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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 roller coaster life of SUPERTRAM and the light rail concept generally in Britain shows no sign of either settling down or copying the current tramway/light rail attitude being experienced in France and USA. As political leaders here come and go, they often leave behind some words of wisdom for posterity to mull over (1).

An accompanying report (2) revealed some radical suggestions which included free-fare public transport and a move to give cities back to those who live in them. All this was 15 years ago and traffic conditions in present day Leeds, the city provoking the above articles, tends to invite the question, is it receiving fair treatment from central government?


A significant part of the A-A policy statement suggested a choice in travel mode with an emphasis on some encouragement to use cheap, efficient and comfortable public transport - not punitive charging for car use. Light Rapid Transit (LRT) systems should be positively encouraged with capital grants from the exchequer to help research, development and implementation. There are at present (this policy statement was written about 15 years ago) 37 schemes in the planning stage but, without financial support, it is doubtful if they will be implemented.


At the time of preparing this Discussion Document (early 2004) only five tramway type LRT systems had been built (Manchester - 1992, Sheffield - 1994, Birmingham to Wolverhampton - 1999, Croydon 2000, Nottingham - 2004) with Leeds and Portsmouth to Fareham at the tendering stage but lacking Government financial support. This procrastination is somewhat unfortunate because further delays could cause the inflation factor to create havoc should the tenders become obsolete. Although during the last 15 years the climate for light rail had started to improve, it has in recent months receded (4).


" - - It is now almost universally accepted that the deregulation of bus services in 1986 has failed to deliver the Government's major stated objective, outlined by the then Transport Secretary Nicholas Ridley as being to halt the decline that has afflicted the bus industry for more than 20 years. - - " (5). The author of the above report also referred to evidence that many long-time bus users may have simply been driven to switch to cars. As has been demonstrated already, modern tram systems will eventually attract a substantial number of motorists back to public transport, but the process is slow and costly. It would be reasonable to suggest that the Treasury is doing no one a favour by delaying tram schemes, schemes which the promoters mostly regard as "value for money".


With so much evidence that bus deregulation has inhibited transit integration and also the full benefits accompanying new light rail services, it will be interesting to follow moves on Government strategy to deal with the problem.


  1. The Leader of the Social and Liberal Democrat party, interviewed and reported in a major article on Leeds just 15 years ago, - YORKSHIRE EVENING POST - 12th December 1989.
  2. THE FREEDOM OF THE CITY, also by Paddy Ashdown but with help from a group of transport experts.
  3. TRANSPORT AND THE ENVIRONMENT - A policy document by the Automobile Association.
  4. A letter written by the late Rt. Hon. Nicholas Ridley MP dated 6th September 1990 - it described light rail schemes as costing very large sums of money, never to be recouped and better spent on road works.
  5. A feature article by Peter Hughes - LOCAL TRANSPORT TODAY page 12. - 2nd March 1995.

Discussion Document 014: top of page

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