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Friday, March 11, 2011


   This is something I have called for for years (#9 here) and back in 2006 during a Radio Scotland interview on their then proposal to spend £800 million cutting a new line, I suggested instead automating the system. To my surprise the interviewee was supportive of the idea.

  It was also #9 of the 26 points on the 9% Growth Party Manifesto

     I am therefore pleased to see that this is now intended.
A £290 million plan to modernise Glasgow's subway network is to receive a "substantial capital contribution" from the Scottish Government...
Mr Brown said: "The Scottish Government reaffirms its long-term commitment to helping make the subway modernisation happen, through a substantial overall capital contribution, helping SPT to raise funds from other sources.

"We are assured that SPT's enhanced modernisation case, including changes to working practices, is viable and will, therefore, help provide capital support which includes delivery of a smartcard ticketing system linked to wider integrated ticketing, new rolling stock and signalling with automation, and refurbished stations with improved accessibility including escalator replacement."

The SPT Partnership Committee agreed last year to undertake a major improvement plan which would see all 15 stations redeveloped, access for disabled passengers improved and a smartcard system implemented. More frequent trains and extended opening hours are also planned, along with driverless trains.

    Current reporting has been light on costings but this previous report was more helpful.
Trains on the Glasgow Subway are already semi-automated, with acceleration and braking centrally controlled. Drivers control doors and start trains.

SPT said the upgrade would cost £290m over 30 years compared to the £220m cost of keeping the existing system going. It said this would reduce running costs over that period from £320m to £100m, and potentially boost passengers by 40 per cent to 18 million.

Funding would largely come from borrowing...
SPT said the 6.5-mile loop, whose 15 stations connect the city centre, west end and south side, cost more and more to run while its 13 million annual passenger total was falling because of the recession.

Improvements are more expensive than on other systems because the Subway's trains and tracks are a uniquely small size. This is the legacy of rival railway companies who funded it preventing any of them gaining advantage by being able to use it for their own trains. The system is the third oldest in the world after London and Budapest.
    The 40% increase in carriage seems not overambitious since an automated system could run faster and 24/7 and should pay for the upgrade. I have some questions about how much of the cost will be taken up by the cosmetic stuff and how much by making it driverless. Since the driverless bit is described as the last of 6 improvements "delivery of a smartcard ticketing system linked to wider integrated ticketing, new rolling stock and signalling with automation, and refurbished stations with improved accessibility including escalator replacement ..all 15 stations redeveloped, access for disabled passengers ...along with driverless trains." I assume that bit of the cost is no more than 1/6th ie £50 million, I suspect quite a bit less. doing it cheaper would not upset me but this is Scotland where the politicians normally ensure that 90% of the cost of any public project "disappears".

     Note that if this can be done, the cost of making the Glasgow-Edinburgh railway driverless, another long standing proposal of mine (#10 on the above linked list), should have similar costs. At 44 miles that would be 4.6 times the subway length , though with only 4 stations. On that basis making it driverless would cost £230 million. There would also be a necessary cost in revamping the platforms at the end to suit sending single carriage units every few minutes rather than multi-carriage trains every half hour, but probably also the extra length wouldcut the marginal cost per mile. However having departures every few minutes and able to run 24/7 would substantially increase both the capacity of the route and its attractiveness to passengers. Not having to wait half an hour would shorten effective journey time as much as the £3 billion high speed train the LudDims seriously propose.

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