GLASGOW and Edinburgh Airports could become a single "super- airport" if recommendations by transport officials are accepted.

Strathclyde Partnership for Transport is backing plans for a 300mph train link between Glasgow and Edinburgh city centres.

But if it was extended to Glasgow Airport and stopped at Edinburgh Airport, experts claim it would effectively turn them into a single super- airport "without laying an inch of new runway".

Four years ago, a Department of Transport consultation on the future of air travel in Scotland backed a second runway at Edinburgh - which would effectively make it Scotland's national airport.

The consultation findings, which looked forward 30 years, were supported by the then Transport Secretary Alistair Darling.

His thinking caused a major row and in 2004, he pledged a new runway would be built in Glasgow by 2020 if there was demand for it.

But as arguments grow over green issues and the expansion of air travel, experts claim part of the solution for the airports could be found, at least in the shorter term, in the futuristic maglev high-speed rail link.

SPT officials travel to China this week on a fact-finding mission to see the system in operation between Shanghai and the city's Pudong Airport.

It's the the world's fastest commercial rail operation taking eight minutes to cover almost 19 miles and it can be seen on Channel Five tonight at 9pm when comedian Paul Merton travels on it.

The technology was developed by Transrapid International, a joint venture between German multinationals Siemens and ThyssenKrupp. The rights for it in Britain are owned by UK Ultraspeed.

The firm says a link between Glasgow and Edinburgh airports would reduce journey times to between 12 and 14 minutes depending on the route.

It claims: "This would effectively turn the two separate airports into a single two-runway super- airport without laying an inch of new runway."

For the system's supporters, maglev is the "big idea" for train transport in the future.

Their initial aim is to link Glasgow and Edinburgh city centres with a transport system fit for the 21st century.

They see it as a chance for Scotland to lead the rest of the UK, though in England the Association of North-East councils agreed in March to set up a working party to consider it.

They believe it could turn the area between Tyneside and the Tees Valley into a "super region".

Maglev - magnetic levitation - trains float on a magnetic cushion half an inch above their track and are propelled along it on a wave of electricity.

The cruising speed is 311mph and a non-stop trip between Glasgow and Edinburgh would take between 12 to 15 minutes.

Dr Alan James, UK Ultraspeed's chief executive, says current systems can't match what maglev has to offer.

He said: "We need three maglevs shuttling back and forward between Glasgow and Edinburgh to provide a departure every 15 minutes from both ends.

"To do that with trains on today's network you would need 20 just to match the frequency and they could never match the speed."

He predicts massive economic benefits by bringing the cities closer together and shrinking the commute for thousands of workers.

The fares, at today's prices, would be pitched at £9 to £12 - slightly more expensive than today's standard fares. The price for building the link from Queen Street to Haymarket alongside much of the M8 would be around £2billion.

But Dr James says with private sector funding for the project, the net cost to the Executive would average between £100-£200m a year.

He added: "This cost will be outweighed by the benefit it delivers to Scotland's economy. This is projected at up to £500m a year because it will help attract new investment and jobs."

Council leader Steven Purcell also believes that working together Glasgow and Edinburgh can attract investment and visitors from across the world.

He said: "Glasgow would be prepared to pay its share of a study into the feasibility of this, along with the Executive and other agencies."

During the Scottish election campaign, former Labour Finance Minister Tom McCabe and Tory deputy leader Murdo Fraser both declared their parties' interest, however, today a spokesman for the SNP-led Scottish Executive was more cautious.

He said: "We are committed to looking at maximising the use of the existing rail network.

In the longer term, we are in favour of the concept of fast trains linking Scotland's major cities.

"This would have to be balanced against whether high speed trains provided the best value for public money."

UK Transport Minister and Glasgow South MP Tom Harris confirmed Department of Transport were looking at it. He warned: "We haven't ruled it out but it is the most risky of current technologies." Railplane' design was tested in 1930

GLASGOW has always been at the forefront of rail technology.

The futuristic maglev would need an elevated track in places - but its precursor was designed by a Glasgow-born engineer in 1930.

George Bennie demonstrated his experimental "railplane" on a 426ft long test track at Milngavie, 16ft above Burnbrae Station.

The cars, which looked like mini airships, were suspended on a monorail supported on steel towers and driven by electric motors.

Bennie's idea was to create a high-speed link between Glasgow and Edinburgh and another from Glasgow to Balloch.

The journey to Edinburgh was to take only 20 minutes and speeds of up to 150mph were anticipated.

The idea caught the imagination of decision makers of the day with politicians Lloyd George, Ramsay MacDonald and the bosses of three railway companies taking a trip in a test car on the line.

His plans foundered in the economic slump of the 1930s and after investing all his money in the idea he was declared bankrupt in 1937.

The test track was visible in Milngavie until 1956 when it was demolished and sold as scrap.