AN EXPERT report has re-ignited the debate over the decision to axe a city's airport rail link after it recommended using tram cars able to run on both light and heavy rail lines.
The long-awaited Glasgow Airport Strategic Transport Network Study is due to be published within days, but Transport Minister Keith Brown confirmed yesterday that the independent consultants behind the work had concluded that the best long-term solution for passenger access was "a tram/train option" which would connect directly to Glasgow Central station.
It is understood that this would mean constructing a brand new light rail line which would carry trams from the terminal building to Paisley, where they would join the existing rail network and continue to Glasgow Central station.
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Keith Brown said the report vindicated the Government's decision to axe the Glasgow Airport Rail link project in September 2009.
Mr Brown said: "The study indicates that a tram/train option running from the airport, which would then join the existing rail network into Glasgow Central, could be the most effective way to improve public transport access to the airport from the city centre.
"This report shows us why our decision to cancel GARL, which saved £176 million of public money following concerns over increasing capital costs and in the face of cuts to the Scottish Government's budget, was correct. The study shows that there are better ways to achieve the same objectives."
However, he added that integrating trams with conventional rail lines presented "numerous, significant challenges".
In the short-term, the report recommends improving bus links between the airport and Paisley Gilmour Street train station.
It comes more than four years after the Scottish Government controversially scrapped the Garl project on cost grounds after the budget spiralled to £300 million. The plan, originally due to be completed in time for the Commonwealth Games, was set to upgrade the existing rail network and add a new 1.2 mile branch from Paisley St James station which would extend across the M8 to the airport.
It emerged last year that £29m had been spent acquiring land and paying compensation to businesses forced to relocate to make way for the doomed rail link, with many of them buying back their former sites at cut price when the scheme was axed. The Herald revealed how the last plot of land was sold back to original owners, Airlink Group, in July at a £790,000 loss for the taxpayer.
The new study was commissioned by Glasgow Airport in partnership with Transport Scotland, Glasgow and Renfrewshire councils, with independent consultants at Aecom tasked with devising the best solution for access to the airport.
Renfrewshire Council Leader Mark Macmillan said: "Mr Brown's track record on this issue is one of delay and denial on the importance and urgency of the need for major new transport links to Glasgow Airport.
"Renfrewshire Council and our partners have lobbied for years to revive the link in some form. I welcome his U-turn and will be looking to see his public declarations backed by a clear commitment and hard cash from the Scottish Government."
Councillor Alistair Watson, executive member for Land & Environmental Services, Glasgow City Council, said: "We can't, and should not, be in a position where we rely on travelling to our major airport by road. A light rail option could play a part."
Glasgow Airport bosses are said to be delighted by the outcome.
A spokesman described the study as "an extensive and exhaustive appraisal process".