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INSIDE TRACK: Glasgow airport rail link may be back on the table

IT has been a thorn in the side of the Scottish Government ever since their controversial decision to scrap it in 2008, but by the end of this month airport bosses at Glasgow should finally be clearer on the plans for a long-awaited rail link from the terminal to the city.

A feasibility study on proposals for a tram-train hybrid connecting Glasgow airport to the city centre is said to be more or less complete, with airport chiefs expecting to get their first look at the report by the end of August.

The wider public may have longer to wait, as Transport Scotland is likely to await feedback from the airport before publishing the findings.

Nonetheless, the study will be a first step towards neutralising one of the most bitter disputes to engulf east-west relations in the Central Belt. Labour-run Glasgow and Renfrewshire councils were enraged when the Scottish Government axed the Glasgow Airport Rail Link (Garl) in September 2009 amid fears the budget was spiralling out of control.

Ministers had wrested control over the project from Strathclyde Passenger Transport (SPT) just six months earlier amid concerns it was not going to be delivered on time or budget.

Now, nearly five years later, the project is being resurrected in a modified - and significantly cheaper - form.

In contrast to the estimated £210 million for Garl's spur rail line linking Glasgow airport to Paisley, the tram-train hybrid has been forecast by independent consultants at Aecom - who advised Transport Scotland on public transport options for the airport - to come in at around £92m.

The tram is expected to run on a light rail line before joining the heavy rail network at Paisley Gilmour Street. A similar scheme is already underway in Sheffield, and tram-train hybrids have already been running in parts of Europe for 20 years.

Crucially, the plan should not involve controversial purchases of private land, as the tram route from the terminal to Paisley is expected to run entirely within plots already owned by either Renfrewshire Council or the airport.

The Herald broke the news last year that the final plots of land bought for Garl were sold back to their original owner at an £800,000 loss to the taxpayer. Figures subsequently disclosed in parliament revealed that the total cost to the taxpayer of axing Garl was £30m, including £8m spent on land and compensation costs. It is fair to say, then, that ministers will not want to embark on any new airport-related infrastructure schemes that would entail buying back any of these plots.

Coincidently, the feasibility study is nearing conclusion as the £1.3 billion City Deal was signed off. The UK and Scottish Governments have pledged £500m each in grant funding, with the eight participating local authorities each borrowing a further £130m.

The fund will help bankroll major infrastructure projects, with an airport rail link expected to be among the first projects up for consideration. It does not signal a return to a new Garl, however - heavy rail is off the table - but it might get Glasgow's tram-train rolling.

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