KEN HOUSTON OCTOBER 25 2016
There may be something down the line that makes it impracticable but, on paper, the proposal for a PRT (personal rapid transit) scheme to serve Glasgow Airport, in preference to the more establishment-led tram-train project, seems to have a good set of wheels.
Both schemes have been put forward as substitutes for the heavy-rail link from Glasgow Central to Glasgow Airport (GARL), which was cancelled in 2009 after £29 million had been spent on preparations for the project.
If approved, the PRT scheme would be delivered by a company called Junction 29, which owns a 40-acre site close to the M8 and Paisley St James rail station.
Comparisons are being made with a similar facility which transports passengers using Terminal 5 at Heathrow to and from a 1,275-space car park.
Perhaps an even more appropriate comparison would be the PRT link from San Francisco Airport (pictured) to a nearby commuter station, Millbrae, on the BART subway network, which I experienced several years ago.
At the airport terminal the driver-less PRT mini-coaches (using a monorail track) speedily loaded and unload passengers; the problem I had (though admittedly not a big one) was the wait at Millbrae for a BART train to take me to central Frisco, the service being less frequent than expected.
So presuming the Glasgow PRT scheme comes in within budget and lives up to the operational claims, the frequency and regularity of the connecting rail service at St James will be key to the success or otherwise of such a project.
Many business flyers will continue to take taxis to and from Glasgow city centre but even leisure travellers are unlikely to be prepared to wait any more than 15 minutes at the very most for a train – and in some cases not at all given that there is a regular bus service which leaves from outside the terminal building and (except during rush hours) makes the journey to the city centre in the 15 minutes it might wait for a train to turn up.
When BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) was extended at great expense to serve San Francisco Airport proper it was on the basis of passenger predictions which turned out to be hopelessly optimistic and I suspect much the same will be made on behalf of tram-trains for Glasgow.
Here is Councillor Frank McAveety, leader of Glasgow City Council: “A new link between the airport and the city centre is essential for the thousands of business travellers who fly into and out of Glasgow every day.”
Confident words but, for the moment, just words. Consequently, the lower capital cost of the PRT project (claimed to be around half the £144 million for a tram-train scheme and delivered much earlier) might be considered worthwhile.
The big advantage of the more favoured tram-train scheme is the provision of a direct link to the airport terminal from Central station without the need to change. The link will also connect to Paisley’s main station, Gilmour Street, a major junction where lines between Glasgow and Stranraer, Ayr, Ardrossan, Largs, Wemyss Bay and Gourock all converge.
However claims have been made that timetables on normal commuter services operating in and out of Glasgow Central may be adversely affected if tram-trains are to be accommodated on heavy-rail track.
And never forget the prospect of a potential elephant trap in the form of a trade union civil war over who should operate tram-trains. A bare knuckle fight between, in the one corner, an unholy alliance of ASLEF (representing train drivers) and British Rail and, in the other, the old TGWU (representing busmen) almost killed stone dead the Tyneside Metro project, centred on Newcastle.
A demarcation dispute of this kind would not affect the St James option. However, given that the RMT in Scotland seems to react to railway expansion by throwing its toys out the pram and make squealing noises about perceived ‘threats to jobs’, one can never tell.
EDINBURGH’S TOUR DE FORCE
From flanged wheels to rubber tyres and from Glasgow to Edinburgh where, as stated in earlier articles, there are concerns over profit-making Lothian Buses being used as a milch-cow to provide an ongoing subsidy for one tram half-line.
But for one arm of Lothian, Edinburgh Bus Tours, the road ahead appears to be obstruction-free. The operation has become the third most popular paid-for attraction in Scotland – after Edinburgh Castle and Zoo – and now has a dedicated staff of over 160 personnel, comprising drivers, guides, advisors and ticket-sellers.
And as if to emphasise this growth, the company recently wheeled out the first examples of a new 30-strong fleet of tour buses costing £6.5million. The vehicles have been specially-designed for the city tour market and boast several added features aimed at enhancing the customer experience.
As for identity, there are three contrasting liveries – red for tours of the Old Town and Castle with multilingual audio facilities; green and yellow for tours of the Old and New Towns with live guides; and blue and yellow for the Majestic Tour which takes in the Royal Botanic Garden and the Royal Yacht, Britannia.
The green/yellow vehicles are likely to lead to a wave of nostalgia among those Glaswegians of more mature years ‘through in Edinburgh for the day’, this colour scheme bearing a remarkable resemblance to the livery of Glasgow’s once-proud, 1,400-strong municipal bus fleet.
All that’s missing will be the cry that once characterised the fearsome, female Glasgow clippie: “Cumoangerraff!”