Whatever happened to the East End subway extension?

“EAST END SUBWAY LINK IS A DONE DEAL BEFORE 2014 GAMES” thundered the front page of the Evening Times back in 2007, characteristically pissing itself with excitement at the latest dictum to emerge from Glasgow’s City Chambers.  Local transport chief and sometime Labour councillor Alistair Watson was adamant: “We will deliver the East End extension for 2014. I am being unequivocal about that.”

the future that never was

the future that never was

Unequivocal he may have been, yet last time I checked, and with less than a year to go before the 2014 GAMES (I’m counting down the days already), the East End is still looking remarkably Subway free. Less of a ‘done deal’, the east end underground loop would instead seem to be just one of many entries on Glasgow Labour’s fantasy wishlist of infrastructure projects that have, in reality, never existed beyond their own imaginations, half-baked ideas scribbled in their election manifesto (a city-wide free WiFi network anyone?) and then the inevitable AMAZING NEW THING PROMISED BY COUNCIL splash in the local papers.

Glasgow’s Commonwealth bid – that is the actual document which formed the basis for the city winning the games – included the line that the city has a “transport network fit for the 21st century, that will make the Games run smoothly and efficiently”, an incredible revelation to anyone who  traverses the city by public transport each day.  In fact, we’re told that Glasgow’s public transport network is so all encompassing  that there will be “no need” for anyone to even have to take their car to get to any of the Commonwealth venues!

Which all sounds great. What of Glasgow’s new transport infrastructure then? Well, they’ve constructed some new roads. As if the city didn’t have quite enough motorways ploughing through its residential areas and public parks, we got some more, with the monster M74 extension tearing up half the Southside (well, the poor bits) and a new dual carriageway in the East End. The former came in at a whacking £692m, the latter at £25m. Nothing new here: it dates back to a masterplan for Glasgow’s road network drawn up in the mid-Sixties, envisioning a tightly enclosed Blade Runner style metropolis of flyovers and ringroads that would literally “define” the future of the city:

The very nature of this motorway will define the City into understand­able units each with its own identity and from this it will be possible for the citizen to experience what the City means, how it functions and what it symbolises.”

So while the below image, complete with its “Desire” tagline, might look like the acid-fuelled imaginings of an undergrad vis com student, it’s actually a concrete (in more ways than one) plan for the city drawn up by engineers in 1965. In their enlightened zeal they’ve even managed to work in plans to take the inner ring road straight through Glasgow Green, while Maryhill Road and Great Western Roads would, to give two examples, both become expressways.

mapped by what surrounded them

While their full proposals never quite came to fruition,  hundreds of millions have been still spent in the last decade making Glasgow more car-friendly. In the case of the the M74 extension, this was in the face of vehement local opposition and even an official inquiry ruling that the project should be scrapped, given the vast economic, environmental and social damage it would cause for the communities around it. The report’s findings were a far cry from the city planners in 1965 and their vision of a “White Heat” utopia yet the powers that be were willing to maintain this delusion and powered ahead with bulldozing through communities/parks/toxic wasteland, just as they had in every decade previously. Much of the recent road construction has been about linking up different parts of this bygone project, with the intention of shaving minutes off journey times and creating a more efficient road network for those wanting to fly through the city without stopping.

Co-ordination, efficiency and (realised) expansion: words that definitely aren’t associated with Glasgow’s shambles of a public transport network. By all means, we’ve got lots of trains, with an extensive suburban railway network, millions of buses and the subway covering part of the city. But where they link up it’s the exception rather than the norm, and the idea of being able to get a ticket that you can use on say, both a First Bus and then train run by er, First Scotrail is seemingly too much to ask for. But could there be hope in sight?

There’s been endless chatter  over the past few years about rolling out a universal smart travel card system in Glasgow, modelled on London’s pre-paid Oyster card which can be used across the city’s transport network. This year things started getting into gear with public transport body SPT even announcing its name, the ‘Bramble’ card. So guess where it can be used? The Subway! And er, that’s it. Not quite the smart card we were hoping for, perhaps, and basically just a fancy replacement for the now phased-out 10 and 20 journey tickets – but more expensive. There’s also the fabled ‘Glasgow Crossrail’ project, the subject of innumerable official reports, parliamentary debates and media speculation, which would link up the city’s overground rail lines and mean you would actually be able to cross the city without going on foot between Central and Queen Street stations. They’ve been talking about this particular project since the 1970s and while it did rear its head again 5 years ago, with the first stage of it to ” be completed in time for the Commonwealth Games in 2014″, we’re still waiting…


The artist’s impression and the finished article: Dalmarnock’s £11m Glass Box.

Glasgow has a particularly low car ownership rate of less than 50%. In the East End, barely a third of people own a vehicle. Yet huge efforts have been put into shaving minutes off journey times in and out of the city while those living  beneath or beside these concrete behemoths have hardly been factored in at all. Meanwhile, the mooted “East End subway link” rapidly became a £288m programme for changing the signs at each existing station (and in some cases then putting the old ones back again) and eventually, so we’re told, implementing “driverless trains”. Still noticeably sans-subway, The East End received a massive boost in the form of Dalmarnock station closing for a year for the sake of planting a giant glass box over it, coming in at a mere £11m. Fittingly for a giant glass box, the reasons for sticking it there are pretty transparent too – much less to do with serving the needs of the local community and far more about giving a veneer of ‘regeneration’ ahead of the Commonwealth Games and the thousands of tourists that will fleetingly arrive in the area.

Saying all this, if an East End subway extension does suddenly burst through the ground at some point in the next twelve months, much more than just going back on my words, I personally vow to lead the campaign for a statue of great city visionary Alistair Watson to be built towering over Duke Street, engraved – Dewar-style – with the immortal words”THERE WILL BE AN EAST END SUBWAY EXTENSION (By 2014. Unequivocally.)”. Of course, I say this safe in the knowledge it never will as everyone knows Councillor Watson and his pals were far too busy going on all-expenses paid “fact-finding” junkets to Rangers cup finals for them to oversee anything approaching a mass expansion of public transport infrastructure.

As the city’s current marketing slogan goes ‘People Make Glasgow’. People, notably those who sit in the City Chambers, also make priorities and it’s self-evident that expanding and improving the integration of the city’s public transport hasn’t been one. The Commonwealth Games organisers remain so confident that there’ll be “no need” for anyone to travel by car to the games that they’re already issuing warnings about “traffic chaos” and setting aside special road lanes for the Commonwealth elite to speed across the city. People may Make Glasgow, but GCC just takes all of us for a ride*.

(*as long as it’s not on public transport)


Further Reading:

Whose City: Are the Commonwealth Games Ruining Glasgow?

11 Tales from Glasgow’s Quality Council


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10 responses to “Whatever happened to the East End subway extension?

  1. “the city has a “transport network fit for the 21st century, that will make the Games run smoothly and efficiently”,

    Yeah, right. I’m reading this sitting in my east end flat having been entirely unable to get where I hoped to go tonight on public transport and having given up. I could try again in half and hour – I’m only going 4 miles to the West End – on 2 different buses each way but I can’t be bothered now.

    Glasgow transport is a very expensive disgrace and I pity any poor tourist trying to find their way around it.

  2. It seems that you are leaving the blame for the lack of an East End Subway line squarely with Glasgow City Council.

    There is no mention of Holyrood or the Scottish Government who would hold the pursestrings for these kind of things. If you really are looking for an answer I suspect it may lie in Edinburgh rather than Glasgow.

  3. Glasgow public transport system is a shambles. The First buses which rule the city are dirty, dangerous, as well as being more expensive than a bus journey in London “with oyster card that is”.. Even if you wanted to get from Shawlands to the west end your taking about changing buses, its not just the east end thats lacking, its also most parts of the south side too.

  4. Yeah with a farcical tram system at the heart of it, Neil.

    I remember this article and working in the East End at the time, it was quite exciting. I think it was quietly scrapped about 2 years ago. The transport system to the East End is ridiculous. I visited a friend in Tollcross on Friday and my only transport option was a 50 minute bus ride from Maryhill. 50 minutes to go 7 miles. She lives next to the “Tollcross International Swimming Centre” how people will get here during the games, I have no idea.

  5. Public transport is, as other commentators have pointed out, a shambles. An expensive shambles at that. Investing additional public funds into a system from which a few profit at the expense of the very people who funded it (i.e. the taxpayer) would appear to be the ultimate folly. Nationalisation I hear you cry, well yes, however my solution would be more simple – a world-class cycle network (and I mean world class, not a few isolated ad-hoc lanes scattered around the city that dont go anywhere useful).

    Cycling is the cheapest, healthiest, most environmentally friendly and equitable form of transportation available (ignore Lycra clad warriors, see more school run in the Netherlands), without the externalities associated with vehicular use – Glasgow is not only the most polluted city in the UK, but also a pedestrian death ‘blackspot’ compared with other areas of Scotland!

    More people cycling is essential to the welfare of our society. As somebody who cycles from the Southside to Clydebank, the amount saved on public transport and/or petrol is massive (and doesnt involve sitting on a bus for 1hour 50 minutes! or ques of traffic in the motor, adding to chronic congestion problems!) with my daily exercise thrown in for good measure. Hills are not a problem, weather can be, but the worst thing is the roads dept slavish adherence to a vehicular-centric ideology, which means competing with cars, HGVs & buses for roadspace. Being squishy and vulnerable, its a fight that cant be won!

    5 miles can easily be done in half an hour at a leisurely pace, the potential of which would enhance wider social mobility in a heartbeat. Although not the silver bullet for all our social ills, allowing every man, woman and child had the opportunity to convey themselves around our metropolis at a healthy, more human pace would be a damn good start.

    The problem however, despite cycling already being promoted as cheap, healthy, efficient mode of transport, the current investment (both locally and nationally) is derisory. For example, despite active travel permeating nearly every local policy, Glasgow spends 0% of its annual transport budget on cycling. What money is invested comes from central government and is mostly used for the council to be seen to do something – this has resulted in crap facilities which even current cyclists wont use. The ‘cycle of abuse’ continues and people keep getting ripped off on our pathetic public transport system or forced into cars.

    In summary, get more people cycling, enhance social mobility and break free from public transport or car dependency. The wider benefits created as a result will mean that any cycle infrastructure investment will essentially pay for itself. In other words, Glasgow cant afford NOT to have a proper high quality cycle network.

    Rant over, great article by the way!

    • Speaking in a personal capacity, but an elected representative of fellow disabled people.

      des_cartez can live in his fantasy world as much as he likes, it clearly has no recognition of disabled people and their complex access needs.

      Nor is it “lycra clad warriors” who are the sole problem. In the West End the right-on cyclists, some of them on a school run, clearly believe the laws of the road and common courtesy don’t apply to them.

      Until such time as cyclists are licenced, identifiable and accountable I am quite happy that my Council Tax is not wasted on them.

      • Iainmonty – I believe you are conflating two very different things 1) The needs of disabled people and 2) your personal prejudices against cyclists. Dare I say you are extrapolating generalisations onto a (out) group of transport users because of the actions of a few, ignoring the fact car drivers are far more likely pose a threat through their casual and almost universal law-breaking (mobile phone use, speeding, running amber lights etc). You wouldn’t surely suggest that we stop wasting our hard earned taxes on roads to benefit these feckless child-murdering motorists? Such thinking would of course be nonsensical.

        There are bad cyclist and bad motorists, please try and avoid lazy stigma and stereotyping and keep relative risks in perspective.

        If you are talking on cyclists impacting the freedom of disabled people (pavement cycling, red light running), yes this is a problem, and I abhor cyclists that flaunt the law, but I think you misdiagnose the problem; its surely not cycling per-se, but the environment which ACTIVELY puts people on bikes in conflict with vehicles or pedestrians – see ‘shared use routes’ and painted on road cycle lanes that festoon our city. If we started to separate different transport modes we can start to reduce conflict and prioritise personal mobility accordingly. This should not be about ‘us and them’, but what is best for everyone.

        I will happily defend the fact that more people cycling, more often benefits everyone, even less-abled people, if done right. This is no fantasy, just look at the other side of the North Sea – http://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/who-else-benefits-from-the-dutch-cycling-infrastructure/ and

        You are however correct, I have no detailed recognition of disabled people’s complex access needs. However, having elderly relatives pushing 60-80 I am quite aware of that many would love to cycle, but feel physically unable to do so as a result of the environment. As a result they are effectively slaves to car dependency or public transport which, as the article points out, is severely limiting.

        Time to dispel some other myths:
        – you don’t need a licence to cycle, cycling responsibly is a right granted under law, driving on the other hand is a privilege earned under licence because of the relative risk posed to society (yet this does not prevent thousands killed and hundreds of thousands of people injured every year in the UK as a result of road ‘accidents’, caused almost entirely by people with drivers licences. What’s up with that?)
        – A regulating bicycles will be a huge bureaucracy that will cost more than its supposed benefits can possibly reap. Also, where does this end? does this apply to children, what about pedestrians, mobility scooter users? Cutting off the nose to spite the face comes to mind.
        – May I recommend http://ipayroadtax.com/licensed-to-cycle/licensed-to-cycle/ for more reading why your views are, on the face of it, a bad idea.

        Unless you can you can give some valid and rational reasons why investment in cycling will not benefit welfare of society (social, economic and environmental), then I would be very concerned about your wider (and seemingly prejudiced) worldview, particularly as a representative of disabled people.

        I apologise if I sound negative or condescending, this is not my intention. Disabled people in Glasgow have it the worse than all other sections of society, but this is as a result of 50 years of car-centric transport policy, not cyclists. Know you enemy!

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