PLANS for a £92 million tram-train hybrid linking Glasgow airport to the city centre would "not deliver superior journey times" compared to the existing bus service, a report has revealed.

The proposed route, via Paisley Gilmour Street, would result in a similar journey time from airport to city centre as the current bus service - 20.5 minutes compared to 22 minutes by bus.
The project, proposed as an alternative to the axed Glasgow Airport Rail Link (Garl), would also be dogged by timetabling issues and a lack of space at Glasgow Central.

The report states that there is "very little spare capacity" at Glasgow Central Station and "generally no free platforms" during peak time.
Although Network Rail is working to increase capacity, a solution "could be a considerable time away, potentially ten years".
The proposed scheme combines a light rail section running from the airport terminal and intersecting with main rail network at Paisley Gilmour Street. Similar tram-train infrastructure is due to go live between Sheffield and Rotherham next year - the first time the technology has been piloted in the UK. It is being seen as an important test case which will inform and shape the Glasgow project, although tram-train models are already widely used in Continental Europe. 

Among the major headaches for Glasgow tram-train developers is the potential disruption facing rush-hour commuters using the Glasgow-Paisley line.

The report states that while there is scope during off-peak hours to accommodate tram-trains every 15 minutes, running them during peak times would require "significant timetable alterations and extended journey times for other passengers".
Other obstacles include the danger of a potential veto from industry watchdog, the Office for Rail Regulation, which could rule out running trams on heavy rail lines due to their "lower degree of crashworthiness" compared to the heavy rail fleet.

There are also significant legal and financial questions over whether the new service could be incorporated into the Scotrail franchise, due to be taken over by Dutch operator Abellio from April.

If run by ScotRail, the report predicts annual operating costs of £2.5m compared to £3m as a free-standing entity - equal to the operating costs of a heavy rail link. However, the costs of reinstating the latter are estimated at some £207m.   

The details emerged in a Scottish Government-commissioned feasibility study, disclosed under freedom of information yesterday. The report, which took eight months to complete, was distributed to key stakeholders in October but never made public.

It followed recommendations by independent consultants, Aecom, that a tram-train link was the best option for improving transport to Glasgow airport, which has only road access.

It comes more than five years after the SNP-led Scottish Government scrapped the Garl heavy rail link amid spiralling costs, sparking a bitter war of words with Labour-run Glasgow and Renfrewshire councils.

The £1.3bn 'City Deal' was expected to bankroll a revised airport link, but it now appears the project's hurdles are more than just financial.  

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: "The study makes clear that there are significant challenges to the delivery of a tram-train link which would raise financial, technical and operational issues. As well as the cost to taxpayers, we have particular concerns at the disruption the scheme would have on rail passengers and existing services - including the risk that journey times would actually increase and the frequency of other services be reduced."

Councillor Kenny McLean, SNP spokesman for Economic Development at Glasgow City Council, said: "I share the Scottish Government's aspiration that this project is delivered, however with this proposal we are running the risks of making the same mistakes of the previous flawed GARL project. It is vital that it is practical and cost effective but we are yet to see such a business plan."

A spokesman for Glasgow Airport said they welcomed the feasibility study for highlighting the "the further work required", but added: "It is widely recognised that transport links to Glasgow Airport need to be enhanced. We have worked with Transport Scotland, Glasgow City Council, Renfrewshire Council and others over a number of years to define the issues and identify means by which they can be addressed."
Gareth Williams, director of policy at the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI), added: "Many European cities benefit from train or tram-train links with their key airports.

"Capacity on the rail network was always going to be a challenge and we welcome this study as identifying the issues which need to be addressed - all partners now need to work on the solutions which support the economic success of the city-region."

Glasgow Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stuart Patrick said the link was "much need by business" and called on all parties to resolve the technical issues as quickly as possible.

Mr Patrick added: "We note the issue of journey times on the link being considered on average as being similar to those by bus on the M8, but our concern remains that there are many times of the day when the motorway is heavily congested, and the rail connection avoids that problem."

A spokesman for Renfrewshire Councilsaid:  "The overwhelming evidence is that a surface access link will deliver significant economic as well as transport benefits.  That is why it is a key proposal in the £1.3billion City Deal programme.  Any major infrastructure programme has challenges to overcome.  The work so far has highlighted a number of issues that will require to be addressed in more detail as development of the project progresses. We are committed to working closely with key partners to address the relevant issues and ensure that satisfactory solutions are arrived at that deliver real benefits to the travelling public.."

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council  said: "Glasgow is the powerhouse of the Scottish economy and we have always argued that a new surface access route from the airport to the city centre is essential. It forms a key element of the £1.13bn City Deal agreed with the UK and Scottish governments for the Glasgow city region.

"As with any major project, identifying potential risks is a key part of the early work that needs to be carried out. The tram-train link is just one of the options being looked at and no decision has been taken on which one will be implemented."