Alastair Dalton: Fastlink needs to get up to speed

FASTLINK – the name has become a joke, writes Alastair Dalton

Fastlink was supposed to be Glasgow's answer to the Edinburgh tram system. Picture: TSPL
Fastlink was supposed to be Glasgow's answer to the Edinburgh tram system. Picture: TSPL

IT IS Glasgow’s answer to Edinburgh’s tram line, which has also been plagued with lengthy delays but has avoided major controversy only because it has not caused such disruption.

Fastlink, a partially-segregated busway between the city centre and Scotland’s biggest hospital complex, should have opened in time for last year’s Commonwealth Games – eight years after receiving planning approval.

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However, the £40m scheme is now unlikely to be ready in time for the South Glasgow University Hospitals complex becoming fully operational in three weeks’ time.

The project was conceived to be a match for the best in Europe – and to serve what will be one of the continent’s largest hospitals, with 10,000 staff. It has also been designed so it can be converted into a tram line in the future.

But the pace of Fastlink’s development seems to have got slower and slower. The pledge to have it running for the Games last July was also quietly shelved.

Drivers passing the 3.5-mile route along the Clyde, over the Squinty Bridge and through Govan, may have noticed Fastlink’s apparent snail-like progress and wondered at the appropriateness of its name. What they currently encounter is a combination of semi-completed sections and lines of traffic cones guarding roadworks left untouched for months at some sites.

According to Glasgow City Council, which is in charge of building the project, sections of road are still being constructed or altered “throughout the route” west from the city centre. Electronic information signs, security CCTV and bus lane enforcement cameras have also to be added.

Even the most complete stretches have holes instead of bus shelters.

It is as if the “Death Star” nickname of the hospital’s giant main building is having a malign influence.

Bus operators are required to use new, high-quality vehicles on Fastlink. But the irony is that several firms have already launched them, using existing – relatively uncongested – parallel roads.

However, the most significant flaw in the scheme is the lack of work in the congested city centre, where buses are most likely to be held up.

A terse statement from Glasgow City Council indicated that the process remained at an early stage – and was very much open-ended. It said simply: “Further bus priority improvements are being developed for consultation and future implementation.”

That’s pretty slow progress for the most important transport link to the new hospital considering its historically poor bus links.

Like Edinburgh’s trams, Fastlink is planned as the first stage of a longer route or network. But the story so far does not bode well for future prospects.