Nearly 30 years on, will Glasgow Airport finally get its rail link?

Glasgow Airport: note the lack of trains. Image: Wikipedia.

Glasgow Airport serves over 8m passengers and 100,000 planes every year. It’s the eighth busiest airport in the UK, and the second busiest in Scotland.

But on one not entirely flattering measure, it ranks as number one: it’s the largest airport in the country without a fixed rail link.

This is, all told, a bit rubbish: getting from the airport to the city centre, 10 miles east, either involves driving, getting a cab, or taking the Glasgow Airport Express bus, which runs back and forth to Buchannan Bus Station at all hours of the day or night.

First Group, which runs the latter, has done its best to make it as un-bus-like as possible, offering free wifi, USB charging points and so forth. But you are still, fundamentally, on a bus on the M8, which is not necessarily what you want after a long flight.

And the convenience of that motorway, which lies immediately south of the airport, is “both a blessing and a curse”, says Ross Nimmo, the head of planning and development at Glasgow Airport. “That motorway is pretty busy. You can’t tell if it’s going to take you 20 minutes or 1 hour and 20.”

So, for several decades now, the local authorities have seen the addition of a new rail link as the key to growing the airport’s traffic. The first feasibility studies into the project were published all the way back in 1990. By 2006, that had evolved into a proper plan to build a new spur of the railway line from Paisley.

By 2009, with the global economy burning around us, the Scottish government had cancelled the project again. Which is just great.

The 2006 plan. Image: Scottish Government.

As it happens, finding around £200m to pay for it wasn’t the only problem with the scheme. There were concerns that it would chew up a lot of land currently occupied by much-loved things such as playing fields in the northern part of Paisley, as well as increase congestion on an already crowded line. It would also do a poor job of plugging into the broader Scottish rail network: Glasgow Central is served by trains from south and west of the city, but is annoyingly inconvenient for much of the rest of Scotland.

So when the project was revived as part of the £1bn Glasgow City Deal, the authorities decided to take a different approach. Instead of bog standard heavy rail, the new link will be a tram-train. At Paisley, it’ll diverge from the existing line onto a new light rail route to do the last kilometre or so to the airport.

That way, it’ll swallow less land in Paisley, so be less disruptive to the locals. It’ll also be cheaper, costing an estimated £144m, significantly less than the £210m+ the heavy rail link was expected to cost ten years ago. It won’t, best one can tell, but any more convenient for destinations beyond Glasgow Central in the short term, but the fact tram-trains can switch to on-street running means it is at least possible to connect it to other parts of the city centre at some later point.

Artists impression of the new link. 

The four tram-trains per hour will cover the distance between the airport and the city centre in just 16.5 minutes, stopping once at Paisley Gilmour Street en route. Which definitely sounds a lot better than that stuck-in-a-bus-on-the-M8 thing.

There is one downside, though: the new link is not expected to be operational until 2025. As Nimmo points out, Paisley is at time of writing still in the running to be the UK City of Culture in 2021. “To then wait four years for the rail link…” he says, rolling his eyes.

Would it be possible to build it any quicker? “All the land is owned by a national transport agency, local authority or the airport itself. The budget is there. The figures are fantastic.” We shall see.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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These maps of petition signatories show which bits of the country are most enthusiastic about scrapping Brexit

The Scottish bit. Image: UK Parliament.

As anyone in the UK who has been near an internet connection today will no doubt know, there’s a petition on Parliament’s website doing the rounds. It rejects Theresa May’s claim – inevitably, and tediously, repeated again last night – that Brexit is the will of the people, and calls on the government to end the current crisis by revoking Article 50. At time of writing it’s had 1,068,554 signatures, but by the time you read this it will definitely have had quite a lot more.

It is depressingly unlikely to do what it sets out to do, of course: the Prime Minister is not in listening mode, and Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom has already been seen snarking that as soon as it gets 17.4m votes, the same number that voted Leave in 2016, the government will be sure to give it due care and attention.

So let’s not worry about whether or not the petition will be successful and instead look at some maps.

This one shows the proportion of voters in each constituency who have so far signed the petition: darker colours means higher percentages. The darkest constituencies tend to be smaller, because they’re urban areas with a higher population density. (As with all the maps in this piece, they come via Unboxed, who work with the Parliament petitions team.)

And it’s clear the petition is most popular in, well, exactly the sort of constituencies that voted for Remain three years ago: Cambridge (5.1 per cent), Bristol West (5.6 per cent), Brighton Pavilion (5.7 per cent) and so on. Hilariously, Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington North is also at 5.1 per cent, the highest in London, despite its MP clearly having remarkably little interest in revoking article 50.

By the same token, the sort of constituencies that aren’t signing this thing are – sit down, this may come as a shock – the sort of places that tended to vote Leave in 2016. Staying with the London area, the constituencies of the Essex fringe (Ilford South, Hornchurch & Upminster, Romford) are struggling to break 1 per cent, and some (Dagenham & Rainham) have yet to manage half that. You can see similar figures out west by Heathrow.

And you can see the same pattern in the rest of the country too: urban and university constituencies signing in droves, suburban and town ones not bothering. The only surprise here is that rural ones generally seem to be somewhere in between.

The blue bit means my mouse was hovering over that constituency when I did the screenshot, but I can’t be arsed to redo.

One odd exception to this pattern is the West Midlands, where even in the urban core nobody seems that bothered. No idea, frankly, but interesting, in its way:

Late last year another Brexit-based petition took off, this one in favour of No Deal. It’s still going, at time of writing, albeit only a third the size of the Revoke Article 50 one and growing much more slowly.

So how does that look on the map? Like this:

Unsurprisingly, it’s a bit of an inversion of the new one: No Deal is most popular in suburban and rural constituencies, while urban and university seats don’t much fancy it. You can see that most clearly by zooming in on London again:

Those outer east London constituencies in which people don’t want to revoke Article 50? They are, comparatively speaking, mad for No Deal Brexit.

The word “comparatively” is important here: far fewer people have signed the No Deal one, so even in those Brexit-y Essex fringe constituencies, the actual number of people signing it is pretty similar the number saying Revoke. But nonetheless, what these two maps suggest to me is that the new political geography revealed by the referendum is still largely with us.

In the 20 minutes it’s taken me to write this, the number of signatures on the Revoke Article 50 has risen to 1,088,822, by the way. Will of the people my arse.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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