme which survived the axe in 2007. These include upgraded signalling and a third track being added to the main Paisley-Glasgow line to provide space for more trains.
Two new platforms, originally planned for airport trains, have also been built at Glasgow Central station.
Tram-trains operate in several European countries, including the Rhonexpress link to Lyon Airport in France. The UK government is considering a pilot scheme in Sheffield, and its plans to cut rail costs, published on Thursday, described tram-trains as an approach that could bring “whole system cost reductions”.
Currently, three-quarters of passengers reach the airport by car or taxi while only a quarter use public transport.
Officials at Glasgow Airport, which handles nearly seven million passengers a year, said the M8 – the main access route – was becoming increasingly congested, despite last year’s opening of the M74 extension to ease the M8 bottleneck in the city centre.
The airport’s managing director Amanda McMillan has vented her frustration at the lack of progress since the rail link was scrapped.
She said: “The most disappointing thing for me, post the collapse of the Glasgow Airport Rail Link, is that no plan B has emerged.”
An airport spokesman said: “We are committed to working with the relevant planning and transport authorities to achieve a fast, reliable and direct link to the city centre.
“We recently carried out a review of the transport network serving the airport to identify existing constraints, and these findings will be reflected in our surface access strategy, which will be refreshed later this year.
“In regards to the suggestion of a tram-train link, we need to consider the future of the airport and its connections with the city, and this is one option which will be looked at alongside other alternatives. Tram-trains have certainly been used to good effect in Europe, especially in Germany and France.”
Renfrewshire North and West SNP MSP Derek Mackay, who met transport minister Keith Brown last month to press the case for a new link, said: “We have got to make sure the access issue is addressed. Considering the financial pressures, the more cost-effective the better.”
The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency said it was helping the airport choose the best way of improving access.
A spokesman said: “Transport Scotland and other partners have been working with BAA Glasgow Airport on their Glasgow airport strategic transport network study.
“When completed, this study should provide the evidence to support any surface access proposals to be included in the airport master plan.”