Scrapping of airport link ‘lack of ambition' at the heart of government

Source: RTM Feb/March 2019

The potential of a future rail link to Glasgow Airport and Glasgow city centre has been a contentious issue over recent years for residents. After originally mulling over plans in January to introduce a rail link to the airport, the Scottish Government decided to scrap the plans in favour of a passenger ‘pod’ style system. Colin Smyth, Labour MSP for South Scotland and strong advocate for the rail link, tells more.

Some 10 million passengers a year travel through Glasgow airport. That is set to rise to 17 million by 2040, yet Glasgow remains the largest airport in the UK without a fixed rail link. You can get a direct train from Glasgow Central Railway Station to Manchester Airport, but not to Glasgow Airport. 

That poor rail connectivity contributes to the growing congestion problem on the nearby M8 – yet this month the SNP Government axed plans for a direct rail link to the airport.

It’s the second time they have vetoed a direct rail link. In 2006, the then Labour-led Scottish Government published plans for a direct rail link, but the election of an SNP Government led to it being scrapped in 2009.

A decade on history has repeated itself. Proposals for a £144m direct tram-train that forms the centrepiece of the Glasgow City Region Deal and comes with not only a comprehensive business case, but the cash to fund it, have now been vetoed by the SNP Government.

The economic benefits of the tram-train would have been huge. A recent report by York Aviation found that the airport contributes £1.44bn to the economy each year and supports 30,000 jobs. Crucially, those numbers are expected to increase – but that depends on the airport being well-connected. Failure to move forward with these plans will jeopardise the growth of the airport and harm the region’s economy.

Beyond the economic benefits, a direct rail link would have provided social and environmental benefits, reducing congestion on the M8, and encouraging a modal shift away from cars.

Last month the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of a motion from myself calling for the project to be progressed as a matter of urgency. It had unanimous support from all parties – including the SNP.

Days later, the Scottish Government changed its mind. The decision to ignore a vote they supported has been greeted with dismay. Former Glasgow City Council leader Frank McAveety labelled the decision a “betrayal.”

The response to the government’s emerging ‘alternative’ of a “Personal Rapid Transit system” has been equally dismissive. Stuart Patrick, chief executive of Glasgow Chamber of Commerce, rightly questions whether there would be demand from passengers loaded down with luggage facing the prospect of having to travel by train from Glasgow Central Station to Paisley Gilmore Street Station before then changing to get a “pod” to the airport.

It is a second-rate option for an increasingly second-rate transport system under this government. The city of Glasgow and neighbouring regions along with Glasgow Airport continue to grow, but so too does the lack of ambition at the heart of government when it comes to investing in our transport infrastructure.

If Scotland is to compete at a time of such economic uncertainty, and if we are serious about moving people out of their cars onto public transport, we really do need the Scottish Government to raise its game, reverse their decision, and give the green light to a proper direct rail link to Glasgow Airport.


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