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Transport Select Committee report, 23 March 2005

Some new trams schemes do have a future in this country, so the Department for Transport had better improve the way it assesses them. This is the key finding of the latest Report of the House of Commons Transport Committee, published today.

The committee found that tram schemes could offer clean, high-quality, accessible urban transport on busy routes, despite their initially high capital cost. With enough passengers, trams could be cheaper than busses, and low passenger numbers were not inevitable.

Despite these advantages, it seems to the MPs that the Government no longer wholeheartedly supported trams. The Report says the Department for Transport has failed to give a strategic lead in the development of Light rail in the United Kingdom.

The lack of a coherent policy on Light Rail, an insistence on the transfer of revenue risks to the private sector, a lack of stability in funding decisions and an inordinately long planning and approval process has resulted in:

A long delay to the planned phase 2 extension of Nottingham’s very successful NET system.

Government revoking funding approval for phase 3 of the Manchester Metrolink , Leeds Supertram and South Hampshire SHRT

Delays in implementing planned extensions to the very successful Croydon Tramlink system

The Chairman of the committee, Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody MP, said

The cost of building new tram systems has escalated hugely. MPs were told that building a light rail scheme in the United Kingdom could cost an astronomical 60% more than building one somewhere else in Europe.

The committee found that these costs were caused by:-

It no longer being possible to transfer revenue risks to the private sector without greatly increasing costs;

A planning and approval process which meant that tram schemes in the UK took 5 to 15 years to deliver, compared to the 4 or 5 years abroad. This increased the risks to the private sector scheme consortia, who charged accordingly;

Lower than expected ridership on new tram schemes, which reduced fare revenues and made future schemes more expensive, by increasing the risks priced into contracts with the private sector;

The lack of powers for local authorities outside to ensure that busses and trams formed an integrated system. This led both to lower tram ridership than forecast, and services which were less convenient for the passengers; and

The high cost of relaying gas mains and other utilities away from new tram tracks.

This report is very encouraging and it hoped that its recommendations are taken to heart and acted upon.

Link updated:–
The text of the report is available on the Committee's website at (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmselect/cmtran/cmtran.htm).

3 April 2005


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