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

Memorandum by AEA Technology Rail (RT 11)


  AEA Technology Rail has considerable experience as consultants to Light Rapid Transit (LRT) systems, in particular concerning interface issues with heavy rail and the application of the "shared track" concept. We consider that LRT will be extremely successful provided it is properly planned and applied in situations where it is appropriate.

  We believe that fixed track systems have distinct advantages which make them a significantly more attractive form of public transport and that LRT is a particularly cost effective way of creating them in typical UK contemporary urban conditions. We also believe that many of the advantages claimed for more flexible systems make these less attractive in practice.

  In the past decade, significant developments have taken place that have the potential for reducing the cost and increasing the value of LRT. These include "Track sharing", the interworking of heavy rail and LRT on the same tracks, and "Ultra Light Rail", the concept of using much smaller lighter vehicles and considerably cheaper systems where demand is less. There is also scope for making much more intensive use of existing urban rail networks by conversion or track sharing and extending them into city and town centres as LRT.

  We believe that LRT has a major role to play because it can use existing road and rail systems, unlike more novel systems that require all new infrastructures, and it can have a significant impact on travel behaviour. It enables other measures that improve city life, such as extensive pedestrianisation and car restraint to be introduced.

  Our experience suggests that to encourage private investment in schemes it will be essential to remove significant barriers that add cost, risk and time delays. In particular the Transport and Works Act Order process must be reviewed for LRT applications and the issues associated with the high costs and uncertainties of diverting statutory undertaking services also need to be tackled. We consider that it would be in the national interest to give more protection to potential LRT alignments, which can so easily be blocked by short-sighted developments.


  1.1  AEA Technology Rail is one of the 10 businesses of AEA Technology plc, one of Britain's leading science and engineering companies. Main markets are oil and gas, rail, defence, pharmaceuticals, utilities and infrastructure, processing and manufacture, and the nuclear industry together with government and public sector organisations. It operates in over 30 countries and had a turnover of £358 million in 1998-99.

  1.2  AEA Technology Rail incorporates two former BR businesses, namely BR Research and TCI Ltd. (Transportation Consultants International). We have over 400 employees. Our expertise derives from over 30 years experience serving the British railway industry.

  1.3  Our activities in Light Rapid Transit (LRT) are relatively small but not insignificant. In 1998-99 we undertook around £0.5 million of consultancy work for LRT clients, mainly in the UK. We have taken a leading role in issues at the interface between conventional rail and LRT such as shared track and ensuring the safe operation of the Railtrack system where electromagnetic compatibility is an issue. Our earliest significant role was in the "Light Rail for London" study of 1986, a joint LT and BR activity which contributed to the Croydon Tramlink scheme.

  1.4  We undertake feasibility studies, technical consultancy and safety case work. We are also a member of the Citylink Consortium that is planning to form a joint venture with Bristol and South Gloucestershire Councils to create a LRT system. We are members of UITP and give presentations at conferences on LRT topics. Our overall experience has therefore given us a first-hand awareness of the critical issues, which will influence the future of LRT in this country.


  2.1  LRT is a relatively modern term that we believe orginated in the USA to describe transport systems that some European cities had developed from tramways in the post war era. The term means different things in different countries, even in the UK there are considerable differences between existing systems constructed. We understand the essential features of a LRT system as being (so far as the UK is concerned):

    —  A passenger rail system where the vehicles have the capability to operate in a street environment and on unfenced tramways.

    —  Street running is confined to locations where the increased access it provides justifies the reduced journey time compared with running on a segregated route. Operation in streets mixed in with general traffic is kept to the absolute minimum.

  2.2  The characteristics of LRT systems are well known and follow from these fundamental definitions.

  2.3  There has been steady development of LRT systems worldwide over the past 30 years, both as a much cheaper option than full scale metros and as a means of providing public transport that can effectively combat congestion.

  2.4  We believe that the varied success of LRT has everything to do with how it is applied, the design process in particular, rather than the mode itself.


  3.1  LRT is a fixed track system. The track provides both guidance and support. We see the attractions of fixed track systems as:

    —  People like them and use them in preference to buses. This is difficult to quantify or explain but critical for effectiveness and modal share objectives.

    —  Fixed systems do not change very often. Users get to know them and understand the system easily.

    —  Permanence encourages people to plan their lives around the system with ocnfidence, they will make transport choices based on its use. It also encourages businesses to develop along the routes, which in turn concentrates development, so that it can be more effectively served by public transport.

    —  Easy level access is possible. Prams and buggies can be eaily pushed on board as well as wheelchairs. This is very difficult with non fixed track systems.

    —  The system can be seen (unless it is underground) and advertises itself.

    —  Ride comfort depends on the track; the vehicle is constrained to curve smoothly and there are no sharp jerks. Elderly people do not have to grip handrails to avoid being thrown about. Comfort is assured by the system, not the skills of the driver.

    —  Electric traction is easier to provide, with its advantages of low pollution.

  3.2  LRT has attractions over other forms of fixed track systems, the principal ones being:

    —  It is considerably cheaper and much easier to access than underground railways or various forms of elevated or underground automated railways and people movers.

    —  It is also much cheaper and significantly less environmentally intrusive than building new conventional railways in urban areas. It can serve a greater number of stops.

    —  Compared with monorails it will be easier to access, far less intrusive and more cost effective in moving large number of people. Stops will be much cheaper.

    —  Compared with conventional tramways it will be of a higher quality, in particular in terms of journey time, as a result of greater segregation from other road traffic.

    —  The infrastructure may be cheaper than guided busways in certain circumstances.

    —  Various novel systems that also provide street running on fixed track systems, such as GLT/TVR, Electronic Guided Bus systems and STREAM have the disadvantages of being at an early stage of development and the lack of choice of suppliers. There may be no guarantee that one will be able to replace equipment in the future. Track costs of novel systems often ignore the support function of the track, i.e. assume that the road is provided free, this is not always appropriate.

  3.3  There is an upper limit on LRT system capacity, but when this is exceeded it will be worth considering building two or more routes in the same broad corridor rather than say an underground railway.

  3.4  An important advantage of LRT is the ability to serve pedestrian areas safely and effectively since it allows city centres to be pedestrianised to a greater extent with LRT providing access and internal transport. "Flexible" routed transport systems run into difficulties matching this capability. The existence of large pedestrian areas and other traffic constraints, enabled by LRT, is a positive encouragement to a mode shift away from private transport.


  4.1  Clearly LRT is not appropriate for all transport needs and we only consider here the disadvantages which apply in situations where a system might realistically be considered:

    —  "It is expensive compared with buses, even though it is much cheaper than metros etc." This is true, but cost effectiveness is what matters. Costs can be reduced from what has been experienced so far (see our later comments). The cost of providing road space for buses, in order to achieve an equivalent quality of service, needs to be considered.

    —  "Buses are more flexible". True, but this can also make them unattractive. People need to find the bus, know where it will take them, how long the journey will take and that it will be there tomorrow.

    —  "Buses can provide a more door-to door service". To achieve this one needs complicated networks, which are difficult to understand and will tend to offer low service frequency and reliability. Knowing where to catch a bus to reach a specific location becomes a major problem in city centres. Interchange between routes will still be required to reach most destinations. Good modern bus networks provide a mix of "express" and more flexibly routed services with interchange between. The express routes are the equivalent of LRT.

    —  "Guided buses and busways only needed to be provided where congestion occurs". This is true and the same claim is made for various novel system that can operate in either guided or unguided modes. The difficulties are that partial segregation loses many advantages in outer areas, it introduces unreliability into the guided sections (which bus will arrive first?), and the problems associated with "flexibility" and "door to door service". The option of people interchanging to LRT from connecting buses may be better.

    —  "Spending on buses spread the advantages wider". Cost effectiveness is what matters. If LRT is provided on core routes most public transport users should benefit some journeys may become faster and more attractive even with interchange. Reduction in congestion will benefit everyone as will reduction in traffic movement and pollution in the central areas where they work or shop.


5.1  Track Sharing

  5.1.1  Track sharing is the operation of LRT services over railways that also carry conventional trains, either at different times or mixed. The German city of Karlsruhe pioneered the concept, increasing its network from about 100km of tramway and LRT in 1991 to about 400km now, with a high proportion of operation over the national rail network. The German city of Saarbrücken has built an entirely new 18km LRT system of which only 5km is new infrastructure, the rest is shared track.

  5.1.2  Key advantages are that it is possible to create a LRT system at significantly less cost and with far less environmental impact. The quality of alignment that an early rail route provides in a suburban environment is often much better than could be achieved today with new infrastructure. Most suburban railways have railway services on them, hence the need to consider track sharing. Track sharing also facilitates creating integrated rail/LRT networks as has been demonstrated successfully in Karlsruhe. It is a tool for rejuvenating rail as well as creating new systems.

  5.1.3  There must be a railway to share, its alignment may not be ideal. Sharing may restrict flexibility and capacity but studies have shown that it is often possible to replace train services that the LRT service make unnecessary.

  5.1.4  In the UK, Railtrack provides the rail infrastructure and numerous train operators use it, this favours track sharing. The publication in February 1999 of two Railway Group Standards provides the methodology and means by which the principle can be applied to the Railtrack network. The Sunderland Metro will introduce shared track into the UK, and the implementation of Train Protection and Warning System (TPWS) to the Railtrack system will also facilitate it.

  5.1.5  Shared track has been considered as an option for LRT projects in Nottingham, Bristol, Kent, Hampshire and Strathclyde and for extensions to the Midland Metro, Sheffield and Manchester systems.

  5.1.6  One particular attraction is the scope for combining LRT and rail investment projects, so as to reduce overall costs. This is relevant both to the Bristol scheme and Midland Metro Line 3. In both cases most of the track to be shared is either lifted or disused at the moment and new rail services are planned as well as a LRT system.

  5.1.7  The shared track concept has been a major development of LRT in the 1990s, influencing strategic thinking in many countries; its role in the UK could be significant.

5.2  Merging of the LRT and railway modes

  5.2.1  The traditional barrier between the light and heavy rail modes is breaking down in Europe, because of the emergence of the track sharing concept. This opens up many new opportunities.

  5.2.2  Development of new standards in Germany to allow shared track, also allowed the operation of secondary lines with much lighter rolling stock with certain LRT characteristics. Bombardier developed the "Tram Train" concept; a vehicle that is neither a train nor a tram but is specifically designed for shared track operation.

  5.2.3  The Karlsruhe network has routes 50km long, these have the characteristics of a local rail service, except that they penetrate the city centre by means of street operation. One route was extended this year to the neighbouring city of Heilbronn which has plans for its own shared track network, so we are beginning to see short distance "intercity" LRT.

  5.2.4  The Railtrack network represents a significant historic infrastructure investment and it needs government support to Train Operators to sustain acceptable levels of service. Its value is reduced by the fact that so many stations are badly sited and new developments are not served at all. Shared track may provide an affordable means of providing short links and detours to allow local rail to penetrate new markets. The effectiveness of extending a local rail service into a city has been demonstrated in Karlsruhe where the patronage on the Bretten local rail service increased by over 500 per cent.

  5.2.5  There is scope for some short links and conversion of certain urban rail routes to LRT in a number of UK cities.

5.3  Ultra Light Rail

  5.3.1  The typical LRT vehicle will have a capacity of around 150-250 people and this dictates the scale of the system. Large vehicles are only justified where flows are high and this in turn has resulted in relatively expensive systems.

  5.3.2  For smaller flows, smaller vehicles operating at the same service intervals would be a more economic proposition. Smaller vehicles do not require such heavy infrastructure. They can use energy storage systems as the basis of the traction package, which allows a significant cost reduction and eliminates the need for overhead electrification. This is the concept of "Ultra Light Rail", an affordable small scale LRT system, which retains most of the advantages of LRT but costs significantly less.

  5.3.3  Our calculations, based on industry experience, suggests that complete systems can be built for between £1 million and £2 million per track km, which is equivalent to the costs of a good quality bus priority scheme, and at least a fifth of the equivalent cost of a conventional LRT system. The concept has immediate value in serving pedestrian areas, new developments and providing short links. In the longer term it could provide smaller towns and cities with complete systems and provide feeders to rail, LRT and metro networks.

  5.3.4  The concept is under development but has created significant interest in the UK; over 50 local authorities have made serious enquiries or undertaken studies of its potential. For the past year, an experimental service in Bristol has carried over 30,000 passengers.

5.4  Other developments

  5.4.1  Other developments that are increasing the potential value of LRT include:

    —  Simpler, standardised and modular vehicles to reduce costs.

    —  New forms of shallower track to reduce need to divert services.

    —  Diesel-electric vehicles to avoid need for electrification.

    —  Hybrid vehicles to limit extent of electrification.

    —  Perfected low floor and partial low floor technology.

    —  Improved information technology.

    —  Advanced ticketing systems to increase efficiency, facilitate interchange, make using systems easier and encourage loyalty.


  6.1  Public transport in the UK will probably be based on the two fundamental modes, rail and bus, for the foreseeable future, and it will maximise use of the existing infrastructure ie the road and railway networks. Any totally new solution is immediately disadvantaged by the need to create new infrastructure, which must interact and interchange with what is already there. LRT, in its various forms, has a potentially unique advantage in that it can use existing infrastructure and yet achieve a step change in modal transfer provided it is properly planned and implemented.

  6.2  There is no one solution for all cities and towns. LRT will be more attractive where travel demand is fairly concentrated, where usable rail infrastructure exists and central areas are being pedestrianised. Bus based solutions will find favour where development is more disperse, the terrain is hilly and central areas have convenient thoroughfares. Bristol is a good example of the first category and Edinburgh of the second.

  6.3  The scope for application is quite extensive; especially if shared track and Ultra Light Rail develop as trends suggest. LRT has the potential to play a significant and important role in national transport.


  7.1  If the potential value of introducing LRT is to be exploited then three important issues must be faced:

    1.  Systems must give value for money.

    2.  Schemes must be attractive for private sector involvement.

    3.  Implementation time must be reduced.

  7.2  These three issues are inter-related. We know, as prospective partners in the Joint Venture to provide a LRT system for Bristol and South Gloucestershire, that private sector investors need to minimise risk, know how long processes will take and how much they will cost.

  7.3  The two great uncertainties are the Transport and Works Act procedure and liabilities towards statutory undertakers. They only apply to fixed track systems.

  7.4  The Transport and Works Act Order process covers the whole range of transport infrastructure projects. While in theory simple processes can apply to smaller schemes, the promoter has no way of knowing how much it will cost to get the Order until he embarks on the process. The timescale and end result are also uncertainties.

  7.5  The process is intended to protect the public and yet it is possible to run vehicles in the street which are noisier, more dangerous and intrusive than LRVs, and create kerbs and steps that are more hazardous than tram rail, without going through such processes.

  7.6  A simpler process based perhaps on obtaining planning permission initially, but which gives the same level of statutory protection, is urgently needed. It would also be preferable if smaller schemes were approved at regional or local rather than national level. The processes used in other countries may provide models.

  7.7  Where overhead electrification is required, the powers should include the right to attach overhead supports to existing buildings and other existing structures for a pre-determined fixed compensation fee. This would reduce environmental impact as well as reducing costs.

  7.8  The costs of diverting underground cables, ducts, pipes etc can be extremely high (around £2 million per route km) and uncertain until the process of negotiation begins. A review is required of the legislation, compensation and powers applicable to this issue. The review should include consideration of the scope for using temporary diversion tracks when access is required to buried services.

  7.9  A further concern is the fact that Her Majesties Railway Inspectorate now charge time based fees for approving LRT systems. These costs will also be unpredictable. Alternatives would be either a fixed fee based on route km, or an annual vehicle licence fee.

  7.10  Developers can take over vacant land without regard to its value as a potential route for LRT or other guided transport application. Local transport authorities should be encouraged to identify these for inclusion in Local Plans. Where a developer submits proposals for a use that would adversely affect or block such routes then the submission should automatically be weighed against the value of the route to the area by the authorities involved without any "Rapid Transit" interests needing to lodge an objection or justify a case. Permission for temporary use of land identified in this way should automatically rule out any objection by the user or anyone else to its change of use if it is eventually the subject of a rapid transit scheme.


  8.1  We would like to see:

    —  Recognition that LRT has a significant role to play in improving local transport, relieving congestion and improving the environment in the UK.

    —  Emphasis given to planning systems so as to maximise their effectiveness. This means that the planning, approval and funding processes all need review with this in mind.

    —  Encouragement given to implementing more diverse and potentially valuable forms of LRT such as shared track and Ultra Light Rail.

    —  A review of the Transport and Works Act Order Process in relation to LRT, including the issue of attachment of overhead to buildings.

    —  A review of the processes involved in re-locating statutory undertakers installations so as to reduce the risks for promoters.

    —  More vigorous protection for potential LRT alignments.

  Such measures would not only benefit the LRT industry but also the nation as a whole.

October 1999

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