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

Memorandum submitted by Mercian Transport Consultancy (RT 12)


1.1  Structure of the Report

  The first chapter identifies the types of transport systems that can be described as Light Rapid Transit (LRT), followed by a general examination of the problems that have been encountered in implementing LRT projects. The second and third chapters deal respectively with system developments in the United Kingdom and abroad during the course of the last 25 years. The fourth chapter looks at Ultra Light Rails systems. The fifth chapter examines the major factors that require attention if LRT is to make a significant contribution to the development of integrated urban transport systems. The final chapter summarises the main conclusions and recommendations that have been reached.

1.2  Definition of Light Rapid Transit

  There appears to be no generally accepted definition of LRT. For the purposes of this report, LRT has been defined to include any system where vehicles can travel both:

    (i)  on a private trackway with guidance; and

    (ii)  on a public highway, either with or without an external guidance facility.

  This definition specifically includes tramways, guided buses and Ultra Light Rail, but excludes fully segregated rail systems (e.g. Tyne and Wear Metro, Docklands Light Railway) and "conventional" buses and trolleybuses, including the "showcase" type of bus services (e.g. Route 33 in Birmingham).

1.3  Types of System

  The main types of LRT systems that are currently in operation are:

    (1)  Conventional electric tramways/light rail lines that include some street running—over 300 systems, worldwide;

    (2)  Guided buses—less than 10 systems;

    (3)  Ultra Light Rail—various small local lines.

  In addition, various experimental systems are being developed, including:

    (1)  Buses using a central guidance rail;

    (2)  Buses with electronic guidance (e.g. by a buried wire).

  To the best of my knowledge, none of these experimental LRT systems operates in regular public service on a commercial basis.

1.4  The Light Rapid Transit Revival

  Following a general decline in the number of tramway systems in most countries outside the "Eastern Bloc", during the period from 1945 to 1970, the last 25 years have witnessed a steady LRT revival, both in respect of new light rail networks and in the expansion of existing systems, accompanied by the introduction of a limited number of guided bus services.

1.5  General Problems

  In most of the countries where there has been a significant LRT revival, similar problems have been encountered, these include:

    (1)  The reluctance of many car owners to consider using public transport;

    (2)  The "historic image" of "first generation" trams as being "rattling and clanging relics from a bygone age";

    (3)  The inherent conflict between the environmental, social and economic need to create reliable integrated public transport services and a political commitment to the use of market forces to provide competition in service operation;

    (4)  The desire to contain public expenditure and to transfer any risk to the private sector;

    (5)  The cost of new LRT vehicles, typically around £1 million for a double articulated tramcar, with about 60 seats and capacity for a further 100 standing passengers.

  The potential for overcoming these difficulties, and thereby improving the prospects for LRT expansion, is examined in chapter five of this report.


2.1  Overview

  The creation of the first Passenger Transport Authorities and Executives in 1969 was intended to provide a means of co-ordinating the operation of public transport services within the larger conurbations. Various studies were undertaken by the new bodies and a number of improvements introduced. Initially, the projects tended to relate to the expansion of existing services (e.g. the Liverpool underground rail loop). However, the need to make better use or available finance led to the examination of alternative possibilities, including light rail, trolleybuse and guided buses. The first scheme to be implemented, using this revised approach, was the Tyne and Wear Metro, which utilises a mixture of light and heavy rail practices. Proposals for the construction of new tramways were hindered, in most cases, by the need to obtain private Acts of Parliament, an expensive and time-consuming process. In an attempt to reduce these difficulties, the Transport and Works Act, 1992 has replaced the need for a private Act by an order making procedure.

  Perhaps the greatest obstacle to the expansion of LRT systems has been the provisions of the Transport Act 1985 that were designed to create "free competition" in the operation of bus services, including those that can be routed along the same corridor as an LRT system or any other fixed track facility (e.g. a suburban Railway). Another serious obstacle to LRT development in the UK has been the severe and sometimes inconsistent constraints placed on public funding towards the capital cost of LRT systems. It is largely attributable to the perserverance of local authority elected representatives and officers that some LRT schemes have actually been completed and are now in operation in South Yorkshire, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, with the Croydon system and a further route in Manchester expected to open before the end of the year. The following sections examine the individual schemes and undertake SWOT (Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats) assessments for each system.

2.2  Blackpool Tramway

2.2.1  Background

  The tramway that runs along the coast from the Blackpool southern boundary (Starr Gate) to Fleetwood is the sole mainland survivor of the UK's first generation tramways. Whilst the majority of the 80 strong fleet is now over 60 years old, an ongoing refurbishment programme results in elderly trams emerging from a major overhaul "as good as new".

2.2.2  Strengths

  1.  The Blackpool tramway has become almost a national institution and any closure proposal would undoubtedly arouse widespread opposition. The tramway is regarded by Blackpool Borough Council, which still owns the local tram and bus operating company, as being one of the town's attractions and is publicised accordingly in the resort's holiday guide.

  2.  In addition to visitors, there appears to be a large number of local people who regularly use the tramway to travel along the coast, for example from northern Blackpool to Fleetwood.

  3.  As there is only a single route, which in Blackpool parallels the shoreline, visitors have only to recall in which direction they want to travel to reach their destination; bus service usage can be more complicated.

  4.  The lack of adequate parking space at many smaller hotels encourages visitors arriving by car to travel locally by public transport—if you leave a parking space there may not be another available when you return!

  5.  The overhead line infrastructure has recently been completely renewed between Starr Gate and Thornton Gate (Cleveleys), about 70 per cent of the total length of the route.

  6.  The autumn illuminations extend the resort's holiday season and provide useful extra patronage for the tramway during September and October.

  7.  Most of the public transport facilities within Blackpool are provided by the one operator, thus giving greater potential for co-ordination of tram and bus services.

2.2.3  Weaknesses

  1.  Although there is an ongoing programme of renewal, the condition of the tramtrack can best be described as variable. If riding standards are to approach those of modern light rail systems (eg Sheffield, West Midlands), finance will need to be made available for a more comprehensive renewal programme.

  2.  The coastal location, with prevailing saline on-shore winds, creates extra work to counteract corrosion of vehicles and the infrastructure.

  3.  As the majority of the fleet is of traditional high-floor design, there are access difficulties for mobility impaired passengers. The operator has recently considered measures to alleviate this problem.

2.2.4  Opportunities

  1.  Suggestions have been put forward for a southward extension of the tramway into Lytham St. Anne's, one possibility being by a link from Starr Gate into the Railtrack line, south of Squires Gate station. Unfortunately, an otherwise attractive route for a link would involve crossing an important nature reserve.

  2.  In 1996 Blackpool Council publicised a proposal for the creation of a peoplemover facility along the South Shore Central Corridor route, between Blackpool South station and the Tower area. The proposal was intended to help visitors using the extensive car and coach parks adjoining the Corridor to reach the seafront and central leisure attractions. The proposal is currently in abeyance, pending the outcome of redevelopment investigations. A standard gauge tramway physically linked to the coastal line appears to be the most effective means of distributing these visitors to the main attractions and the numerous hotels located along the promenade.

2.2.5  Threats

  Under present conditions, probably the most serious threat to the future of the tramway would be if one of the large passenger transport operators introduced competing bus services in the area.

2.3  Manchester Metrolink

2.3.1  Background

  The siting of Manchester's main railway stations around the edge of the city's central area and the absence of direct cross-city links has been a longstanding problem for travellers entering or leaving the city. In the 1960s and 1970s various schemes were considered for resolving this problem, including the construction of new railway tunnels. After detailed assessment of alternative possibilities, it was decided in 1984 that the most effective solution would be to provide on-street light rail connections between Victoria, Deansgate and Piccadilly stations, which would be extended to replace the life-expired electric trains on the suburban services to Bury and Altrincham by light rail vehicles operating at a greater frequency. Appropriate powers were eventually obtained and the new system opened in 1992, including a short branch to the Undercroft at Piccadilly station. A further branch of the Metrolink system is currently under construction through Salford Quays to the centre of Eccles. The works are well advanced and the route should be at least partially open to public service by the end of this year.

2.3.2.  Strengths

  1.  Although there was a break after the closure of the heavy rail services, during which there were substitute bus services, the Bury and Altrincham light rail lines started operation with a substantial core of former British Rail passengers.

  2.  As street running is confined to short lengths in central Manchester, the present Metrolink services are relatively unaffected by traffic congestion.

  3.  The trams give good access to most Manchester city centre attractions.

  4.  The high frequency service means that there is no need to consult a timetable before travelling.

  5.  The two former railway routes are fairly direct, which enables fast end-to-end journey times to be achieved.

  6.  Metrolink patronage has steadily increased and is understood to be about 14 million journeys per annum, at the present time.

2.3.3.  Weaknesses

  1.  The extensive use of former platforms on the Bury and Altrincham lines resulted in the use of high-floor trams. Consequently, on-street stops are considerably more intrusive that is the case with systems using low-floor trams (Sheffield, Croydon, etc).

  2.  As it was not practicable to completely renew the track on the former railway lines, the quality of ride on these parts of the system is generally worse than under comparable conditions in Sheffield and the West Midlands.

2.3.4.  Opportunities

  1.  The basic intention from the start of planning was that the Metrolink system should be progressively developed into a comprehensive network. A considerable amount of work has been undertaken by Greater Manchester PTA in planning for future expansion, including protection of potential routes, public inquiries and preparation of orders, under the terms of the Transport and Works Act. The proposed routes involve a combination of conversion of existing suburban rail services, new private rights of way, roadside and central reservations and some on-street running, mainly in urban centres. The PTA is currently trying to obtain government support for a single contract procedure for a package of services, which could give considerable savings in administration and legal costs. The proposals include routes to Oldham/Rochdale, East Manchester and South Manchester/Airport.

  2.  As in South Yorkshire, the PTA is seeking governmental support for comprehensive integration of public transport services within the area.

  3.  In order to increase potential patronage, there appears to be a strong case for extending the Eccles route (currently under construction) to new Park and Ride facilities near the Motorway junction at Peel Green and/or Winton.

2.3.5.  Threats

  1.  As in Sheffield, Manchester Metrolink suffers from bus competition on parallel routes.

  2.  Current indications are that Manchester is likely to remain the only second generation operator of high-floor trams in the UK, with consequential implications in respect of reduced potential for cost savings from larger scale production of new trams and ongoing difficulties in finding suitable sites for on-street stops.

2.4  South Yorkshire Supertram

2.4.1.  Background

  Sheffield was the last bastion of first generation City tramways in England, with the final route closures taking place in October 1960. Within 15 years, proposals were being advanced for the introduction of a new tramway system in the City. After several delays, due mainly to financial and political constraints, a system of three radial lines to (Meadowhall, Halfway and Middlewood) was finally approved in 1990 and opened, in stages, during 1994-95.

2.4.2.  Strengths

  1.  The new system has been superbly engineered—in August 1999 the ride was still remarkably smooth and generally superior to that given by most modern cars and buses.

  2.  Most of the infrastructure for the overhead wires is well designed, particularly on the reserved track sections. Extensive use is made of buildings for supporting wires in the City centre.

  3.  The trams have low-floor access and on-street stops have been designed to avoid large ramps and steps.

  4.  The use of conductors for fare collection should virtually eliminate fare-dodging and give greater perceived security for travellers.

  5.  Extensive traffic management measures, including tram priority at signals, facilitates a smooth passage for the trams.

  6.  The trams have very good hill climbing ability, with all axles being separately powered.

  7.  Shelters and other items at stops are well designed and maintained.

2.4.3.  Weaknesses

  1.  At the large Meadowhall out-of-town shopping complex, adjacent to the tram terminus, tram passengers have a long trek across a bridge and then alongside the car park to reach the shopping malls. A similar situation occurs at the Crystal Peaks shopping centre on the Halfway route, where the tramway is, in effect, diverted around the outside of the car park.

  2.  The longest route, to Halfway, is indirect in comparison with road links to the City centre used by competing buses and cars. It was noted during a recent visit that the Park and Ride car park at the Halfway terminus was only about 25 per cent full on a working weekday.

  3.  The termini of the Middleton route and the Malin Bridge spur are within the City's inner suburbs and approximate to those on the former tram routes that were discontinued in the the 1950s. The spur is less than half-a-mile in length, which makes it difficult to justify the complex on-street junction with the main line.

2.4.4.  Opportunities

  1.  If the Supertram network is to form backbone of an integrated transport system for Sheffield, there is an urgent need to increase the area that is easily accessible to tram services. Priority routes for assessment include:

    (i)  A branch along Glossop road to the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, as reportedly to be under consideration by the operator, with the possibility of an extension towards Fullwood.

    (ii)  An extension of the Malin Bridge spur to Stannington and/or Wadsley.

    (iii)  One or two radial lines to the South-west, probably to Totley and/or Greenhill.

    (iv)  A northerly radial line, possibly to Ecclesfield.

  The extra route mileage would provide tram access to the City centre for more passengers and improve interchange facilities for cross-city travel.

  2.  The development of the local authority/PTA "Partnership Approach" to the promotion of integrated transport, as part of the proposed creation of a Centre of Excellence for Integrated Transport could offer the best opportunity for improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the tramway.

2.4.5  Threats

  (1)  Sheffield has a plethora of bus operators, with some routes providing direct competition with the tramway services.

  (2)  There is understood to have been an above average rate of growth of car ownership and usage in the Sheffield area in recent years.

2.5  Midland Metro

2.5.1  Background

  Parliamentary powers for the construction of Line 1 of Midland Metro were obtained in 1989, but it took a further period of nearly six years, until July1995, to get governmental authorisation for the £145 million package that was required to meet the cost of constructing the line and the 16 trams to operate it. Line 1 is just over 20 kilometres in length and utilises the trackbed of the former Great Western main line from Birmingham (Snow Hill) to Priestfield, in the suburbs of Wolverhampton, from which point the final two kilometres runs on-street or in central reservation to terminate in Wolverhampton town centre. The tramway opened to public service on 31 May 1999.

2.5.2  Strengths

  1.  Unlike Manchester Metrolink's Bury and Altrincham lines, Line 1 of Midland Metro has been laid with new ballasted track, along the former railway section, which gives a very smooth ride.

  2.  The six minute daytime frequendy avoids the need to consult a timetable. In addition, information is provided at each stop on the waiting time prior to the arrival of the next tram.

  The operating company for Line 1, the local rail franchisee (Central Trains) and the operators of over 80 per cent of local bus services are all subsidiaries of the National Express group. Consequently, there should be less difficulty in co-ordinating services on Line1 with other local transport services than is the case in other conurbations.

  4.  The infrastructure at tram stops is well designed and, so far, well maintained.

  5.  The Bilston stop adjoins the town centre bus station and is conveniently sited for local shops and a street market.

  6.  The stops in residential areas are reasonably accessible, incorporating ramps for wheelchairs and prams. Access to stops in the West Bromwich area is facilitated by a lineside footway/cycleway.

2.5.3  Weaknesses

  1.  If the trams are to attract car owners, the Urban Traffic Control system must ensure that they receive priority at all signal controlled junctions and crossings. The main difficulties appear to occur at the Wolverhampton Ring Road roundabout, where the trams do not seem to have any priority.

  2.  The placing of control equipment on the rooves of the trams, without any overall covering does not appear to be appropriate for a line that operates extensively in cuttings, with many overbridges that provide opportunities for local vandals to indulge in "bridge bombing". Strong removable roof covers should not be expensive in relation to overall vehicle costs; they could also give some protection against lighting strikes, which disabled one tram during the first few days of public service operation.

2.5.4  Opportunities

  1.  If Line 1 is to achieve the primary purpose of being the main artery for local travel along the Birmingham-Wolverhampton corridor, the route needs to be extended at both ends, in order to give effective access to the main commuting and shopping destinations in the central cores of Birmingham and Wolverhampton. In Birmingham this objective should be achieved by the PTA's plans for an extension across the City centre to the Edgbaston Shopping Centre, from whence there should be great traffic potential for a further extension along Hagley Road to Bearwood and Quinton.

  2.  The PTA's current proposal for an anti-clockwise loop around Wolverhampton's central core is officially regarded as being of lower priority. If the loop is not considered viable, a lower cost alternative might be to extend beyond the existing terminus into the central pedestrian area.

  3.  The PTA currently has a proposal to construct a line southwards from Wednesbury on line1 to Brierley Hill mainly using sections of a disused railway route.

  4.  The prospects for further expansion of the Metro network are likely to depend on the acceptability of greater use of trams in pedestrian streets in urban centres combined with semi-fast running on radial routes, utilising central or roadside reservations and/or possibly joint operation on lightly used Railtrack lines.

  5.  In order to fully justify street running in Wolverhampton, one or two extra stops could be of benefit along that section.

2.5.5  Threats

  Probably the greatest threat to the expansion of Midland Metro is the prevailing concern of some local businessmen and Councillors regarding any measures that might affect commerce and industry in the West Midlands. This concern appears to be particularly sensitive in respect of any proposals for "road charging" or "workplace parking levies" that could be required to assist the funding of new Metro routes or extensions.

2.6  Croydon Tramlink

2.6.1  Background

  The central area of Croydon is probably the largest suburban shopping and business centre in London. The population of the borough is greater, for example, than that of either Coventry or Nottingham. Proposals for a new light rail network were first put forward in a study report in 1986. From 1990 onwards these proposals have been actively promoted by London Transport and the Borough Council. In the autumn of 1996, contracts were let for the construction and operation of the initial network, which consists of the converted former railway to Wimbledon, the creation of a street-based town centre loop and the construction of a three-pronged system in an easterly direction from the town. Croydon Tramlink is a mixture of former railway routes, new private rights-of-way, side and central reservations and short sections of street running. The system will operate as a cross-town line (from Wimbledon to Elmers End) and two radial lines to Beckenham Junction and New Addington. Trams are currently operating on driver training and it is expected that public service will start, at least on most of the system, by the end of the year.

2.6.2  Strengths

  1.  As Croydon Tramlink will operate entirely within the Greater London area, it will not be subject to unregulated bus competition. Indeed, proposals are being progressed to co-ordinate tram and bus services within the borough.

  2.  Croydon Council and London Transport are actively promoting the ongoing development of the system.

  3.  Croydon Tramlink will operate under a 99 year concession and should not therefore be subject to the problems arising from lack of investment during the latter part of a short term contract.

  4.  Wherever practicable, extraneous road traffic has been removed from the on-street sections of the system.

  5.  Extensive priority has been given to trams at signalised junctions and crossings.

  6.  Tramlink has good connections with main line rail services at various locations. Perhaps the best example in in the Forecourt of East Croydon, which is one of the busiest stations in the London suburban network.

2.6.3  Weaknesses

  1.  The Wimbledon route is partly single-track, which could cause extensive operating difficulties in the event of a tram breaking down.

  2.  Due to the need to economise in construction costs, it has not been possible to use tubular steel posts on some street-running sections, which has given rise to complaints regarding loss of amenity.

  3.  Nearly 10 per cent of the total cost of the system had to be spent on relocating utility services.

2.6.4  Opportunities

  1.  Plans are being formulated for various extensions, including lines to serve Crystal Palace, Sutton and Morden.

  2.  Proposals are under consideration for the introduction of similar light rail networks in other London suburbs.

2.6.5  Threats

  As elsewhere there is likely to be a problem in raising finance for expanding the system.

2.7  Nottingham

  In common with many other medium sized cities, Nottingham has suffered from severe traffic congestion for many years. About 25 years ago, a radical attempt was made to improve the situation by imposing a "ring-and-collar" around the City centre. The scheme was designed to restrict entry by private cars and give priority to buses. The project proved to be very controversial and was subsequently abandoned. More recent studies have indicated that the introduction of a light rail line entering the City centre from the northern suburbs should give major economic and environmental benefits. Parliamentary powers were obtained in 1994 for a line from Hucknall to the City centre, with a branch to Cinderhill. The northern section of the main route will run parallel to a recently reopened "heavy" rail line, with the southern end operating on-street. In 1998, it was announced that government funding would be made available to allow construction work to proceed. The system will operate on a 30 year concession. The construction and operating consortium includes the City Council's bus company and Transdev, which is involved in the operation of several new tramways in France. It is intended that extensive Park and Ride facilities will be provided at the two outer termini and some other suburban stops.

2.8  South Hampshire

  There is a longstanding proposal for a new LRT system to operate in south Hampshire. The County Council, in co-operation with Portsmouth City Council, has been promoting proposals for a route connecting Fareham, Gosport and Portsmouth to form the basis of an integrated transport network in the area. The results of a comprehensive consultation exercise showed an overwhelming preference for a light rail line rather than the use of guided buses (by a ratio of more than 7 to 1). Consequently, subsequent detailed planning has been on that basis. The proposed line would utilise a former railway alignment between Fareham and Gosport, with on-street running in the three town centres. A submerged tube would be used to cross the harbour entrance between Gosport and Portsmouth. The total length of the proposed line is about 14 kilometres. A public inquiry into the project was held early in 1999.

2.9  Leeds

2.9.1  Light Rail

  Leeds adjoins the junction of the M1 and M62 Motorways, with most roads in the City having heavy traffic flows, particularly at peak periods. Proposals for the introduction of an LRT system have been under consideration for more than 20 years. By the early 1990s, it had been decided by the West Yorkshire PTA, with the support of Leeds City Council, that the most appropriate system would consist of three main light rail routes, radiating to the south, north-west and east of the City. The start of construction work now awaits securing of the requisite public and/or private funding for building the southern route.

2.9.2.  Guided Buses

  As an interim measure, schemes are being progressed for the creation of short lengths of guided busways and high occupancy vehicle lanes on some of the more congested sections of the main traffic routes. Initial indications are that these measures can improve bus service reliability and increase patronage. However, it does not appear to be clear whether there has been a significant transfer of private car drivers to public transport.

2.10  Chester

2.10.1.  Light Rail

  In common with many other historic towns in shire counties, Chester is both a sub-regional administration, commercial and shopping centre and a major tourist attraction. Since 1983, a network of Park and Ride services has been progressively established, in an endeavour to reduce traffic congestion on radial routes and within the City centre. As a further development of this process, a scheme was prepared, by the City and County Councils, for the construction of a light rail route to connect the existing Park and Ride site at Chester Zoo and a proposed site at Mannings Lane to the City centre, using a former rail alignment for the radial section, with on-street running within the City centre.

2.10.2.  Guided Buses

  After further investigations, the two Councils have subsequently decided that guided buses would offer a more appropriate solution for Chester. The original scheme has been amended by the omission of the outer section to the Zoo and now consists of a double-track guided busway along the former rail route, with the buses running in unguided mode within the City centre. Application has been made for an Order, in accordance with the requirements of the Transport and Works Act. If the application is successful, the route could be operational by 2003. Two further radial routes are proposed for later implementation.

2.11  Other Schemes

  In recent years, privately and publicly promoted proposals for the introduction of LRT projects have been put forward for a considerable number of towns and cities. Many have not been pursued for various reasons. Current and recent proposals that have not been descibed in the foregoing notes include:

    (1)  Bristol

    Several schemes for various types of LRT have been put forward, but no proposal has been finally approved.

    (2)  Hertfordshire

    Proposals have been made to convert the local railway between Watford and St. Albans into a guided busway, with the vehicles running in unguided mode on-street within the two towns.

    (3)  Ipswich

    Short sections of guided busway have been introduced to connect adjoining housing areas on a radial bus route to Kesgrave. In effect, the bus service is able to bypass congestion on the parallel main road and thus increase the speed and reliability of the service. An encouraging growth in patronage has been reported.

    (4)  Liverpool

    A proposal for a trolleybus route using subsurface wires for guidance has recently been refused a Transport and Works Order. A separate proposal for a privately sponsored electric tramway has been submitted for planning consent.

    (5)  Medway Towns

    Kent County Council is reported to be considering a light rail network that would involve using Railtrack lines between towns, with on-street operation in the centres of Maidstone, Rochester and Chatham.

    (6)  Northampton

    A private consortium is proposing a network of guided bus routes for the town.


3.1  North America

3.1.1.  Revival

  As the growth in car ownership in North America has been ahead of that in most European Countries, it is useful to note that some of the earliest examples of new light rail systems were introduced in that continent, starting with the opening of a line in Edmonton in Canada in 1978. The first new light rail system to open in the U.S.A. was in San Diego in 1981, which has subsequently been extended. There are now about a dozen second generation systems in the USA.

3.1.2.  Traffic Growth

  Most new North American tramways have succeeded in generating progressive increases in patronage and are actively progressing extensions or new routes. An example of recent growth is a 5.4 per cent increase in passengers carried on the Sacremento system between 1997-98 and 1998-99.

3.1.3.  Funding

  New light rail systems are usually supported by Federal grants, which are reported to have amounted to about $18.5 billion between 1981 and 1995. Powers also exist to raise local petrol and sales taxes to finance public transport improvements, although these may have to be approved by local referenda.

3.2  France

3.2.1.  Background

  In the period following the end of World War II, French cities and smaller towns adopted similar policies to those being pursued at that time in the UK, with most tramways being replace by `more flexible' motor buses. Eventually, only three urban tramways survived, with single routes in St. Etienne and Marseilles and two lines radiating from Lille to Roubaix and Tourcoing. The serious oil crisis that arose in the 1970s encouraged a radical reassessment of transport policy at the national level, which resulted in an increased emphasis being placed on electric traction in an endeavour to reduce dependence on imported oil. Consequently, extra finance became available for the creation of new LRT systems.

3.2.2.  Nantes

  The first new light rail route opened in Nantes in 1985. As in Manchester, the articulated trams are of high-floor design. However, these vehicles have subsequently been lengthened by the insertion of a short lower-floor central section, in order to facilitate access for mobility impaired passengers. The initial east-west route has been supplemented by north-south line and further extensions are being undertaken.

3.2.3.  Grenoble

  The second new tramway to open in France was in Grenoble in 1987, this being the first French system to operate low-floor trams. In Grenoble, great attention was given to fitting the new tramway into the urban environment and to creating an integrated public transport system. The Grenoble system has come to be regarded as a prototype for new tramways not only in France but also in other parts of Europe including the UK. As in Nantes, a second line has subsequently been opened.

3.2.4.  Other Systems

  New light rail routes have recently been opened in suburban Paris, Rouen and Strasbourg and are under construction in Montpellier, Orleans and Lyon. The three surviving first generation tramways have also received new trams.

3.2.5.  Alternative Modes

  In addition to the widespread revival of light rail, various rubber-tyred alternatives are being promoted by vehicle manufactures.

3.2.6  The VAL Metro

  The VAL Metro offers a fully automatic alternative transit system for the movement of large passenger flows. The initial system has been operating for several years in Lille. The VAL metro has also been chosen as the main public transport mode for Toulouse and Rennes.

3.2.7.  FundingFrench local authorities have the power to raise modest payroll taxes on larger employers, in order to help finance the development of public transport facilities.

3.3  Germany

3.3.1.  West Germany

  Unlike the situation in the UK and France, there was no general abandonment of tramways in West Germany in the immediate post-war period. Although most smaller towns and a few larger cities, notably West Berlin and Hamburg, closed their tramways, sufficient systems remained in operation to provide a base market for a vehicle manufacturing industry. The introduction of articulated vehicles and the widespread use of prepaid tickets significantly reduced the costs of tramway operation.

3.3.2.  East Germany

  In East Germany, in common with most eastern European countries, the lower rate of growth in car ownership enabled tramways to be retained even in relatively small towns, with older vehicles being replaced by new trams, mostly supplied by the Czech manufacturer TATRA.

3.3.3.  Post-Reunification

  During the ten year period since reunification, there has been a steady replacement of older post-war trams by the new low-floor designs, although the high cost has caused problems for some operators, particularly in eastern Germany.

3.3.4.  Heavy/Light Rail Joint Operation

  One of the most promising initiatives is at Karlsruhe, where direct connections have been made between urban tramway routes and the mainline railways. This arrangement enables dual voltage trams to operate on suburban railway lines as well as on-street, thus allowing tram services to be extended at a lower cost than would otherwise be possible.This development has aroused widespread international interest.

3.3.5.  Guided Buses

  One of the relatively few European guided bus systems is in Essen where the O-Bahn shares use of segregated routes with local light rail services.

3.4  Switzerland

3.4.1.  General

  Although public transport operations in Switzerland are undertaken by a large number of public and private sector operators, there is a high level of co-ordination in service provision. This situation is particularly true in the big cities, which generally have retained and modernised their tramway systems.

3.4.2.  Zurich

  Probably the best example of Swiss transport integration is the City of Zurich, where over 40 separate operators of railway, tram, trolleybus, bus and shipping services have been regulated by a co-ordinating authority since 1990. Within the City, the main line services are operated by trams, with public service vehicles having full priority at signalised junctions. The position of all trams is monitored at a central control, using information obtained from roadside transmitters and sensors on the moving vehicles. The result of these and other public transport priority measures, which have been introduced progressively over the course of the last 25 years, is that Zurich has a higher level of public transport usage than any other comparable City in Europe. Local residents, including people employed at a senior level in business, education and other public services, accept that public transport is the `normal' way to travel within the City.

3.5  Rest of the World

3.5.1  Western Europe

  Except in Spain and Denmark, first generation tramways have been retained and modernised in most of the larger cities in other west European countries.

3.5.2  Eastern Europe and Russia

  In eastern Europe and Russia, most large and medium sized cities have retained their tramways, with further systems being opened into the 1960s and 1970s. The extent to which the smaller systems will be affected by the projected rapid growth in car ownership is difficult to predict.

3.5.3  Australia

  An extensive tramway system has been retained in Melbourne. The network has been recently divided into two franchises, which include specific requirements relating to the purchase of new rolling stock. Despite the retention of a tramway route, Adelaide has created an extensive guided bus system, using kerb guidance on trunk busways, but with the buses in unguided mode on suburban roads. Sydney and Brisbane are progressing schemes for new light rail systems, with the first section already in operation in the former City.

3.5.4 Asia

  In Japan, some of the surviving tramways have received new trams and in Turkey several new light rail systems have been opened. On Hong Kong island, the street tramway is unique in still being operated by double-deck vehicles. Elsewhere in Asia, as in South America and Africa, there are very few tramways of either the first or second generation!


4.1  General

4.1.1  Definition

  For the purposes of this report, Ultra Light Rail is defined as being passenger tramways with a track gauge of up to one metre. ULR generally excludes systems that collect power from on-line power sources (e.g. overhead wires).

4.1.2  Potential Usage

  The great advantage of ULR is that systems can be very adaptable. In addition to operating on-street or along private rights of way, ULR vehicles can operate safely within pedestrian areas or inside the curtilages of buildings (e.g. shopping or leisure centres). The narrower track gauge also facilitates the use of tighter radii on curves.

4.2    Stored Energy Flywheels

  The principle of using stored energy flywheels as a power source for public service vehicles is long-established. For example, during the 1950s this method of propulsion was used for a local bus service in Switzerland. During the last decade, a British engineering company has developed the Parry Peoplemover (PPM), using stored energy flywheels as a power source for ULR vehicles. A series of vehicles has been constructed and demonstrations have been given at transport exhibitions and for potential clients. A commercial service using a PPM has been running in the Bristol Docks area since May 1998 and is reported to have already carried over 40,000 passengers. Proposals are being considered for introducing PPMs on ULR services at several other locations. One attractive proposal is at Llandudno, where the ULR system could not only serve as a central area passenger distributer but could also provide a Park and Ride service connecting the town centre to peripheral parking facilities. If implemented, the ULR system could complement traffic reduction measures that would increase the resort's attraction to visitors.

4.3  Battery Power

  The use of battery power for operating local transport services has been the subject of various experiments during the course of the last 50 years. The difficulties associated with moving larger road vehicles by battery power are greatly reduced in respect of ULR trams, as rolling resistance is much lower on railed vehicles; route lengths for ULR are also relatively short. Battery operated Minitrams are being actively promoted by a Midlands design consultancy and schemes for their operation are being investigated.


5.1  The Role for Light Rapid Transit

  Very large flows, usually those in excess of about 3,000 passengers per hour, require high capacity transit systems (eg underground railways). LRT is generally more suited to intermediate flows, usually those having a maximum movement of between 500 and 3,000 passengers in any single hour. Buses, and in certain circumstances ULR, are best suited to the lower levels of passenger flows. In general the levels of flows suitable for LRT are found within the conurbations and larger towns and cities, although they may also occur on routes to large shopping or recreational complexes.

5.2  Transport Planning

5.2.1  Transport and Land Use

  The level of demand for the movement of goods and people is largely determined by types of land use. The traditional planning approach to any proposal for a change of land use has been to estimate the demand for personal travel, then to deduct a small percentage for non-car users and to provide parking provision for the rest. It is now accepted by most authorities that this approach has to be modified, at least in the larger urban areas, and that a much higher proportion of travellers has to be persuaded to use public transport, particularly urban railways or LRT where available.

5.2.2  Attracting Car Owners onto Public Transport

  For the owner, a modern car has the advantages of being readily available, convenient, reliable, comfortable, protective from the weather and relatively inexpensive to drive. The task for public transport planners and providers is to offer services that can compete on most of these grounds. One way of helping to achieve this aim is to ensure that when major shopping, leisure and employment facilities are developed public transport can provide more convenient access than the private car. In this context, LRT vehicles, particularly trams, have a major advantage, as they follow predetermined paths and are pollution free, thus allowing LRT lines to be routed through, or immediately adjacent to, large building complexes.

5.3  Light Rapid Transit and the Community

5.3.1  Difficulties Caused by Bus Service Deregulation

  In contrast to the position in most of continental Europe, the development of LRT systems in the UK has had to contend with the difficulties arising from bus service deregulation, as any new system has to make financial allowance for possible loss of traffic to competing bus services. These difficulties have to some extent been alleviated in recent years by the reconsolidation of bus operations, with a small number of transport conglomerates now operating most services in the larger urban areas. It is noticeable that the major operators do not usually compete with each other and that some are now able to undertake development projects and experiments, including participation in the running of the new LRT systems (eg National Express in the West Midlands, Stagecoach in South Yorkshire, Firstgroup in Croydon). A further development has been the application by several PTAs to become Centres of Excellence for Integrated Transport.

5.3.2  Regulation of Service Provision

  In order to achieve full integration of public transport services, including LRT routes and local railways, and to make them more cost effective, there is an urgent need to review regulation procedures. The respective roles of the new regional government bodies, the PTAs, the County Councils, the Traffic Commissioners and the National Railway Authority will need to be considered.

5.3.3  The Town Transport Company

  In the larger cities and towns outside the conurbations, there appears to be considerable merit in encouraging the formation of city/town public transport companies. It is envisaged that these public transport companies could operate and develop integrated bus and, where applicable, LRT or ULR systems, with stakeholders including the current major operator, the unitary or District Council, local businesses and community groups. This type of organisation should be able to gain access to funding from a variety of sources. If given a strong city/town identity, the transport system could generate a considerable amount of local pride, with consequential benefits of encouraging passenger loyalty and discouraging anti-social behaviour on vehicles (graffiti etc.).

5.3.4  Reasons for Choosing Light Rapid Transit

  The increased popularity of LRT, particularly light rail systems, can be attributed to a variety of factors, of which the most important appear to be:

    (1)  LRT is cheaper to construct and more adaptable than conventional railways (underground or segregated lines), as vehicles can be operated on the public highway as well as on private rights of way.

    (2)  LRT is perceived as being more permanent and reliable than buses.

    (3)  LRT is considered to be environmentally and socially "friendly".

    (4)  Direct running costs are often cheaper than for buses, when dealing with larger traffic flows.

    (5)  LRT has the potential for making a significant contribution towards the achievement of sustainable development and the implementation of Green Transport Plans, in accordance with Agenda 21 objectives.

5.4  Cost Reduction

5.4.1  General

  If LRT is to achieve the aim of providing an attractive and viable alternative to the private car, every effort must be made to ensure that costs are reduced, wherever possible.

5.4.2  Liaison between LRT Operators

  There appears to be scope for greater exchange of information between existing and potential operators regarding best practice in respect of the construction and operation of LRT systems. An example of the potential for developing good practice is the integration of street lighting with the columns supporting the overhead wires for on-street tramways. In Wolverhampton (Midland Metro) and on the new Eccles route of Manchester Metrolink, street lighting units have been mounted on appropriate overhead wire supporting columns. However, this practice has not been adopted elsewhere.

5.4.3  On-Street Track Construction

  Research has indicated that there may be potential for using an alternative type of tramrail (LR55), which could reduce installation costs. Nevertheless, the presence of utility services beneath the carriageway surface necessitates considerable extra expenditure for construction of street tramways. In this context, it is surprising to note the recent government decision to reduce the utility companies' contributions towards relocation costs from 18 per cent to 7½ per cent The logical approach to this matter would appear to be for each relocation to be decided separately on the basis of the age of the utility service to be moved. If the service is nearing the end of its expected life-span, the utility company's contribution should be quite high, say up to 95 per cent; conversely, if the service is fairly new the company`s contribution should be very small. There may be scope for further cost reductions if local authorities could include in their published Transport Plans all proposals for new on-street tramway alignments. Utility providers could then be required to take these alignments into account when renewing or extending their services.

5.4.4  Safety and Disabled Access Requirements

  During recent years, there has been a progressive increase in the statutory requirements for vehicle and infrastructure measures aimed at reducing the accident risk and facilitating access for mobility impaired travellers on LRT systems. In addition to increasing construction cost, these requirements have been reported to have resulted in loss of revenue arising from delays in opening routes to public service. In some cases, the increased costs appear to be excessive in relation to the potential benefits. In these circumstances, there seems to be a good case for the operator being compensated accordingly.


6.1  Conclusions

  1.  Light Rapid Transit is defined as including tramways/light rail lines, guided buses and Ultra Light Rail. The overwhelming majority of LRT systems are light rail lines or tramways. (1.2, 1.3)

  2.  There has been a widespread revival for LRT during the last 25 years. (1.4)

  3.  Similar problems have been experienced in most of the countries where new LRT systems have been introduced. (1.5)

  4.  In the UK, deregulation of bus services and varying financial constraints have created major obstacles to LRT developments. (2.1)

  5.  A direct, reliable, high frequency service can attract a progressively increasing number of passengers. (2.3.2)

  6.  Good accessibility to passenger destinations increases traffic potential. (2.3.2, 2.5.2, 2.6.2)

  7.  The importance of giving priority to LRT at traffic signals is becoming standard practice. (2.4.2, 2.6.2, 3.4.2)

  8.  Relatively short sections of guided busway can generate extra patronage, in certain circumstances. (2.9, 2.11)

  9.  Co-ordination of services between separate operators can result in a very attractive and efficient public transport system, provided that it is maintained as an ongoing policy. (3.4.2)

  10.  Clearly defined funding arrangements have facilitated LRT development in other countries. (3.1.3, 3.2.7)

  11.  Tramways and light rail systems are generally perceived as being permanent, reliable and environmentalu friendly. (5.3.4)

  12.  LRT, particularly light rail/tramways, has the potential to make a major contribution towards the achievement of sustainable development and the implementation of Green Transport Plans, in accordance with Agenda 21 objectives. (5.3.4)

6.2  Recommendations

  (1)  New LRT routes should be mainly targetted at passenger flows within the 500 to 3,000 per hour range. (5.1)

  (2)  New large scale employment, shopping and recreational complexes should be designed to be served by LRT routes, wherever possible. Access to public transport facilities at these locations should be clearly more convenient and attractive than access to car parking areas. (5.2.2)

  (3)  The applications from PTAs to become Centres of Excellence for Integrated Transport should be supported and actively promoted (2.3.4, 2.4.4, 5.3.1)

  (4)  There is an urgent need to review regulation procedures for public transport services, if effective integration is to be achieved. (5.3.2)

  (5)  Encouragement should be given to the establishment of public transport companies with a strong local involvement, in the larger cities and towns that are not within the PTA served conurbations. (5.3.3)

  (6)  There appears to be considerable scope for the examination of a range of cost reduction measures that should assist LRT development in the UK. (5.4)

  NOTE:  Figures shown in brackets at the end of individual Conclusions and Recommendations in Chapter Six refer to the respective sections and paragraphs earlier in the memorandum.

October 1999

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