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UK Parliament Report boosts Light Rail

The Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee of the UK House of Commons has published its Report on Light Rapid Transit Systems. The Report which runs to over 300 pages and costs GBP23.30 from The Stationery Office contains evidence submitted by numerous experts and organisations. The Select Committee makes 17 Recommendations to Government - including "If the Government is serious about enabling LRT to play its full role in tackling traffic congestion, it must go beyond statements of support and be prepared to contribute public funds to projects which are unable to cover all their costs through fare revenues, but which reduce congestion, bring environmental improvements and can stimulate economic development".

The Committee says that complete systems of light rail lines make a greater impact than line by line implementation and it recommends Government to provide funding to enable complete networks to be built in one go rather than piecemeal over a long period. It also says that Government must make it clear to local authorities as to whether they can borrow money for investment in LRT schemes on the basis of future revenue streams from road user charges and workplace parking charges. It also welcomes the Minister's comment that high quality public transport, such as LRT, should be introduced in advance of implementing road user and workplace parking charges.

The Report urges the Government to bring forward further changes to the procedures for obtaining funding and approval for light rail schemes.

The Committee makes a very clear statement on the Government's proposed reduction of utilities' contribution to the costs of utility services diversions - it says that their contribution should stay at 18%.

The Report says that trams and buses must be given priority over other vehicles to minimise the disruption to LRT services caused by traffic congestion.

The Government is recommended to amend planning guidance to place even greater emphasis on integrating LRT schemes with urban development where appropriate, and the Report recommends that the shadow Strategic Rail Authority examines the potential for converting heavy rail routes to light rail, and for track-sharing of heavy and light rail services, as part of the franchise replacement process currently under way.

Report by Bob Tarr

The full report can be found at the Select Committee site

Brian Lomas LRTA Development Officer comments:

This report is to be welcomed coming as it does just after the report commissioned by the Department of Environment, Transport & the Regions (DETR) which studied light rail and bus systems and concluded that infrastructure costs for light rail and guided bus are closer together than had previously been assumed. It also indicated that taken on a lifetime basis operating costs favour light rail (with its greater capacity) over the bus. In the light of this it is surprising that the Select Committee recommends the development of a number of extensive networks of guided buses so that the viability of guided busways can be properly assessed. This it says is in the light of counter-claims of various parties and the somewhat confusing evidence on the subject. Certainly the DETR report indicates that guided buses have had a limited impact and that bus priority only achieves small gains which are too small to make any significant impact on passenger growth. In the light of that report it would seem that caution is required. Apart from that the Select Committee report is to be welcomed and it now remains to be seen what effect this has on Government policy.

9 June 2000

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