15 trains an hour to link cities

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GLASGOW and Edinburgh will be connected by up to 15 trains an hour - some non-stop services taking 30 minutes - under ambitious plans to create a central belt 'super-corridor'.

Ministers are expected to announce this week they will back moves to upgrade the lines connecting the country's two main cities and tempt commuters off the M8.

The rail routes have long been the subject of complaints from passengers about over-filled trains and delayed journeys, both of which have persuaded many travellers to stick to the car.

Under the new plans, non-stop express trains are likely to be offered to commuters, with passengers able to choose from four fully electrified routes. Transport chiefs hope the plans will be fully operational by 2015.

The improvement plan is expected to be put forward by ministers this week at the same time as they confirm their plans to scrap the controversial 650m Edinburgh Airport Rail Link (EARL).

Ministers are facing a backlash from Labour and the Liberal Democrats over their decision, amid claims they have been forced to cut it in order to pay for other costly election pledges.

Ministers are believed to be preparing their announcement on the Edinburgh to Glasgow line as a way of 'sweetening the pill'.

Transport experts involved in the scheme say they hope to build an inter-city link to rival those in Europe, particularly in Germany and Holland where fast and frequent services deter many commuters from taking the car.

Currently, most commuters use the four-an-hour shuttle service via Falkirk, which has up to seven stops en route.

This link will now be electrified, and ministers are also said to be examining whether it would be possible to run an express service on the line, running non-stop between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Together with electrification, this could reduce the time it takes to travel between the two cities to just over half an hour, transport chiefs believe. In addition, a further three upgraded routes via Carstairs, Shotts and Bathgate will also be provided.

The moves won the support of leading transport experts last night. Former Government adviser Professor David Begg said: "There are significant benefits if you build good links between Edinburgh and Glasgow. It is a scheme whose time has come.

"As far as Edinburgh Airport is concerned, there is already an outstanding bus service, and if you are looking at what gives you the best return for your money and which gets Scotland's two cities to work in tandem, then spending money on the Edinburgh to Glasgow link is the key project."

Another Government adviser said: "We'll be creating the kind of high-intensity rail service across the central belt that places like the Ruhr and Holland have had and thrived on for years."

However, the move to scrap EARL was also attacked. Supporters insist that despite concerns raised by the Auditor-General about the way the project was being managed, it should still be backed.

A spokesman for CBI Scotland said: "His findings on the uncertainties over costs are not surprising, and indeed understandable in a large bespoke project of this nature. There are always uncertainties during the period between having the indicative estimates and receipt of the tender submissions, but that is not a reason to abort the project."

The SNP said it would cancel the 650m Edinburgh Airport Rail Link project before the election, comparing it to "a Holyrood building mark two".

Plans were in place to build a tunnel underneath the runway, which would have connected the airport both to Edinburgh and much of the north of Scotland.

Lib Dem deputy leader and former transport minister Tavish Scott said: "I think this is a major strategic error by the SNP.

"In four years they will not be able to say that they have improved the public transport links to Edinburgh Airport at all, to any of the 62 stations it would have linked to across the country.

"Quite how we are meant to sell Scotland internationally when we make a strategic error like this is something they will have to answer for."