Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by D. Scott Hellewell, Esq. (RT 03)



  1.1  This Memorandum seeks to discuss the four items that the Transport Sub-Committee wishes to investigate. Each question is dealt with in the next four sections and the Conclusions are set out in Section 6. There are also three appendices giving further information.

  1.2  However, before going into the main body of the Memorandum it is felt appropriate to make some general opening remarks and these are set out below.

Light RAPID Transit

  1.3  Light RAPID transit covers both rubber-tyred and steel-wheeled transit systems, ie conventional buses running on special roads (eg Runcorn) or guided buses running on dedicated guideways (eg the short lengths in Leeds or the longer sections in Essen (Germany)). Propulsion may come from either conventional Diesel engines or from natural gas power or electric traction may be used (trolley buses or dual systems as in Seattle, for instance).

Light RAIL Transit

  1.4  The International Union of Public Transport's (UITP's) International Light Rail Commission defined Light Rail (in 1983) as:

    "A rail-borne form of transport which can be developed in stages from a modern tramway to a rapid transport system operating on its own right-of-way, underground, at ground level or elevated. Each stage of development can be the final stage, but it should also permit development to the next higher stage."

  1.5  In Germany where the development of light rail was pioneered in the 1960's, they had rebuilt their tramways conventionally after the War and thus their upgrading to light rail started with a tramway base. In Britain (and many cities in France and North America) there were no tramways and thus light rail systems had to be built ab initio.

  1.6  In the foregoing definition the points to stress are:

"rail-borne":it is steel-wheeled and steel railed not rubber-tyred.
"developed in stages": the capacity can be developed to suit demand which, in turn, may be influenced by land-use developments.
"operating on its own right-of-way": this means segregated from other transport. By this means journey times are reliably achieved.
"underground, at ground level or elevated": this Flexibility enables it to be threaded through mature urban areas.
"each stage can be the final stage, or it can be   
developed further":
each discrete stage can be planned and financed but if care is taken, the initial scheme can be developed (ie as is now happening with Metrolink in Manchester and most of the French and North American schemes).

Worldwide Scene

  1.7  Worldwide there are some 350 light rail systems and the number is growing. Some have developed from tramways, others have been developed from scratch. Nearly all of them are being expanded. In nearly every case they form part of an integrated transport scheme, a point to which we will return in Sections 3 and 5. Virtually all schemes (outside Great Britain) are built with public grants and operate with an annual subsidy (reflecting the Political and transportation policies of the Countries or Cities concerned).

  1.8  In contrast British LRT schemes are built with substantial tranches of private money (eg Manchester and Croydon) or are entirely privately funded, eg Nottingham. In all cases there are no operating subsidies, operations, maintenance and remuneration of capital having to come from the farebox. Furthermore, this income is subject to competition from other operators—notably buses.

  1.9  Light rail transport combines very nearly the best attributes of both the bus and the train:

    —  from the bus: accessibility, frequency and convenience;

    —  from the train: reliability, speed and safety.

  Essentially, LRT is a RAIL mode serving a BUS market. There are many objectives for promoting an LRT scheme; some of them are set out in Appendix "A".

British Schemes

  1.10  British schemes tend to have developed either to reduce the costs of an existing heavy rail operation or to provide improved capacity, in addition to incorporating some of the features referred to in Appendix "A". More specifically British schemes:

    —  either took over under-used or former railway lines or alignments and upgraded them by converting them to light rail;

    —  or created new infrastructure to provide additional capacity over the bus services currently existing.

  1.11  Manchester Metrolink and Midland Metro fall into the first category, the former taking over existing, but outdated and heavily subsidised suburban services and replacing them with a modern LRT providing new links across the city centre, thereby improving access. Midland Metro took over a redundant railway alignment and provided additional new capacity to stimulate the redevelopment of the area. By contrast Sheffield Supertram falls into the second category—new capacity on (mostly) new alignments in heavily-trafficked corridors. (The modification of this original concept is dealt with in para 4.3).

  1.12  Croydon Tramlink and Greater Nottingham schemes incorporate both features by taking over under-used or dis-used railway lines and providing new links and additional capacity in presently bus-served corridors. Of significance in the Croydon Scheme is the re-focussing of activities on Croydon rather than on London. Whilst all schemes have as one of their objectives the encouragement of development or redevelopment, this was quite clearly the main objective of the DLR scheme. It achieved its objective in such a spectacular fashion that the system could not cope with the number of passengers using it and it had to be virtually rebuilt.

The Pro's and Con's of Bus-based and Rail-based LRT systems

  1.13  With a bus-based system the investment in the busway can be focused on where it will bring the greater benefits to the operation. It can then be expanded, or separate sections linked as demand or funds require. Furthermore, it can be used by conventional buses, although if guidance is adopted the vehicles will have to be modified (at a cost of about £3000 per vehicle) and there will have to be some additional driver training. No new garage facilities will be required unless articulated, gas-fuelled or electrically-powered vehicles are used.

  1.14  However on the downside, a bus is still a bus in image and perception terms. Whilst it will be segregated on the guideway and may have a degree of priority, it will still have to make its way through urban traffic congestion once it returns to ordinary roads. Bus-priorities on ordinary streets are notoriously difficult to keep free-flowing (eg London's Red Bus Routes) and thus the benefit of the guideway can be quickly dissipated once the bus leaves its confines (as has occurred in Adelaide).

  1.15  With a rail-based system purpose-designed vehicles have to be supplied together with the infrastructure, maintenance depot and control arrangements. This is a "minimum package". It brings with it a substantial "overhead" in the form of the Operations and Maintenance Centre. This 'overhead' decreases as the system expands. However, because light-rail is a system all aspects have to be thought through and a superior level of quality will be delivered. There is no doubt that trams can attract car users back to public transport.

  1.16  When you 'buy' a light rail system you also get:

    —  electric traction (environmentally friendly);

    —  vehicle location and passenger information systems;

    —  in-built priority on city streets; and

    —  an accessible system.

  Many of these features are extras to a bus-based system. Light rail is more expensive than a bus-based RT system but it also brings with it greater benefits.


  1.17  In writing this Memorandum, it is assumed that light rapid transit operators will be making their own detailed responses to your investigation. These submissions will include the relevant facts and figures concerning their systems' infrastructure, operating performance and passenger carryings. Such information is not, therefore, included in this submission.


Light Rail Systems

  2.1  Light rail systems are operating in Docklands (DLR), Manchester (Metrolink), Sheffield (Supertram) and the West Midlands (Midland Metro). The Tyne and Wear Metro (TWM) may also be considered as LRT although it is at the "heavy" end, entirely segregated and fully signalled. But DLR Docklands Light Railway is entirely segregated and automatically operated! This is another aspect of the flexibility of light rail.

  2.2  Croydon Tramlink is nearing completion and will open in the Autumn. Greater Nottingham LRT has been authorised, preliminary works are in hand and construction is expected to start in earnest in the New Year. DLR, Metrolink and Tyne and Wear are all being extended.

  2.3  There are a number of schemes at an advanced stage of planning. South Hampshire (Portsmouth-Gosport), Leeds and Bristol. There are other schemes at different stages of development, eg a private light rail scheme for Liverpool; a similar scheme for Edinburgh, a tramway from St. Pancras to Waterloo and extensions to Croydon Tramlink.

Light Rapid Transit Systems

  2.4  Runcorn Busway, which has a length of about 12 miles, has been operating for nearly 30 years, but its pioneering efforts have never been copied. It has suffered from the economic problems of the area and from the general decline in bus usage. Three lengths of guided busway have been developed in Scott Hall Road, Leeds and extensions to the east of the City are under active development. There are numerous examples of Bus Gates (Sheffield) or Bus Only Roads (Ipswich) and extensive bus priority measures (Oxford) but few examples of SYSTEMS.

  2.5  One of the reasons for this is the very nature of the bus and bus operations. The bus is highly flexible (which has both pluses and minuses), and congestion problems tend to be addressed at points rather than by a corridor or system approach. Guided buses or trolleybuses (as with light rail) require a more systematic and corridor approach. A list of Current Bus Way Schemes is set out in Appendix 'B'.


Light Rail Systems


  2.6  After the war France and Britain pursued similar policies with regard to scrapping trams. Similarly both countries became aware of the development of light rail in the late 60's/early 70's. The first LRT scheme in France was in Nantes. The majority of the first line was on new construction and LRT took over from heavily loaded bus routes which incorporated significant amounts of bus priority. Subsequent schemes have been developed in Grenoble, Strasbourg, Rouen and Paris (suburbs).

  2.7  Nantes was a pioneering scheme, much as in Manchester with Metrolink, and used a high vehicle floor/high platform solution which has been continued in their extension. Grenoble introduced low floor vehicles (pioneered in Geneva) which have subsequently become the 'French Standard Tram" being used in Rouen and Paris also. (Low floors ease boarding and alighting and simplify the construction at street level).

  2.8  In Strasbourg the promotion of LRT was a Political Statement by the then Mayor. Trams were to be used to revitalise and re-invigorate the city—an approach which had been pioneered in Grenoble. However, the Strasbourg tram was (at the time) of unusual design and construction (Italian design/British built) and made a major visual statement. Lille also upgraded its "Mongy" tram network using another (Breda) design from Italy.

  2.9  Some French cities have gone for the VAL (Véhicule Automatique Leger) system: namely Lille and Toulouse, with others possibly to follow. Bordeaux has had an on-off relationship between the supporters of a VAL-system or a conventional "Standard" French tram. A similar debate goes on in Caen between supporters of a tramway and those of a Guided Light Transit (GLT/TVR) system. (This is a rubber-tyred system with a single, central guiderail).

North America

  2.10  Most North American cities gave up their trams (street-cars) after the War. They, too, noticed what was happening in Europe and a number of Western American cities promoted LRT schemes: San Diego*, Denver, Portland, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City* and, in Canada, Edmonton* and Calgary*. Those marked with an asterisk (*) even adopted a Standard car design, built by Duwag (now Siemens), based on that company's U2 design for Frankfurt-am-Main. As in Britain both under-used or former railway lines or alignments were used as well as those built on completely new alignments, often in the central reservation of dual carriageways.

  2.11  The objectives and individual characteristics of these schemes cannot be dealt with in this short submission. However, it is interesting to note that it is the environmentally-conscious and prosperous Cities of Western America, where the car has been dominant for so long, that have gone for LRT in a big way. Systems are usually built from funds raised by sales or gasoline taxes (raised for the purpose) and are in receipt of substantial operating subsidies (between 60 and 80 per cent).

Light Rapid Transit

Adelaide (South Australia)

  2.12  It is understood that the decision to build a guided busway system (O-Bahn) to serve the north-east corridor of this city, rather than to use conventional light RAIL transit, was a Political one. (One Party was for O-Bahn, the other for LRT). It was claimed the O-Bahn infrastructure costs are 40 per cent lower than those for LRT. The system has been a great success, but reliability on the busway has been compromised by the buses having to run on the streets downtown. This system uses kerb-guidance and conventional Mercedes-Benz buses. The 12 km scheme was completed in 1988.

Ottawa (Canada)

  2.13  This City built its first section of busway ("Transitway") in 1983. It uses segregated transit roads and conventional (unguided) buses, and has been expanded continuously. Today it has a length of 29.3 km and 24 Transitway stops. It carries 200,000 passengers per week.

Curitiba (Brazil)

  2.14  Since 1992 this South American city has pioneered a network of segregated busways (unguided) operated by specially developed buses. (They are 25 m long, have four axles and three articulated sections and carry 270 passengers.) They have dedicated high platforms at the bus stops they serve so that there is level boarding and alighting and the bus stops are tubular and completely enclosed. Passengers pass through a turnstile and pay their fare and queue whilst waiting for the bus.



  3.1  The promoter's objectives must be clear and focused if an LRT Scheme is to be successful. These objectives must have a wide degree of public support. Leeds got off to a false start and Bristol has had a chequered progress because the objectives of their respective schemes were unclear.


  3.2  The justification of an LRT scheme will flow from an evaluation of the objectives. Many of the benefits of a scheme are either social or environmental, dependent upon actions of others or will only come later in the project or after the completion of the first stage. Yet the majority of the funding must come from the private sector.

Passenger forecasts and competition

  3.3  Accurate forecasts of the number of passengers likely to use an LRT scheme are difficult in any circumstances because of the number of externalities which can affect the base assumptions. This difficulty is compounded (outside Greater London) because of the competitive regimes that exist. The promoter of an LRT scheme has little idea how competitors will react. Even if a major operator is involved in a scheme he himself has to "watch his back" for competition.

  3.4  Elsewhere in the World LRT schemes have formed the backbone to an integrated public transport system. This was the concept behind Tyne and Wear Metro, Manchester Metrolink and Sheffield Supertram. However, all these schemes have suffered to a greater or lesser extent because of competition and their failure to achieve (in the Sheffield case) the passenger forecasts. The financial backers of any LRT scheme require comfort as to the accuracy and reliability of passenger forecasts and hence income flows. Their answer to the competitive regime is to price up the risk they perceive. One reason why LRT schemes in Britain cost more than they need to.


  3.5  Current British schemes tend to be built under single DBOM-type contracts. The complex issues involved are dealt with in an Appendix "C" to this Memorandum.


  3.6  In part these problems relate to the form of contract (see Appendix "C") but they also relate to the lack of realisation that LRT schemes tend to be built in congested and built-up urban areas, as opposed to green-field sites often associated with by-passes and such like. Whilst it is inevitable that there will be some disturbance and inconvenience during construction, this can be minimised by good planning, project management and consultation. However, this all takes time—which is money under a DBOM contract.


  3.7  Before an LRT scheme can proceed an Order under the Transport and Works Act 1992 (TWA) must be obtained. This is an expensive, time-consuming and uncertain procedure. Dependent upon the scheme the costs of promoting such an Order are likely to be between £½ million and £1 million, the timescale 2-3 years (after allowing for a gestation and consultation period). Even with clear objectives, the big imponderable is the Public Inquiry. Whilst the decision to hold such an Inquiry lies with the Secretary of State, it must always be assumed that he will call for such an Inquiry. The outcome of such an Inquiry is highly uncertain, as exemplified by the Merseyside Rapid Transit case which has been thrown out as a result of the Inquiry—in spite of it being a bus-based scheme.


  4.1  Worldwide LRT schemes have been a success in achieving their objectives (see Appendix "A"), whether the schemes are light-rail based as in North America or Continental Europe or the rubber-tyred systems in North or South America. At home the Tyne and Wear Metro was a great success until the advent of deregulation which challenged its "raison d'être".

  4.2  Metrolink has been a great success exceeding the passenger forecasts so that it now carries more than double the previous BR carryings at no subsidy from the tax-payer and yielding profits to the operator. However, it is now a victim of its own success with substantial overcrowding in the weekday peak periods. The new operator has made alterations to the infrastructure so that a more frequent timetable can be operated requiring 92.3 per cent tram availability. Unfortunately neither GMPTE nor ALTRAM (M/cr) can devise a method to fund additional vehicles or capacity.

  4.3  Conversely, Sheffield Supertram has not been a commercial success although, technically, it is a good system. It had a difficult gestation with different views being taken by South Yorkshire PTE (the Promoter) and the City of Sheffield; the alignment was changed and insufficient priority has been given. However, it was the bus competition and some inept marketing that badly affected the passenger forecasts. Unlike Metrolink, it was mainly street-based and therefore did not have the in-built advantage of fast and reliable running times. However, debts having been written off and being owned by the Stagecoach Group it is now being integrated into the City's public transport network (as was originally intended) and passenger numbers are rising.

  4.4  Although Midland Metro has been afflicted by technical problems, it has got off to a good start in terms of public acceptance and passenger carryings. In no small part this is due to it being fully integrated into the local public transport scene with bus and train interchange being encouraged at numerous tram stops and being facilitated by through ticketing. This shows the benefits when a travel retailer (National Express Group) owns the major bus operator, the tram operator and the principal local train franchise—commercial integration.

  4.5  Croydon Tramlink is to open shortly and all the signs are that this, too, will be a success in achieving its objectives. In part this is assured because of the regulated/franchised transport scheme that exists in the capital.


  5.1  Some of the problems encountered in promoting, building and operating LRT schemes were set out in Section 3. Some of the problems are inter-related eg competition/regulation issues. These are dealt with below.


  5.2  LRT schemes are expected to be financed by the private sector through PFI-type arrangements with only a small contribution from the public sector, yet it is the public sector where the benefits will lie through reduced congestion, reduced road management and maintenance, reduction in accidents, better environment, etc. The British approach is unique in the World.

  5.3  The private sector is not averse to such schemes, as has been shown by investment in Manchester, West Midlands, Croydon and Nottingham. However, income streams, derived from passenger forecasts, are critical to project funding. Outside London there is free competition. Where is the incentive to invest the substantial monies required by LRT (bus or rail-based) which, most naturally should take over the existing heavy bus flows and become the backbone of an integrated transport network.

  5.4  Quality Partnerships have been developed in a number of places and are being encouraged by the government. So far they have applied to buses, but there is no reason why an LRT corridor should not be designated a Quality Partnership and thus protected from some of the excesses of uninhibited competition. However, the conflict between the government's Transport White Paper's intentions and their Competition Act will have to be addressed if integrated transport is to be developed.

Simplification of procedures

  5.5  As mentioned in para 3.7 above, the procedure for obtaining a Draft Order under the T and WA to build and operate an LRT is long, complicated, expensive and uncertain. This process has to be gone through for guided bus and light rail systems. Short lengths of bus-only road, eg the Scott Hall Road developments in Leeds were built under Highway Powers—a simpler approach.

  5.6  The Order procedure under the T and WA was supposed to be simpler, quicker and cheaper than the previous arrangement of promoting a Private Bill. This has not turned out to be the case. It has been suggested that a two-stage approach should be devised: the First Stage would be similar to obtaining Outline Planning Permission; the Second Stage would go for the full scheme in the appropriate detail. Such an approach would be of considerable assistance to those promoting LRT schemes.

Shared Operation

  5.7    Reference was made in para 1.10 to the fact that a number of British light rail schemes have taken over under-used heavy rail alignments. Shared running of light and heavy rail was not then acceptable to HM Railway Inspectorate. Following the pioneering work in Karlsruhe (Germany), HMRI has accepted the principal of track-sharing subject to appropriate safeguards. This is to be welcomed. However, it is unfortunate that the Nottingham LRT scheme has chosen not to take this approach, but to share the solus with Railtrack and to run parallel to heavy rail operations.

  5.8  It is suggested that a little lateral thinking could be encouraged in that a number of existing local heavy rail services could be operated as a mini-franchise, and be converted to shared light rail operation so that the services could be extended into the local city centre. This would reduce the cost and improve the service by conversion to light rail and improve accessibility by extending the service into the city centre. Possible examples of this could include:

    —  converting the Bridlington-Hull section of the Hull-Scarborough line and extending the tracks into Hull City Centre.

    —  converting the Cardiff Valley line services and extending them on street through Cardiff City Centre,

  and no doubt there are many more examples.


  6.1  The rebirth of light rail in Britain, and the resurgence of interest in trams, has been quite amazing (and mirrors parallel events in France and North America). Light rail very nearly offers the best of both buses and trains and has a modern image. It has shown itself to be capable of attracting people from their cars. In spite of most schemes having been conceived as part of an integrated network they are all now working in the competitive climate that is the British public transport scene.

  6.2  Ten years ago there were 50+ schemes at some stage or other of development in Britain. Light rail was seen as the "answer to the maiden's prayer". This was an unrealistic attitude and, as always, in transport, it is a question of "horses for courses". Light rail offered another option to transportation planners in their attempts to improve public transport's share of the market.

  6.3  Today the government seems to have an ambivalent view of light rail. It is aware of its success but comments: "The capital costs of light rail are, however, high—particularly in comparison to bus priority measures and more modest guided bus schemes ...." (White Paper para 3.38). The capital costs are higher, but so is the quality and the benefits achieved. Bus priority measures, even with new vehicles, will not achieve the same results—getting people out of their cars.

  6.4  A more objective approach to LRT would see the existing schemes being continuously expanded into networks and new schemes under construction in Leeds, Bristol, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh in addition to places which are already well advanced in planning terms, eg South Hampshire.

October 1999

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