Driverless trains part of £70m Glasgow Subway plan

NEW driverless trains would run on the ageing Glasgow Subway as part of a £70 million upgrade to cut running costs, its operator has proposed.

• An artist's impression of the entrance to Hillhead subway station

The plan could increase peak train frequency from four to three minutes, but the 350-strong workforce would be reduced by nearly a quarter. This could also reverse off-peak train cuts introduced last week, and extend currently limited Sunday services.

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Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) said the revamp was vital to keeping the 113-year-old system operating by slashing its running costs by more than a third. It said the major work involved would take up to ten years, but could be completed without closure, unlike its last revamp 30 years ago.

SPT is also planning to go ahead with other, previously announced improvements, such a facelift for stations in time for the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

The new trains would be accompanied by up-to-date signalling enabling more services to run. Driverless trains already run on metro systems like the Docklands Light Railway in London.

Trains on the Glasgow Subway are already semi-automated, with acceleration and braking centrally controlled. Drivers control doors and start trains.

SPT said the upgrade would cost 290m over 30 years compared to the 220m cost of keeping the existing system going. It said this would reduce running costs over that period from 320m to 100m, and potentially boost passengers by 40 per cent to 18 million.

Funding would largely come from borrowing, with officials meeting transport minister Stewart Stevenson yesterday to press the case for support.

Upgrading the Subway is not listed in the Scottish Government's ten-year transport blueprint, but a spokesman said after the meeting the Subway formed a "crucial part" of Glasgow's transport system and officials would work closely with SPT over its future.

SPT said the 6.5-mile loop, whose 15 stations connect the city centre, west end and south side, cost more and more to run while its 13 million annual passenger total was falling because of the recession.

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Improvements are more expensive than on other systems because the Subway's trains and tracks are a uniquely small size. This is the legacy of rival railway companies who funded it preventing any of them gaining advantage by being able to use it for their own trains. The system is the third oldest in the world after London and Budapest.

A report on the upgrade to be considered by SPT on Friday confirms that an ambitious 2007 plan that would have seen the Subway both modernised and extended to the east has been shelved.

The report said the total cost of this would have been "as high as 5.5 billion". In 2007, former SPT chairman Alistair Watson, described a Scotsman report that the plan would cost 5bn as "hugely exaggerated".

George Roberts, an opposition SNP Glasgow city councillor and SPT board member, welcomed the latest plans. He said: "Undoubtedly, the Subway needs modernisation and job losses could be mitigated by extending operating hours. There are talks with the unions over redeploying drivers."

SPT chairman Jon Findlay said: "In the past there may have been other plans for developing the Subway. The new proposals can be delivered and, with the commitment of the Scottish Government, will be delivered."

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