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Parry Flywheel Tram opens in Bristol: The first tram to carry paying passengers in Bristol for over 50 years started operation yesterday. The initial route is from Prince Street Bridge to the SS Great Britain (Brunelís iron steam ship) stopping also at the Industrial Museum, using existing track of the former harbour railway. The service was inaugurated by Bristolís Lord Mayor and attracted considerable media attention. The vehicle is the latest model of the Parry People Mover, which is driven by a flywheel charged from a 70 volt DC supply picked up from a short stretch of third rail situated at the stopping places. This rail is energised when the tram is at the stop by the driver using a handheld remote control unit. These charging points are located at the Industrial Museum and SS Great Britain stops only.

The operating company, Bristol Electric Railbus Ltd., has plans for extensions initially on to the Create Centre, which is home to Bristol City Councilís Environmental department as well as many other environmental organisations. Neither the Great Britain nor the Create Centre is well served by public transport (other than by ferry) so there is the possibility of becoming a useful public service. Further extensions to Long Ashton P+R or to connect with a suggested reopening of the Portishead rail line are under consideration.

At present the service, which is wheelchair accessible, operates from 10am to 6:30pm daily every 15 minutes, except days when the steam train is operating. (This is two weekends in the month plus Bank Holidays)
Friday 22 May 1998 - report by Brian Lomas, the LRTA's Bristol Area Officer.

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Late trams delay Midland Metro - British regional newspaper The Birmingham Post reports today (Wednesday 13 May) that the failure of Italian tram manufacturer Ansaldo/Firema to deliver 16 trams for the new Midland Metro Line 1 project on time will mean further delay to the opening of the line.

Originally timed to open mid-Summer 1998, the opening date was recently eased back to October 1998 and now looks almost certain to fall back further, possibly to to 1999. Tram No.1 was delivered in February, but No. 2 only arrived today, 3 weeks behind schedule. Four should have been delivered by now. Trams should be being delivered at the rate of one per week. Without an adequate fleet of trams the 50 drivers who have already been recruited cannot be trained and familiarised with the route, which necessarily involves several months effort. The Railway Inspectorate also require at least 6 weeks full operation without passengers before it will allow new systems to open for public service.

Phil Bateman, spokesman for operators Travel Midland Metro (a National Express Group plc group member) is reported as commenting: "Everybody here is frustrated. It's a good system, an exciting system, and we are all champing at the bit to get on with it."

The newspaper says that concessionaire Altram (Ansaldo/John Laing/NEG) could be liable for substantial penalities if the October 31 deadline is not met, but it reported that a spokeswoman for Centro, the local PTE (passenger transport executive) refused to comment saying it was "commercially sensitive".
Wednesday 13 May 1998

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Dublin Light Rail to go ahead - but underground Tramways & Urban Transit Home News Editor, John Symons reports: The Irish Government has now given the go-ahead to the LUAS light rail scheme and the option which includes an underground section through the city centre of Dublin has been chosen and approved the the Irish Parliament (The Dail) on Tuesday this week. The 2.4 km underground section will link the main rail terminals at Heuston and Connelly.
The approved scheme will cost £342m, some £90m more than the alternative all-on -street option. The already agreed European Union funding of £100m seems to have been forfeited and the majority of the cost will fall to the Irish government. The Public Enterprise Minister, Mrs Mary O'Rourke, said the new scheme provided "a greatly expanded vision for Dublin transport" and the Irish government is known to feel that Dublin should have a high quality public transport system commensurate with its status as a European capital. The Minister indicated that a further application will be made to the EU for funding, though construction is expected to start in 1999, and the next EU funding round is for 2000. The government is to investigate whether public-private partnership initiatives may be appropriate as a basis of funding the system.
Thursday 7 May 1998

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Treasury threat to transport taxes? A news item in London newspaper The Times today (Tuesday 14 April) says that Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, is to block proposals put forward by John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister to pump hundreds of millions of pounds, raised from new motoring taxes, from being reinvested directly into local transport improvements. The proposals are expected as part of the British Government's White Paper on Integrated Transport Policy, due to be published in late May. The newspaper says that though the Treasury will allow taxes raised in the first year to go to transport improvements, in subsequent years, as the transport schemes become established, the Treasury will require an increasing proportion each year to be paid over to central government.
LRTA Secretary General Bob Tarr commented: The Treasury has always opposed what is called "hypothecation" - that is the use of the revenue from a tax for investment for a specific, pre-determined purpose - not surprisingly the Chancellor prefers all tax revenues to flow in to the Treasury so he has total discretion on how to use them. But this is an absolutely crucial matter for the new Integrated Transport Policy - if it is to have any credibility at all, it must be clear to motorists that congestion, parking and other new taxes they may have to pay are actually invested in more and better public transport and don't just swell the coffers of the Treasury. If not, not only will the aim of the Integrated Transport Policy (to get people out of cars and on to public transport) fail, but also policies of taxing motorists until the pips squeak (or they get off the road) will prove unacceptable to the electorate at large (most of whom are motorists) and the motorists' vote will kill such policies (or the government that espouses them). This is a battle it is vital that John Prescott wins! Tuesday 14 April 1998.

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Island Metro launch counter proposals: At a meeting convened by the Isle of Wight Council on Monday 6 April and attended by campaigning group Wight Track, Ventnor Railway Association, Isle of Wight Steam Railway and Transport 2000, a new group called "Island Metro" unveiled proposals for a £60m electrified railway, including re-opening disused lines and constructing a parallel track to that on which the Island's steam railway runs. It is not clear how, or from what source, the £60m cost (Island Metro's estimate) would come. It is understood that the group intend to import secondhand trams from Eastern Europe.

Wight Track, a campaigning group launched in February 1998, and proposing a low cost solution based on battery or diesel powered light rail vehicles, believe that the "Island Metro" group's ideas are ill-considered and unrealistic, involving, as they do, overhead electrification of all the railway lines on the island and building some 5 miles of new track in addition to the reopening of disused lines which is proposed by Wight Track. The Chairman of the Council agreed, at the conclusion of the meeting, to take to his council the idea of undertaking a feasability study.
LRTA Secretary General Bob Tarr commented: The Isle of Wight is a unique situation - not only is it a small island separated from mainland Britain, but its population varies greatly between winter, when it has only 124,600 resident population (1994) and summer, when that population is swelled by several times as many tourists - most of whom are probably car borne (thus the traffic congestion problems). The largest town on the island has only 25,000 population (Newport, the island's administrative capital). The problems of sustaining the present railway infrastructure on the island are considerable, let alone developing it. The Wight Track Group's approach of a deliberately low cost approach seems to give the best chance of achieving the aim of a better and more extensive rail service on the island. Island Metro's proposal of a £60m scheme looks like a flight of fancy - who will come up with the £60m? There seems zero chance of any significant government money given other demands on the mainland, the Island Council, even if it was willing to tax island residents with the cost would need government approval for the capital expenditure and, for any new or re-opened lines, powers from the government. Railtrack, which owns the existing Island Line lines might make a modest investment, as might Stagecoach PLC which operates them - but only if it gets a renewed franchise. The best bet (literally!) might be the National Lottery Fund - but as this works on the basis of levering funds from other sources a guess might be that if £50m was in place from other contributors, maybe £10m might be got from the Lottery if a good enough case could be made. Whether the practical realities of importing and refurbishing and getting H.M.Railway Inspector's approval to the use of old Eastern European trams are realised by Island Metro is yet another doubt. Altogether the Island Metro proposal looks to me like a timewasting distraction from the real task of working out how, over a period of years a phased development programme, probably in chunks of not more than £4m to £5m at a time and totalling perhaps a third or a half Island Metro's total of £60m, can be achieved - this is likely to be difficult enough! Island Metro is not known to have a wealthy philanthropist backing it, and the commercial case for investment to be repaid from passenger revenues is not likely to justify more than a small percentage of the £60m. Friday 10 April 1998.

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Opening of new Rome tram produces wrong sort of headlines: London daily newspaper The Independent carries a story today about the opening of new tram route No.8 in Rome, Italy (Casalotto in western suburbs to Largo Argentina). The opening of the new line was said already to have been delayed from November and, according to The Independent, was still not operational when opened by the Mayor, Francesco Rutelli on Saturday. It opened on Monday at 6 a.m. but without the new "Supertrams". The cancellation of a number of bus routes which the tram replaces, failure of priority traffic lights and several breakdowns of tram doors and ticket machines and severe overcrowding has not made it a smooth start. The paper reports that up to 30m pilgrims are expected in Rome for the Vatican's Millenial Jubilee, but apart from the Supertram Rome has no significant infrastructural improvements to offer them.Thursday 26 March 1998.

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Prescott pledges £7bn for London Underground:
UK Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has made his long awaited announcement on the modernisation of the London Underground (Metro) system. He said that public-private partnerships would be formed to bring in private funding so that £7 billion could be spent on modernising the London Underground network over the next 15 years. London Transport (public sector) will continue to operate the trains and stations and the private sector finance would be used to modernise the tunnels, track, signalling, and other infrastructure and trains. In two years time control of the London Underground would be passed to the proposed London Regional Authority and new elected London Mayor.

LRTA comment: Scepticism has already been expressed about what this form of private involvement will achieve and what its costs will be. The Treasury is being blamed for an inflexible attitude in regarding the investment in the Underground as public expenditure rather than investment earning a return - thus necessitating the involvement of private sector contractors who will require a reward in the shape of a commercial return which will either increase the fares or the public subsidy much more than would be required if public funds were used for the investment. The Government's resistance to privatisation is said to be the reason that the obvious ways to involve the private sector (running the trains and stations) are not to happen. Friday 20 March 1998.
Mr Prescott has said that £365m of extra public money will go into the Underground over the next 2 years - this seems to be the major part of the £500m additional government investment in public transport that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in his Budget Speech on Tuesday - if so it leaves little for the rest of the country
Sunday 22 March 1998.

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Yes - traffic can just disappear into thin air! A Report by MVA consultants and the ESRC Transport Studies Unit following empirical studies concludes that chaos does not result when highway capacity is reduced - rather traffic "adapts". Highway capacity reductions (for cars) are often needed so as to give priority space to buses, trams or light rail, or cyclists or to create traffic free areas. It has often been argued that chaos will result from such capacity reductions - this report shows that this is not so, though disbenefits do occur to those who would have used the previous capacity. The report was produced for the UK government as part of the run-up to the White Paper on integrated transport policy due May 1998.
LRTA Secretary General Bob Tarr commented: Several years ago part of the Inner Ring Road of Birmingham, England was closed for a period. Traffic chaos was predicted but simply didn't happen - this study shows that this was not unusual and should make urban planners and highway engineers more willing to try radical changes in capacity allocation which previously they might have feared would cause too many problems. It's good news for all of us who are keen to see pedestrians, cyclists and public transport get a much higher priority in the use of city streets. Thursday 12 March 1998.

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Has Metrolink found the holy grail? One of the biggest problems that face UK light rail promoters is getting developers and landowners to contribute a reasonable proportion of the gains they make in land and property values from new light rail lines towards the cost of building those lines. Now it looks as if the highly successful and rapidly growing Greater Manchester Metrolink may have cracked it. Developers of the £600m Trafford Centre and other landowners are understood to have offered £23m towards the £60m cost of the 10 station Trafford Park extension to Metrolink. The developers expect the balance to be found by Serco Metrolink, the private sector operator of the system. If the deal goes through it is understood that no cost would fall on the public sector owners of Metrolink (Greater Manchester PTA/PTE). This would be unprecedented in modern times for any such major public transport infrastructure development in the UK. This development would be another milestone on the road to the rapid development of the full "Metrolink 2000 network", the most ambitious of any planned for the UK since West Midlands PTA/Centro allowed powers for two lines to lapse last year.

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South Hants LRT one step nearer! - England, south coast - Promoters of the South Hampshire Light Rail Transit scheme between Portsmouth and Fareham via Gosport made their formal application on Friday March 6 to the Department of the Environment, Transport & the Regions (DETR) for powers to build and operate the line under the Transport & Works Act. The scheme is being promoted by Hampshire County Council in partnership with Portsmouth City Council and includes an undersea tunnel across the entrance to Portsmouth harbour - it is expected that the undersea track will be laid in a giant pre-fabricated pipe which will be installed in a trench dug into the sea bed at the harbour entrance. The proposed line is 14 kms in length and will require up to 13 articulated trams up to 40m in length. The estimated cost is £147m and 40% of the capital cost may come from the private sector. Detailed route plans have been put on public exhibition and potential objectors to the route have until 17 April to lodge objections. If there are objections the government will convene a Public Inquiry which is likely to take place in Autumn 1998. When the Inspector has made his report the Secretary of State for Transport will have to decide whether to grant the powers to the promoters - it could easily be late 1999 or 2000 before the government's decision is known. The promoters will now, no doubt, be developing their plans for private sector involvement and the financing of the scheme.

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First Midland Metro Tram Blessed! A Roman Catholic service was held yesterday (Sunday 15 March) to bless Tram No. 1 of Midland Metro which was delivered recently by makers Ansaldo. The service was held in the new Metrocentre depot at Wednesbury, West Midlands and is, apparently, a regular Italian practice.

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News from Tyne & Wear Metro - The Public Inquiry into the proposed extension of the Tyne & Wear Metro (UK) concluded 3 February after 5 days of hearings compared with the 3 weeks expected. All the heavy rail companies opposing the scheme withdrew their objections. Hopes are now high for the Inspector's Report to be produced within a few months so that the project can proceed.

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