ONE of Scotland’s busiest stations could be closed for more than a year in a move that could cause travel chaos for millions as part of major upgrading of the rail network.
Rail chiefs are considering a complete shutdown of Queen Street in Glasgow as an option in the station’s overhaul to accommodate electric trains and provide links to the adjacent Buchanan Galleries shopping centre.
The 21 million passengers a year who use the station are still expected to suffer significant disruption even if it is closed in phases.
The rebuild is due to happen between August 2015 and December 2016, with platforms being lengthened to take longer electric trains and overhead electric wires installed.
Work would also encompass the station’s mile-long entry tunnel, which has only two tracks, compared to four into Waverley station in Edinburgh, which handles a similar number of passengers.
Extending the platforms will also require the demolition of part of a hotel, which is built across the station frontage onto George Square. New station entrances to link with a planned extension of the Buchanan Galleries would also be created.
The plans are part of the £650 million Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme (Egip) to provide longer and faster trains between the cities.
News of the Queen Street disruption comes five months after Scotland on Sunday revealed that work would also hit passengers further east on the line, with the Winchburgh tunnel in West Lothian to be closed for three months.
David Simpson, route managing director of Network Rail Scotland, confirmed that closure of upper level of Queen Street was an option and stressed that “nothing is ruled out”.
More trains could be run into the lesser-used lower level, which currently caters for local services, but less frequently but with more carriages but details still had to be worked out. An alternative would be stopping trains outside the city centre at a suburban station.
Transport Scotland, the agency in charge of the project, has yet to announce how work will affect passengers. This is despite transport minister Keith Brown telling MSPs a year ago the implementation plan would be “available soon”. The agency has now said it had asked Network Rail to develop a “delivery plan”.
This will have to take account of the project being downsized after Brown announced in July last year that its budget would be cut by a third – £350m – to save money. As a result, trains will now have more carriages rather than run more frequently. The 50-minute Edinburgh-Glasgow journey time is also being reduced by only eight minutes rather than the planned 13 minutes.
The budget cut also means the improvements will be delayed until two years beyond the project’s December 2016 completion date, as our sister paper The Scotsman revealed earlier this year
Passengers will not enjoy the faster journey time until 2018 because the electrification of other routes which feed into the main line has been postponed until then. The current maximum six-carriage trains will not be increased to eight cars until 2018 either.
Labour said passengers must be told what was happening. Transport spokesman Mark Griffin said: “It’s now been three months since the transport minister told us the SNP’s scaled back and delayed version of Egip was “on track”, yet we’re no further forward with a programme.
“They’ve cut the original plans by a third but still seem to be struggling to deliver what remains. We need clarity now on what’s happening and when it will be built. Parts of the build will have an impact on current rail provision and it’s only right they come forward and tell travellers how their journeys will be affected.”
Transport Scotland admitted the project would be “challenging”. Its spokeswoman said: “We are working closely with Network Rail to deliver the Egip electrification of the Edinburgh to Glasgow line to Queen Street station by December 2016.
“The electrification of any live railway will always be a challenging undertaking. We have asked Network Rail to work with the rail industry to develop a delivery programme which is predicated on minimising disruption to the travelling public.”
A Network Rail spokesman said: “We are currently working with Transport Scotland to plan the delivery of the Egip programme and, quite rightly, a variety of different options are being considered.
“The programme is a complex one involving a range of major works and, as with all our enhancement projects, minimising disruption to passengers and services will be a key priority.”