Friday, September 18, 2009
THE Glasgow airport rail link, social housing and economic development have become the first major casualties of the Scottish Government's spending cuts.This rail link was always political pork barrelling for the Glasgow Labour establishment. When the previous, Labour, administration set it up their own inquiry it said that it made no economic sense & indeed would not have done so even if it achieved twice the expected passenger levels. Back then the cost was indeed quoted at around the £115 million mentioned but it has been rising ever since to anything up to £400 million now.
The axing of the £115 million rail link was the most high-profile of a raft of cuts announced by finance secretary John Swinney yesterday in the draft budget for 2010-11.
Others included a proposal to cut social housing spending by £180m,
However the government already have an alternative on the table. ULTra, who are building am automated monorail for Heathrow offered to build a monorail from Glasgow Airport to Paisley Gilmour Street railway station for £20 million.
This, as I reported previously, & again was rejected on the grounds that, without seriously investigating it is not be seen to be "so completely superior" to the rail link as to be worth investigating. I suspect that if an actual assessment were made of the monorail option it would indeed be found not merely to be an order of magnitude cheaper but also superior.
The idea of an automated monorail for the 1 1/2 miles from the airport to the station has the following advantages other than cost:
* Because there are trains from Paisley to Glasgow Central every few minutes it would usually be quicker than waiting up to half an hour for special trains.
* Creating a hub airport - Paisley Station is on the same line as the station at Glasgow's other Airport, Prestwick, to which trains already run regularly. Thus this link would allow people to cross connect turning the 2 airports into a regional hub.
* Modern appeal - monorails, particularly fully automated ones do give an impression of modernity that traditional railways don't & would make an appealing gateway to Glasgow.
* Speed of construction. The world's first passenger monorail, constructed in 1888 between Listowel & Ballybunion, a distance of 9 miles, took under a year so, with modern technology, it should be easy to have this 1 1/2 mile stretch built well before the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
* Encouraging innovation in public projects - there are many such public projects which seem to be rejected purely because of what looks like Not Invented Here syndrome (this happened to a Forth Tunnel which could cost a few tens of millions & to the Scottish Tunnel Project which could have revolutionised the whole Scottish economy) but one such project could lead to others.
* Land saving - since a monorail moves above the ground almost no land is taken out of use.
* Ease of access - Gilmour Street Station is already elevated so a monorail from the upper level of the terminal to the station platform would be a simple & easy trip.
* Government investment - a growing economy has to invest as well as just current spending. By cutting this project the SNP government has ended one of the very few actual government investments is existence.
* Green - since the Scottish Parliamentarians have, unanimously, decided that not creating CO2 is so important it is worth destroying half the Scottish economy the importance to them of the fact that small monorail cars travelling such a short distance use little energy & since there need be no trains added to an already good service there would be no extra there, literally cannot be overestimated. While it would save many cars & buses.
There was also a cheaper version involving a 1,000 yd monorail to the Paisley St James station which would run roughly along the spur the proposed railway would have taken. Since it attaches to much less used line than the main proposal it would , though cheaper, have far fewer train connections & only has the advantage of being the lowest bid.
On the other main cut proposed - cutting spending on social housing - I blogged a few days ago about how how using shipping container sized modular housing units could produce as much housing as wanted at a very much lower cost than current building. This would require some reduction of government regulation which currently appears to be designed to prevent the building of affordable housing but if government can no longer afford to, at the same time, subsidise such housing removing barriers would be a more efficient compromise.