Light Rail Transit Association - UK Development Group 

 FACT SHEET No 127

OCTOBER 2001 

URBAN TRANSIT - GOING BACK TO SQUARE ONE

INTRODUCTION

"LIVERPOOL IS BACK IN TRAMWAY MODE" (1) sums up an attitude fast becoming prevalent in Britain. Many places having a "wish list" that at one time included light rail were forced to change transport direction when faced with the realities of funding. This often led to a cheaper concept, often not giving value for money. The many uncertainties that this change brought with it often meant delays and as a consequence, the schemes never actually materialised. This is probably just as well because our transport horizons are still experiencing some dramatic changes as a result of the Ten-Year Transport Plan.

MERSEYTRAVEL

The PTE has just submitted plans to the Government for a 19km tram line, the first of 3 in forming a network into the city centre. This first line would require 22 trams for a link from Kirkby to the CBD. A second line would follow the ill-fated trolleybus proposal whilst line 3 would terminate at Liverpool Airport. The initial phase would help to regenerate some of that city's more deprived areas whilst later phases would be heavily dependent on park + ride feeders.

TEESSIDE (TEES VALLEY JOINT STRATEGY UNIT)

The Tees Valley is looking yet again at light rail by inviting interest from consultants to carry out transport feasibility studies. In a belief that this could help regenerate the Tees Valley, proposals to better integrate various transport modes should provide a realistic alternative to the private car. One official view is that an improvement in public transport services after providing a new road by-pass could actually strengthen the longer-term argument for an LRT system. CAT (Cleveland Advanced Transit), the original light rail scheme, was dropped in the early 90s, partly as a result of claims that the guided bus mode could carry all the benefits at a third of the cost (2).

"EDINBURGH PULLS THE PLUG ON CERT" (3)

This eye catching headline about the demise of the guided bus scheme was followed by an intriguing question, "does this pave the way for trams?". Although the original plans to introduce modern trams were put on hold early in the 1990s (4), proposals have kept appearing for private schemes with NETCo (New Edinburgh Tramways Company) figuring prominently (5). More recently, a planning application for development of the waterfront at Granton has been submitted to the City Council and linked to a GBP200m tram scheme. The proposal is for a high quality public transport link from Haymarket via Waverley and Leith, possibly by 2007 (6).

"STRATHCLYDE URGED TO LOOK AGAIN AT GLASGOW TRAM PLANS" (7)

Proposals to bring trams back to the streets of Glasgow after that wet farewell in 1962 have been given a new impetus following a debate in the Scottish Parliament. This suggested that a light rail scheme would provide enormous benefits to the city's environment, job prospects, tourist attractions, congestion and pollution problems. It was suggested that the fact that the 1996 tram proposals failed should not deter Strathclyde from having another go. The original 24km proposal costing an estimated GBP183m was rejected by four Parliamentary Commissioners.

"DO YOU WANT METRO STREET TRAMS?" (8)

Newcastle, after discarding its trams very shortly after WWII, substituted a totally segregated light rail metro system over the former suburban electric railway network. Passenger figures at first were very encouraging but the patronage slump that came eventually brought home the hard facts (among other things) that there was a distinction between urban and interurban type services. Although the public are being consulted as the above heading has indicated, a visit to Portland in USA by planners could be very useful because an identical problem there has just been solved (9).

"CHESTER'S FIFTH PARK + RIDE WILL SEE TRAFFIC LEVELS RISE - CPRE" (10)

Until the early 1990s Chester was firmly of the opinion that its proposed TRAC 21 light rail scheme would solve its acute congestion problem. At about this time the light rail plans gave way to a guided bus project and although less costly to implement, it did raise the question, WOULD IT SOLVE ANYTHING? Chester now appears to be at that proverbial transport cross-roads where an overseas technical visit to a place that has solved an almost identical problem would be most rewarding. For instance Freiburg in Southern Germany successfully mixes tourists and trams in narrow but picturesque streets, not unlike those in Chester. Although initially more costly than guided buses, trams have proven to be a permanent and successful solution.

"HULL JOINS LRT STUDY CITIES" (11)

Not unlike Chester, the above studies have recommended a guided bus solution but with one major difference. A later Master Plan recognised the current problems and subsequently suggested taking the city forward by creating a pedestrian network and a traffic-free centre with car parks relocated to feed a new light rail line around to medieval core. This relocation of car parks would allow space to be freed up for infill development (12).

"TRAMS MAKE TRACKS FOR RETURN TO WEST END" (13)

CRT (CROSS RIVER TRANSIT) is a particularly spectacular scheme which may finally see trams penetrating through the heart of London (14). The decision to cross Waterloo Bridge is certainly brave but the prediction of 70m riders per year gives the concept a strong justification. The whole system will be on-street, mostly trambaan. Part of the old tram subway was apparently considered but ruled out because it neither met modern clearances nor health and safety requirements.

"KENT TAKES MEDWAY LRT STUDIES FORWARD" (15)

Kent County Council's Transportation Sub-committee has approved plans for the next stage of development of its GBP80m Medway Metro tram scheme. The decision follows a public consultation showing overwhelming support for the plans which involve converting the Medway Valley line to LRT, plus on-street extensions to Maidstone Town Centre, Chatham and Gillingham.

"NORTH STAFFS LOOKS AT LIGHT RAIL AGAIN" (16)

Ten years after light rail had been given the "cold shoulder", a fresh feasibility study has been commissioned by the local authorities. Although several route options were being examined, a clear conclusion that rail is best has emerged, partly on-street, on segregegations, or by track sharing as appropriate.

CONCLUSION

It is somewhat surprising to realise that the advantages of light rail operation, as distinct from light metro, and the expertise to build it, have been known by transport planners for very many years and yet it is less than ten years since the first really modern tram appeared on our streets. This renewed interest towards public transport could once again give an average citizen the travel choices he or she enjoyed over 50 years ago.

REFERENCES

  1. TRAMWAYS & URBAN TRANSIT - P364 - October 2001.
  2. BUS BUSINESS - 21st September 1991.
  3. TRAMWAYS & URBAN TRANSIT - P286 - August 2001.
  4. EVENING NEWS - 11th June 1991.
  5. LOCAL TRANSPORT TODAY - 2nd December 1999.
  6. TRAMWAYS & URBAN TRANSIT - P366 - October 2001.
  7. LOCAL TRANSPORT TODAY - 21st December 2000.
  8. TRAMWAYS & URBAN TRANSIT P207 - June 2001.
  9. TRAMWAYS & URBAN TRANSIT P369 - October 2001.
  10. LOCAL TRANSPORT TODAY - 3rd February 2000.
  11. LOCAL TRANSPORT TODAY - 31st May 1989.
  12. LOCAL TRANSPORT TODAY - 26th August 1999.
  13. THE INDEPENDENT -10th July 1997.
  14. TRAMWAYS & URBAN TRANSIT - P330 - September 2001.
  15. LOCAL TRANSPORT TODAY - 4th July 1996.
  16. TRAMWAYS & URBAN TRANSIT - P326 - September 2001.
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