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

Memorandum by Fred A Andrews, Esq (RT 08)



  A local newspaper in West Yorkshire (1) has printed brief details about a study to be carried out by Transport Consultants to identify the various options for a new rail link to the Leeds and Bradford International Airport. This move is very much in line with thinking in Germany where a modern light rail link recently opened from the City of Bremen (population 550,000) to service its airport. A personal visit to Bremen (May 1999) has confirmed the many passenger friendly features built into the transport system in general and this Airport line in particular, features that more than justified the special celebrations when it opened during 1998 (2). The Author would like to point out that his general approach to this subject is purely from the perspective of a "consumer".


  One prime reason for suggesting light rail in this particular case is its comparatively low cost for so many passenger advantages (ie value for money). A report printed by Light Rail Transit Consultants GmbH of Dusseldorf (Germany) gave a graph (1992 base date) which showed that a light rail line similar to that in Bremen would be about 2½ times lower in capital cost when compared to a regional railway line or similar.

  Because funding in our current financial climate is such a critical factor, light rail must be taken seriously. Infrastructure economies with light rail come from its ability to climb grades up to 10 per cent (1 in 10). Similar grades are negotiated on a daily basis by Supertrams in Sheffield saving this city much infrastucture funding when under construction. Fairly steep grades are also a prominent feature in the topography surrounding this Yorkshire airport. LRV's can also negotiate fairly sharp bends which can have a two-fold effect on captial cost. Excessive land-take is avoided as well as reducing funding demands when an obstacle is circumnavigated.


  Signalling is a costly but necessary feature with metro or heavy rail operation but because of technical advances with light rail rolling stock, it is not always necessary when operating LRV's


  Most rolling stock in Bremen is now four-unit (three articulated joints), modern in appearance, very smooth riding, roomy and with five double entrances, low floor with easy boading and good acceleration when moving away from a stop (3). In other words, ideal for passengers carrying luggage and especially convenient for mothers with babies in prams, they can remain in the pram when boarding and for the duration of the journey.


  Anyone visiting Heathrow by a rail service will appreciate that an intensive metro type service is very necessary to deal with so many people. Such a service for a comparatively small airport could be considered as not cost effective, and when compounded with the fairly long walks along passageways etc is not in the best interests of the passenger. The intimacy of light rail permits the airport stopping point to be where the passenger actually needs it. Bremen has taken advantage of this surface simplicity and provided a generous application of environmental measures, measures that include a fountain.

  Another operational advantage is that a reliable and frequent transport service attracts patronage and thus ensures that it becomes well used, not just by airline passengers, but by aircraft crews and airport workers alike. An added convenience is the availability of a number of request stops on the journey to and from the city centre. The integrated nature of the network in the city centre ensures an easy interchange. For added convenience the airport service then continues to the University which is on the far side of the city.

  Obviously, a light rail service with stops is slower than an express service but for a passenger it is simply a case of "swings and roundabouts" because a time gain on the express can easily be lost when changing to other services in a city without coordination. This becomes very important when luggage has to be carried.


  An application of light rail technology to an initial rail line would be somewhat helpful when funds become available for expansion (4). Although there are many route possibilities the most likely candidate could be a branch off the Leeds to Harrogate line. What would need to be known at a very early stage is the likelihood of railway electrification on this line. If none is planned then some form of 750V DC electrification over a section of the line would be needed. The LRV's currently in use in Bremen are actually designed for low voltage DC operation but consideration is currently being given to a technical upgrade for joint operation over electrified DB tracks (5).


  Looking into the future it is not unreasonable to suggest an extension from the airport into Bradford. The electrified line from Ilkley to Bradford passes close by and it should not be too difficult to bridge the gap. Such an extension would "lend itself" to a Harrogate to Bradford service, passenger predictions permitting. Another expansion possibility would be a light rail branch into Otley and eventually creating an interchange facility in its own right at or near the airport.

  Using Karlsruhe as an example, the airport light rail line should be able to link up with the planned Supertram network in Leeds and work a through service to the east side of the city passing the CBD, the bus station and St James Hospital on its way.

  To work through to Bradford Interchange and beyond (possibly the Spen Valley) is slightly more complicated but there is no obvious technical barrier if the political will exists. Although it could be many years before such ambitious suggestions would have a chance of being implemented, it is important that the correct ground-work is undertaken now.


  The Author would like to make the point that just reading about overseas transit developments is not sufficient on its own to convince those making the decisions that light rail operation will actually accomplish many of the claims made for it. Places where good examples of light rail operation can be seen and studied are: Bremen, Freiburg and Karlsruhe in Germany and Grenoble, Nantes and Strasbourg in France.


  1.  David March in Yorkshire Evening Post—24 September 1999.

  2.  Tramways and Urban Transit—June 1998.

  3.  Dip-Ing Georg Drechsler, Director of Bremer Strassenbahn AG in Metro Report 1999—this paper gave a good technical description illustrated with a map of the tram and rail system.

  4.  About 100 years ago a lack of foresight in choosing a tramway gauge in four of our West Yorkshire conurbations caused much anguish when they eventually met at urban boundaries.

  5.  Interchange Made Easy in Bremen by C J Wansbeek in Tramways and Urban Transit—September 1999.

  6.  Passenger Transport, 26 July 1999 (Washington DC) gives news and limited information about a light rail extension in Portland (Oregon). The method of funding is unlikely to apply to the Leeds and Bradford International Airport.

September 1999

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