Thursday, 17 September 2009

Edinburgh and Glasgow Airport Rail Links stay on the shelf

Today the Scottish Government announced the scrapping of the Glasgow Airport rail link, estimated to cost £120m as part of an efficiency package designed to help plug a £129m hole in the Scottish NHS budget. This comes on almost the second anniversary of the scrapping of the ambitious Edinburgh Airport Rail Link plan (EARL), which was estimated to cost an incredible £620m. This means that neither of the airports serving the Edinburgh-Glasgow corridor, essentially Britain's second city will be easily accessible by mainline rail (Edinburgh airport is planned to be linked to the city by tram).

Observant readers that clicked on the last link will have noticed that a railway line (the former North British Railway Edinburgh-Aberdeen line, opened in 1890) actually passes very close to Edinburgh Airport. A similar situation exists at Glasgow Airport, where the electrified Paisley-Greenock branch (opened 1841) passes the end of the runway. The airports did not arrive until after rail nationalisation and were also funded by the government, Scottish airports being absorbed by the then government owned British Airports Authority in 1971. Glasgow Airport was opened in 1966, while Edinburgh opened on its present site as recently as 1977. In a great example of joined up government, the opportunity to build railway stations on the existing lines for the airports was missed, or even to incorporate railway stations into the airport design, despite the declining rail traffic of the time. Its even possible that this was a defensive move by a British Rail fearful of making rail traffic too easy; famously the West Coast Main Line electrification to Glasgow was completed in 1974, the same year as British Airways (also government owned) started domestic flights to Heathrow.

Back in the present the Scottish Government has decided not to fund privately owned railways to run to privately owned airports. Yet in the 1990s, faced with a government unwilling to fund a rail link to Heathrow, BAA built their own link from the Great Western Main Line which they still own and operate. If the potential gains from rail links to Edinburgh and Glasgow airports are so great, why does Ferrovial/BAA not consider building such links itself? After all, the government did not plan either of the railways which were there in the first instance. Private capital built them, and could do the same for the airport rail links. With low interest rates the time is ripe for a bond issue, giving some much needed stimulation to financial markets along the way. Just because the state has withdrawn financial support, does not mean that the Glasgow and Edinburgh Airport Rail Links could not be built if they are genuinely feasible projects.


  1. It is a scandal that airports in the UK are so poorly connected to the wider transport network, and completely at odds with the Government's so called commitment to improving infrastructure. I could mention Belfast International and Belfast City as well. Contrast this to most major European cities and the difference is vast. One that springs to mind is Amsterdam, where you can be sitting on an express train to the city centre within minutes of disembarking from the plane. It's depressing that successive governments fail to recognise the importance of efficient connectivity, and assume that we will 'make do' with rickety, slow and expensive bus services. What sort of a first impression does this give to visitors? I think it costs £12 to travel by bus from Belfast International to the city.

  2. £12? Belfast is another one that could be sorted cheaply, it's right next to the Lisburn-Antrim railway which isn't even used by any trains after they re-opened the Bleach Green route. And that's in a supposedly nationalised transport system.



About Me

London, United Kingdom
I'm Lecturer in Management at The York Management School, at The University of York, UK. I teach strategic management to undergraduate and masters students, as well as running the masters dissertation module. My research focuses on business and management history.