NEW escalators being installed at all Glasgow Subway stations will be maintained by a Czech company - saving £1.5million over 10 years.

Strathclyde Partnership for Transport has awarded the contract for replacing the 28 escalators to Otis, one of the largest companies in the Czech Republic. And today it was revealed the firm will also be responsible for maintenance work.

Until now, maintenance has been carried out by SPT engineers who will continue to work on the network.

Replacing the Subway escalators, at a cost of £5.6m, is part of the £300m modernisation of the transport system.

Work has started at Hillhead and today it was announced Buch-anan Street will be next for a revamp which will see smartcard 'Oyster-style' tickets used.

It is expected work will start around Easter this year.

The ageing escalators in the 15 stations on the network have been in operation since the 1970s and are nearing the end of their life.

It will take around four years before they are all replaced.

Jonathan Findlay, SPT chairman, said: "Plans to rejuvenate the Glasgow Subway are progressing well and the replacement of the system is an important part of that work.

"They currently operate in the stations around 17 hours a day over a seven day week and new machines are now crucial."

The operator also announced it has appointed a new director of subway operations.

Brian Bell, 37, from Lanark, will join the organisation in April from Railcare UK where he is currently engineering director.

The Glasgow University graduate holds an honours degree in mechanical engineering. He will be responsible for managing all aspects of the operation and main- tenance of the Subway network as well as ensuring passenger and revenue growth, transforming working practices and operational safety.

SPT chief executive Gordon Maclennan said: "SPT is embarking on the first major modernisation of the Subway in over 30 years.

"This presents engineering challenges, given the network's unique size and Victorian infrastructure.

"I am sure Brian will be a great asset."