Letter to The National on GAAP.

Sir,

Dave Robb’s letter of 8th February on the cancelled Glasgow Airport Access Project made many good points, although stating that ‘airport transport cannot be determined by Paisley commuters’ is off the point.

Glasgow Airport is in Paisley, a necessary fiction that most in Renfrewshire accept. It’s a significant employer for the area as well as an infrastructure asset for the country.

Paisley commuters would have helped fill either the tram-train GAAP scheme or the heavy rail trains proposed in the GARL scheme. 

Arguably, either scheme would have also helped Airport staff get to and from work. 

Any increased frequency to Paisley Gilmour Street would have been used well by these Paisley commuters and Scotrail wouldn’t sneer any increase in passenger income at one of the Scotland’s busiest passenger stations.

Sadly, The issue of the Airport Access Project was always political, one set of politicians pushed it in Glasgow City Deal and another set were, at best, ambivalent over it.

The Airport Access proposal wasn’t part of the previous STPR transport planning proposals and received input from Transport Scotland late in the process, it also wasn’t part of the ‘control period’ infrastructure plans made by Network Rail Scotland.

Without national transport planning support, without any input from the track operators and background research only at regional basis, it was never a surprise that the project was parked and then cancelled.

The M8 continues to get busier, the 500 bus gets caught in peak time congestion and car drop off or taxi will remain the quickest door to door choice for many to reach the Airport.

This new proposal requires to convince travellers to take a guided pod to the nearest mainline station, then contend with which platform for the first train to Glasgow. 

All of which is enough of a stretch without adding luggage or language issues. 

Unfortunately, the time used to develop the tram-train proposal is already gone and we are likely to wait another year on the feasibility study on the pod proposal before the matter rises in the political agenda again.

A long term solution needs a non-partisan agreed position between national and local politicians to come up with a workable and affordable plan. 

One that hopefully can help tackle the congestion issues affecting the M8 between Glasgow Airport, Paisley and Glasgow City Centre and that has ambition to create modal shift away from car or road based transport. 

Renfrewshire, ‘Paisley Commuters’ and the West of Scotland in general can rightly be sceptical about a suitable investment being made in transport infrastructure after this latest debacle.

The above is a letter I wrote to The National newspaper today.

I suppose frustration struck when I realised that the Glasgow Airport Access Project was in ‘development hell’, it looked less and less likely as time went on.

I first realised it was likely to be cancelled when I saw some tweets a few weeks back. Implication being that there was something up.

Much as I found GARL a surprise when it was cancelled, but seeing the location and placing it against the planned scheme, it just seemed wrong and the decimation of St James’ Park wouldn’t have been worth the benefits of a heavy rail scheme.

I also figured the engineering and construction of a viaduct across the park and a structure over two lanes of M8 and possibly 4 joining/exiting lanes seemed a huge task too.

Ironically, it was watching a simulation video created by rail enthusiasts that really drove that home to me.

On GAAP, I had hoped that a tram-train solution on the Karlsruhe Model could be a opportunity to look again at urban transport for the wider Glasgow conurbation, but in terms of UK practice there is only the much delayed Sheffield to Rotherham example and the delays and cost escalations haven’t helped.

It can be an eye opener seeing the Manchester system but much of that relies on former heavy rail routes that have been converted with a centrepiece of City Centre running.

Whether a mini fleet of specialised vehicles could have inter-ran to Glasgow Central with Scotrail’s Class 380’s was a question.

Whether pathing or timetabling was an issue, particularly joining and leaving the Inverclyde line for the section ‘as tram’ was another.

Whether a dedicated airport service would chew valuable time and paths now used by other services.

Could it have been a white elephant?

Not so much an issue in Germany and where the tram-train as a mode was a sensible compromise to keep services running on a network, where the balance could be found and made to work.

Not so much in an environment where heavy rail and trams exist in city spaces and not so much in cities looking at trams as pre-metro and metro solutions.

My thinking on alternatives led to wonder whether a full cost alternative like diverting and extending the Argyle Line after the Exhibition Centre by tunnel to Govan, Braehead and ultimately the Airport.

Expensive in tunnelling under the Clyde and probably needing complex solutions all the way along that sort of corridor. But absolutely future proof.

A cheaper answer is looking at the Fastlink infrastructure as pre-tram and finding a way from the QEUH to the Airport probably via Braehead and Renfrew through extension and upgrade leaving at some point a headache of how you incorporate a tram system into Glasgow City Centre, presumably using a loop around the city centre.

A bastardised GAAP alternative sharing track as far as say, West Street and street running to the city centre and back would share that sort of headache of cost and expense.

Cheaper but uglier options are shuttle buses from the Airport to Paisley Gilmour Street on a high frequency basis.

Possibly easiest to implement and to cut out the current diversions into Shortroods and Gockston would deliver a true link service,but would it pay for itself or be a fresh air carrier when other local services are struggling.

Investment and decision making are difficult but equally doing nothing in this particular case, as I’ve said in the letter to The National, lets down everyone.

I think the worst thing is the loss of time and possibilities from that.

Transport projects have a long gestation period. Route, plans and ideas are poured over.

Maybe GARL or GAAP makes a comeback, maybe there’s innovation in whatever schemes are to come as ‘West of Scotland rail enhancements’, maybe there is a radical tram scheme out there.

For now, let’s see..

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