Alastair Dalton: Roadworks an opportunity for the train to take the strain

The impending M8 roadworks provide commuters with an opportunity to consider other options. Picture: John Devlin
The impending M8 roadworks provide commuters with an opportunity to consider other options. Picture: John Devlin
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The more there are warnings of travel “chaos” from major road and rail disruption, the less it is likely to happen.

This is because people find another route, postpone their trip or decide not to travel at all.

That was largely the case during a weekend closure on the M74 in November, and train diversions during the four-month closure of the Queen Street tunnel in Glasgow last summer.

The next big test will be next Friday evening when the M8 and A8 around the Baillieston interchange on the eastern edge of Glasgow shuts until the end of April.

Traffic between Edinburgh and Glasgow - 100,000 vehicles a day use this stretch - will be re-routed to the north, including through part of a roundabout.

However, drivers used to effortlessly coming on or off the M73 via sliproads at the junction will, in some cases, have to follow an even more bewildering detour.

Like many major roadworks which disrupt the normal traffic flow, the first few days are likely to see long tailbacks. The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency, which is charge of the project, has predicted “significant” and “major” delays.

It is billed as the most disruptive yet for commuters already weary after more than two years of roadworks as part of the £500 million M8 M73 M74 upgrade project, which is officially still on schedule to be finished this “spring”.

Transport officials like talking about completion dates as seasons rather than months because they provide more leeway. In the case of this project, that means it might not be finished until mid-June - if it remains on time.

With disruption likely to continue until at least then, few commuters are likely to put up with being held up in queues for longer than a certain period of time.

Some will travel earlier or later, switch to a different route, or choose to work from home.

However, others may experiment with travelling a different way - by train, bus, on foot, or a combination.

After the Forth Road Bridge closed for three weeks because of a structural fault in 2015, researchers found that a small but significant proportion of commuters permanently altered their travel habits.

Although that was enforced change because of an unplanned shutdown, it does show the potential for shifting some people from their cars.

I know many drivers don’t care about their impact on the environment if it compromises convenience, but shocks to the transport system like the motorway roadworks provides the opportunity for people to think about travel in a way they might never otherwise do.

The Edinburgh-Glasgow rail line via Bathgate runs roughly parallel with the M8, with Uphall station visible beside the motorway.

It’s also less busy than the main line between the cities, and I’m told ScotRail is planning publicity to encourage those affected by the roadworks to switch from car to train.

The Scottish Government has ambitious climate change targets by reducing emissions, much of it from transport.

Not travelling by car also has health and safety benefits, since the journey is likely to include more walking and carry lower risks if taken by bus or train instead.

This is a significant consideration, a day after it was announced that traffic across Britain had reached record levels last year - of 320.5 billion vehicle miles.