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Light Rail for better public transport

This Discussion Document is published by the LRTA Development Forum to stimulate discussion and does not necessarily represent the views of the LRTA



The Canadian city of Calgary has certainly led the world with its spectacular policy of supplying renewable wind power energy to operate its expanding transit system. Success with natural energy depends very much on a reliable source and an equally reliable power demand. The almost 24 hour requirement by public transport makes it the near perfect customer and it is in that context that this discussion document takes A closer look, firstly with political attitudes and then environmental concerns.


The above study has tended to demonstrate transport direction in the West Midlands and its likely affect on global warming. CENTRO has fought long and hard to introduce its initial light rail line from Birmingham to Wolverhamoton which in many ways could be regarded as a sample of things to come. For the record, Line one is 20.4-km long with 23 stops, has 15 vehicles available and cost GBP140-m to provide. The Study, commissioned by the Government Office for the West Midlands, drew a comment from the Chair of the West Midlands Planning and Transportation Sub-committee that it was like opening "PANDORA'S BOX" (1).

Although there is a common belief that the region as a whole is being "short changed" in the transport stakes, it may be partly stemmed by Alistair Darling's pledge of GBP1-bn of capital funding over the next seven years. DfT's response to WMAMMS and the funding pledge was that it offered a glimmer of hope that at least two metro extensions may be delivered. There appears to be little hope though that further lines this side of 2010 will be built even though WMAMMS recommended them. A reported opinion from the Secretary of State was that the scale of the WMAMMS proposals was unrealistic and a new focus should go on low-cost bus-based alternatives. Ironically, road user charging could help to pay for more light rail lines but the view of local politicians is - no lines, no charge - truly a catch 22 situation. This debate on policy has been further clouded by the Lord Mayor's suggestion that a GBP3-bn underground railway system should be considered (2).


After reading in the previous paragraph about Midland Metro's problems, and also some mixed opinions that could affect global warming, the reader can now read further about a transit system at the opposite end of the transport spectrum.,

December 15th (2003) should have seen the opening of a 2.7-km extension of track to Calgary's north/west branch (Brentwood to Dalhousie). Basically it will replace some express bus routes from the city centre and a new terminal will accordingly provide space for new feeder bus services and 750 spaces for cars. This extension to Dalhousie will not be the last and can be regarded as part of the steady build up from the initial 11-km network back in 1981.

Of special interest is the down-town free fare "transit precinct" used exclusively by light rail and buses. Running on line of sight in the precinct, the passengers are well served during peak periods by a tram/train every 2 1/2 minutes. As for rolling stock, Calgary wanted a proven design and initially chose the Duewag U2 articulated model, proven and tested in Frankfurt (Germany). With continued extensions Calgary turned to Siemens Transportation systems, Duewag's successor, for a continued flow but with their SD160 LRV design.

Calgary has become very environmentally conscious and also world renowned for its plan to become totally dependent on wind power. The necessary traction power is now being supplied by an Alberta-based consortium.


Professor Phil Goodwin in 2002 called on leading transport professionals to join together in telling the Government that its current approach to tackling traffic growth cannot produce the hoped-for solutions. Politicians he suggests appear to believe that road building and some public transport improvements will solve problems and have rejected the use of road pricing. Looking at the same problem again but about 1 1/2 years later and road charging has zoomed from marginalised obscurity into the centre of Government thought. Bus subsidised and Supertram schemes are on the rise and a subsequent return to road building does not come cheap. Some stark comment in the transport media about who pays for what does not pull any punches about , the likely source : "With Gordon Brown desperate to avoid raising income tax, the bleeding away of road transport, revenues cannot be tolerated for long" - - "Whatever the taxation regime, road traffic needs to be priced higher than at present" (5).


With such a "clouded" approach to congestion road charging, energy and transit, it must be somewhat disheartening to those working hard to provide light rail schemes to be made aware of a constant need to spend carefully and wisely. Although this Discussion Document has used the WMAMMS report to demonstrate this point, the nation as a whole will find some aspects of their local traffic and transport policies in need of very close scrutiny. Now creeping into these policies is the global warming aspect and an opportunity has been grasped to draw attention to it. Although Calgary is relying on wind power, Halberstadt (Germany) is reported to be experimenting with a combination of batteries and photo-electric cells to power a tram (6).

Whilst this DD was being prepared, a news item revealed that 3 buses in London are powered by hydrogen fuel cells (7). Electrical power is generated in the fuel cell with water vapour being the only waste product in the process.


  1. WEST MIDLANDS (a special feature) - page 11 - LOCAL TRANSPORT TODAY - 10th July 2003.
  2. As above but page 15.
  3. RAILWAY GAZETTE INTERNATIONAL - page 795 to 797 - December 2003.
  4. LOCAL TRANSPORT TODAY - 25th April 2002.
  5. Stephen Potter (in Comment Viewpoint) - LOCAL TRANSPORT TODAY page 14 - 27th November 2003.
  6. TRAMWAYS & URBAN TRANSIT - January 2004.
  7. LOCAL TRANSPORT TODAY - (front page) - 5th January 2004.

Discussion Document 013: top of page

Prepared by F A Andrews for the LRTA Development Group - February 2004.