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Sunday, October 21, 2007


On a previous post I commented on the option of spending £20 million on a monorail connection between Glasgow Airport & Paisley rail station rather than £200 million on a new full scale railway link to Glasgow Central. Under the previous transport minister Nicol Stephen, now Scottish Lib Dem leader I got what turned out to be a brush off from several levels down saying that they couldn't consider such thing without a specific proposal which I would have to produce. When I passed that on to Britain's leading monorail company ULtra & they offered such a proposal I got a reply from one rank further up saying that they hadn't actually meant the bit about being interested in a proposal & would only ever consider such a thing if it had been presented by one of the 2 parties in government. Strangely enough the Lib Dem Conference had indeed recently passed a motion calling for consideration of monorails (presented by my then constituency) but clearly neither Nicol, nor anybody else in the leadership, pays any attention whatsoever to what the legally sovereign but in practice toothless conference decides.

When the SNP came to power I tried again & to absolutely no surprise got the same result , though more courteously & bearing the signature of the project manager. Here is the substantial part of it with some comments:

"Proposals for a monorail link to Glasgow airport have been previously considered .....

The Committee noted that such a scheme was not so clearly superior (1) to GARL that the Bill should not progress. Fundamentally, it was not clear to the Committee that full account had been taken of the myriad economic, planning & legal considerations that would be required for such a scheme to succeed (2). Nor was sufficiently detailed evidence presented on likely patronage figures, the speed of the journey time, or how this alternative would take account of wider policy issues such as improving the rail network (3). in addition, a monorail scheme to Paisley Gilmour Street would not provide interconnections with Gourock & Wemyss Bay services (4).

Therefore it was concluded that a monorail to Paisley Gilmour Street would not offer sufficient wider strategic benefits (5) & was not an appropriate way forward for the rail link.

Works, in advance of the main construction contracts for the Glasgow Airport Rail Link, have commenced in respect of upgrading off site football pitches to mitigate the impact the link will have on the playing fields at Paisley St James (6).

The Scottish Executive supports the GARL as promoted by Strathclyde partnership for Transport which has been endorsed by the Scottish Parliament (7) & therefore has no plans at this time to consider any alternative proposals.

I appreciate that this is not the response for which you would have hoped but I hope the information I have provided is helpful."

1) "not so superior" is pretty much an admission that it is somewhat superior. Since the original review of the railway plan acknowledged that it made absolutely no economic sense & that even if it were to cost half the projected amount it would still not be a project that real, as opposed to government, investors would consider investing in this is pretty irrefutable.

2) I am going to post the list of government excuses for rubbishing any proposal from the magnificent TV series Yes Minister. Basically they boil down to "there are unanswered questions about the proposal" , since it is always possible to come up with questions which have not been answered, or indeed asked. This objection fits very neatly into the Yes minister groove.

3) As indeed does this. Note that the government HAVE ascertained traffic figures for the rail option (very disappointing ones) so to say that they have not ascertained figures for any alternative is a bit of a give away.

4) Balderdash. The rail line to Gourock & Wemyss Bay runs through Paisley Gilmour St so a monorail to there does indeed link. There has recently been some discussion on whether the subsidy to the rather small Wemyss Bay station amounts to £50 per ticket (counting only those passengers connecting to the ferry which is the ostensible justification for the subsidy) or a mere £10 per ticket counting everybody who gets off there. Call me cynical if you wish but I suspect the "likely patronage figures" for airline passengers going on to Wemyss Bay by rail would come to some dozens annually which would not reinforce the economic case for spending £200 million on the project.

5) Again this is specific nonsense. One of the advantages of the monorail link, beyond cost, is that Gilmour St is on the line to Prestwick Airport. There are already plenty of trains on that line & thus such a link would enable the 2 airports to work together (Glasgow Prestwick has longer runways & more capacity for expansion & runway lengthening & is thus better suited for long distance flights) & that together the 2 airports could have many of the advantages of a hub airport. If that is not a "wider strategic benefit" there ain't no such animal.

6) Decisionmakers are naturally keen to reduce the period between when it is to early to publicly discuss options & when work has started & it is thus too late for public input. In fact the work mentioned as having started here, of upgrading a football field, is only tangentially connected to actually building a railway, can be considered part of the council's sports budget & anyway must be a minuscule fraction of the project cost.

7) This is the real reason - SPT is a Glasgow Labour fiefdom, the SNP do not have a majority in the Scottish Parliament, indeed they have found it impossible to overturn the other 3 parties commitment to the pork barrel of £600 million devoted to 1 tramline in Edinburgh. Standing up for economic sanity would be a hard battle & one which they might well not win. One the other hand they certainly won't win if they don't try. On the 3rd hand the fact that the other parties combined to force through the Edinburgh tramline, when only the most blinkered vested interests don't accept what a waste it is, has coincided, I suspect not coincidentally, with the continuing rise in SNP popularity & disenchantment with the old parties.

There can be defeats in a good cause but there are no defeats in a popular cause when you are an elected politician. The SNP could say there should be a public debate on whether it would be better to spend £20 million than £200 million on a link, already acknowledged as not making economic sense at £200 million, This would not make it worse & in 1 major way improve it. There would be a wailing & gnashing of teeth among Labour vested interests (which currently includes the Lib Dem Party) but not, I think, among the electorate.

If, as stated, the main problem with the Not Invented Here solution of a monorail is merely that there has not been as much investigation into the "myriad economic, planning & legal" requirements as was done with the favoured case the solution must be obvious. For example if the government do not have detailed information about the "journey times" for a monorail covering approximately 1 mile I have little doubt that the manufacturers would be quite able to give a figure - if asked.

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