STRATHCLYDE's rail network, Britain's biggest local network outside London, was expanded yesterday with the opening of five stations on the Glasgow North Suburban line, bringing to 10 the total number of stations opened in the region during the past nine weeks.
The stations at Ashfield, Possilpark/Parkhouse, Lambhill, Summerston, and Maryhill are on the stretch of line originally opened as part of the Glasgow, Dumbarton, and Helensburgh railway and are the first on the route since the Beeching closures more than 30 years ago.
The stations, which cost #2.2m and were funded by Strathclyde Regional Council with a 50% grant from the European Commission, will provide a half-hourly service from Maryhill to Glasgow Queen Street (high level) until 11.30pm.
The service will begin today and will run from Mondays to Saturdays. However, travellers will have the opportunity to sample the service free of charge on Sunday.
Mr Brian Wilson, Labour Transport spokesman, warned that such developments will not be feasible if the railways are privatised and local authorities reformed.
''The bottom-line question is 'can you imagine a private operator doing this?'
''And can you imagine the smaller local authorities like Eastwood contributing to a system which opens railway lines in Maryhill?'. The answer is no. This kind of innovation faces the twin threat of privatisation and local government disruption.
''I don't think such investment would be sustainable and I think it is a greatly undervalued aspect of the whole local government debate that Strathclyde has put muscle into the railways, and that won't survive the break-up of local government.''
ScotRail and Strathclyde region denied yesterday that failure to win private finance meant the new line would have to use outdated rolling stock and said they anticipated delivery of 20 new trains within the next two years.
Speaking at Queen Street station, Mr Cyril Bleasdale, ScotRail director, also denied that the investment was linked to privatisation.
''It really has nothing to do with privatisation ... it is to do with creating new railways, that people will use, and reducing road congestion.''
He added: ''The trains on this route from Queen Street to Maryhill are some of our most modern trains, about five years old, and are very comfortable and very reliable.''
Councillor Malcolm Waugh, chairman of Strathclyde region's roads and transportation committee, said the council had been unable to announce a contract for 20 new units in June because of the White Paper on local government reform.
He is to meet Transport Minister Roger Freeman next week and is ''quite confident'' that the council can secure investment for stock.
Welcoming the services, Councillor Neelam Bakshi, who represents Summerston on Strathclyde region, said: ''Bus services in the area have been greatly reduced since deregulation but the new rail services will mean a lot of people can get into town quickly and cheaply and it should also greatly reduce the congestion in Maryhill Road.''