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News Index for June 1998

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  • Extension of Docklands Light Railway to Airport gets green light
  • Midland Metro Concessionaire faces penalties for late opening
  • White Paper may not be published until Autumn
  • New Secretary General for UITP
  • Integrated Transport White Paper delayed another month
  • Developer pledges 25m to Midland Metro
  • Prescott CTRL deal has implications for urban transit
  • Does takeover threaten Supertram integration?

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  • Prescott gives green light for DLR extension to London City Airport: The U.K.'s Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions has announced that Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has approved in principle the extension of the Docklands Light Railway to serve the London City Airport.

    The project will also include rail links with developments of the Royal Docks and the proposed Channel Tunnel Rail Link station at Stratford. It is expected that half a million car journeys into Central London each year will be taken off the roads. The 35m project will be a "Public/Private Partnership" and should be completed by 2004. The "approval in principle" is subject to the Secretary of State's consideration of an application for an Order under the Transport and Works Act 1992 and any objections which there may be.
    Friday 19 June 1998

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    Altram faces penalty payments for late opening of Midland Metro Line 1: Centro (The West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive) in a report to its parent body, the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority, on Monday next (22 June 1998) says that the Midland Metro Concessionaire (Builder/operator) Altram intends to open a sub-specification 10 minute frequency service on 25 October with just 9 vehicles out of the 15 required for the full service. The reason for the delay appears to be delay in construction of the vehicles which are being assembled in Italy by Firema which is a sub-contractor to Ansaldo Trasporti (which is one of the members of the Altram consortium).

    The vehicles have to be approved for passenger carrying use by Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate (HMRI). The HMRI has yet to approve the use of a vehicle for driver training purposes and this aspect of the project is also running behind Altram's original schedule for a full October opening. The report says that the Managing Director of Ansaldo Trasporti has made a firm commitment to Altram and Centro to a programme that delivers the fifteenth tram to Altram at Wednesbury by 30 November 1998. Depending on the Railway Inspector, the report says, it may take up to a further six weeks for this vehicle to be tested and passed for passenger operations.

    Altram do not expect to operate a full service until January 1999. Under the terms of Altram's DBOM (Design, build, operate and maintain) concession contract with Centro, construction should be completed by 2 August 1998 and 3 months is allowed to establish a reliable service to be established operating in compliance with the full specification. If that fully compliant service is not operating by 2 November 1998 substantial liquidated damages become payable by Altram to Centro for every day of non-compliance. A partial opening in October will not absolve Altram from liability to liquidated damages.

    The report to the PTA says that Altram wishes to negotiate a time extension. The report also sets out the consequences of a delay in the full opening - including delay in achieving extensions to the system.

    Mike Ballinger, Area Officer for the LRTA, said: "It is disappointing that these delays are occurring in the opening of the first light rail route. It follows on the disastrous introduction of 323s on the Cross-City line. We just don't seem to be able to get these things running right from day one".
    Friday 19 June 1998

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    Integrated Transport White Paper in deep trouble?: Rumours are circulating that John Prescott's White Paper on Integrated Transport Policy may now not be published until after Parliament's summer break - which could mean October or later. Following similar rumours at the beginning of this week (see news item below), several of the British quality newspapers have carried reports to the effect that there is division within the Cabinet on the question of (a) the extent to which car users can be antagonised and (b) on the costs of an integrated transport policy. Both these points were identified in our news report on Monday, some 24 hours in advance of National Media - if you want the latest word on transport matters - visit this website! Thursday 11 June 1998

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    To be well informed about light rail & urban transit developments you need to read Tramways & Urban Transit every month - the world's leading light rail, tramways and urban transit journal


    To be well informed about light rail & urban transit developments you need to read Tramways & Urban Transit every month - the world's leading light rail, tramways and urban transit journal


    Integrated Transport White Paper running late: Reports from reliable sources say that UK Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's White Paper on Integrated Transport Policy will not now be published until after the Comprehensive Spending Review is completed in July. First expected April-May 1998, the publication date was put back to 18 June, then 23 June and now until after the Football World Cup.

    LRTA comment: It has been rumoured that John Prescott's White Paper was in trouble - with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for proposing to allow new transport congestion taxes to be automatically used for investment in public transport and other transport improvements, and with Prime Minister Tony Blair, for antagonising car-users (who are a large proportion of voters). The delay may also indicate that the costs involved in the White Paper's proposals could be a significant issue in the context of the Spending Review.

    The delay may also, hopefully, indicate that the Deputy Prime Minister, who is also Secretary of State for Environment, Transport & the Regions, is sticking out for bold/tough measures to change the nation's travel habits, to cut congestion and pollution and to develop better public transport, as many bodies, like the LRTA, have told him he should. Pessimists are seeing the White Paper as being emasculated, and being a symbolic token of desire rather than signalling the start of radical change in transport.

    Recent Ministerial statements suggest that the government may be tempted to put nearly all its eggs in the buses basket, in the belief that (a) they won't cost much and (b) people will get out of their cars to ride on buses. The LRTA believes that more fundamental improvements are needed to public transport than new low floor buses - light rail, modern tramway or metro systems are needed in all substantial towns and cities, nothing less will possibly get people out of their cars.

    The LRTA hopes that the delay is a sign that the Secretary of State is fighting to ensure that the White Paper says what it should rather than what Labour spin-doctors think will placate car driving voters! Monday 8 June 1998

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    The first two "The Metro" Ansaldo trams at Wednesbury, U.K. Midland Metro trams 01 & 02 - photo: Geoff Lusher, Travel Midland Metro

    Developer pledges 25m to Midland Metro extension: LRTA Area Officer Mike Ballinger reports - "Chesfield, the owners of the Merry Hill shopping complex, announced on the 3rd June that they would put 25M into an extension of Midland Metro to serve their property. The line will include part of the proposed line 3 but extra powers will be needed to take the LRT to the actual shopping centre. Originally it was proposed to use the former monorail as a fixed link. At the same time Metro concessionaire Altram confirmed that Line 1 would open in October (25th is mentioned in the Birmingham Post). The 3rd tram is now on its way to the West Midlands. Meanwhile local entrepreneurs Don and Roy Richardson have announced plans to build a hotel on the site of the former Black Country Development Corporation's offices at Wednesbury Parkway. "It is a good site because it is opposite the Midland Metro station and will give people good transport links" Don Richardson told the Express & Star. - This is more bad news for A J Gardner!" Thursday 4 June 1998

    Webmaster's explanatory note: A.J.Gardner is a Birmingham resident who, over the last 10 years or so, has written regular letters, probably totalling many hundreds, to local newspapers, opposing Midland Metro and proposing trolley buses as his preferred alternative. It has fallen to Mike Ballinger as Area Officer of the LRTA - which has always supported the development of Midland Metro - to write (not quite so many) letters putting the Association's views to ensure readers had the full picture.

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    Channel Tunnel Rail Link deal has implications for urban transit projects: UK Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, yesterday announced details of a deal to rescue the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. His plan has been widely praised for saving this important project. However two aspects of it have wider implications and significance - 1. The UK government is to put in 140m extra public money (best case) or up to 360m (worst case). 2. Government is to take on the ultimate risk of the project failing by providing government guarantees to 3.8 billion of project debt.

    LRTA Secretary General Bob Tarr commented: The commitment of between 140m and 360m of additional public money to the Channel Tunnel Rail Link project is pretty certainly bad news for those promoting urban transit projects in the United Kingdom. The reason is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made clear only this week that government is going to be extremely tough on overall public spending levels, therefore these extra resources will pretty certainly have to be found from within the funds allocated to the Department of Environment, Transport & the Regions which will mean that something else will be shelved or cancelled. With government already talking down urban transit schemes in British cities such as Portsmouth, and placing great store on cheap bus schemes to transform the travelling habits of Britain's over-whelmingly car-borne commuters, the prospects for schemes such as Nottingham. South Hants, Leeds and Bristol, each needing 100m or so of funding, are even bleaker today than yesterday.

    The second point could be of great significance: government has been very insistent that no public sector guarantees or underwriting of risk could be allowed for major public/private schemes such as light rail systems. Now John Prescott seems to have blown this Treasury shibboleth to pieces - it looks very much as if the CTRL scheme - as viewed by the lender of funds - can rely on the government to pick up the pieces if it all goes pear shaped. Of course, Prescott hopes it won't come to that and, as many have argued for years, if government will just give confidence to private sector lenders by standing behind major infrastructure schemes, they are (a) much more likely to happen and (b) much more likely to be successful because they will not be burdened with the high interest rates/rates of return that investors require if such projects have to bear all the risks. Pressure on the government to extend this thinking to many other infrastructure projects will undoubtedly follow.
    Thursday 4 June 1998

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    Will bus takeover scupper Supertram integration? News that Britain's biggest bus company, FirstGroup, has bought Mainline Partnership which is the principal bus operator in Sheffield, has led to doubts about the effect on the Sheffield Supertram, now operated by Stagecoach Group. Soon after taking responsibility for Supertram operation, Stagecoach announced various co-operative ventures, including joint ticketing arrangements, with Sheffield bus operators (of which the largest is Mainline). Now Mainline belongs to Stagecoach's principal rival, will such co-operative arrangements survive?

    LRTA Secretary General Bob Tarr commented: The Sheffield Supertram has been dogged by the effects of the lack of integration in British local public transport which, outside London, is deregulated and, over the last 12 years, more and more buses have chased fewer and fewer passengers. The recent takeover of Supertram operation by Stagecoach and the sensible arrangements for joint ticketing with Sheffield bus operators seemed, at last, to be the sorts of developments which would enable the superb Sheffield tramway to attain its potential for the city.

    However, under the present legal regime, where open competition is regarded as the principal objective, there must be a question mark as to whether co-operative arrangements between the two biggest public transport operators (FirstGroup and Stagecoach) would be regarded as a monopolistic arrangement. Only last week, Birmingham bus operator Travel West Midlands, which has the lion's share of the bus business in the West Midlands, and is a subsidiary of travel giant National Express Group, warned smaller operators not to combine to compete against it as that could amount to a cartel, which suggests that the big operators are aware of the issue and prepared to use it against small operators when it suits them.

    Britain's regulators of free trade (The OFT and Monopolies Commission) seem, in the past, to have been reluctant to intervene in the bus and public transport arena but now, with more and more of the market concentrating into the grip of just a handful of companies it seems unlikely that they can avoid it much longer. Such intervention could come just at the time when Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott advocates greater co-operation and integration of public transport services through his Transport White Paper due to be published this month. If action by the regulatory authorities is to be avoided, it would seem that the legal framework for the bus industry will have to be changed.
    Tuesday June 2 1998

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