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

Memorandum submitted by The Institute of Logistics and Transport (RT 17)


  The Institute of Logistics and Transport (ILT) welcomes the inquiry by the House of Commons Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee into the development of light rapid transit (LRT) systems. The United Kingdom has a substantial population living on a small land mass, a high proportion within major urban areas, and suffers from serious problems with transport, as Government recognised in the transport White Paper A New Deal for Transport: Better for Everyone (1998). Substantial changes are needed in transport provision and use if the Government's broadly agreed aims set out in the White Paper are to be achieved. Major policy steps are also needed to enchance our urban areas, as the Rogers Report Towards an Urban Renaissance (1999) has shown.

  LRT systems form an important item in the toolbox from which decision makers and professionals can select measures for improving urban transport. The Chartered Institute of Transport in the UK (CIT UK) demonstrated the value of LRT and related systems in its 1996 report Better Public Transport for Cities. Yet such systems have been treated with surprising coolness by the present Government [White Paper 3.37-38], as they were by the previous Government.

  This submission sets out:

    —  the main findings and recommendations from Better Public Transport for Cities;

    —  a review of the main factors in the development of LRT, reflecting experience with existing systems;

    —  the relationship of LRT systems with urban land use planning.

  Finally the submission draws some conclusions addressing the potential for LRT in the UK.


  Four years ago CIT UK set up a Working Party to examine the case for a higher level of investment in public transport in urban areas, with particular reference to light rail. The Working Party's report Better Public Transport for Cities was published in June 1996. It reflected considerable analysis of facts and issues, with reference to a good number of studies.

  Although the report is now three years old, its conclusions are still valid and may help the Select Committee to consider the context in which light rail systems and their potential for success should be considered. It concluded, on the basis of a comprehensive review of the available evidence, that light rail schemes—and indeed all forms of public transport investment—are unlikely to achieve their full effect except as part of an integrated strategy, including:

    (a)  measures to manage or limit the use of the private car;

    (b)  full integration of all the public transport modes, with efficient interchanges and interchangeable ticketing;

    (c)  integration of transport and land use policies.

  Few schemes, either in the UK or in other European countries, have yet been implemented in this fashion; although other European countries have made much greater progress on (b) and (c) than we have in the UK. The actual level of success of light rail schemes, particularly in the UK, is therefore almost certainly well below the potential level. Studies of Greater Manchester, referred to in the 1996 report, suggest, for example, that if it had been possible to construct Manchester Metrolink and the rest of the light rail network as part of a comprehensive strategy, patronage might have been 25 per cent higher and that this could have improved the fundability of the project by between 12 and 16 per cent.

  The Manchester light rail system has, nevertheless, been very successful in attracting patronage from the car and has had some impact on reducing road congestion. This is attributable mainly to its high quality and greater speed than both bus and car travel in the same corridor. In contrast the early performance of Sheffield Supertram was poor in terms of traffic and revenue (it has now considerably improved). Although the Working Party was not able to make a thorough assessment of the Sheffield Supertram, which had only recently opened, the fact that it includes significant sections on congested roads without significant priority must reduce its potential advantages: added to which, traffic has been seriously reduced through competition in the deregulated bus regime and from loss of expected development (discussed later). Light rail schemes need to be designed to achieve reasonably high speeds and to be planned carefully to exploit their potential appeal for car users and not just for existing bus users. Many light rail systems now on the drawing board were not designed in this way.

  In brief, the advantages of the integrated approach for light rail (LRT) planning include:

    (a)  a much higher mode shift;

    (b)  better operating conditions for street-running trams;

    (c)  increased patronage, which makes the investments more attractive commercially and easier to finance; and

    (d)  the ability to fund the public sector contribution from the revenues of road-user or parking charges.

  The main conclusions relevant to light rail, set out in the Executive Summary of Better Public Transport for Cities, are quoted at Appendix A.

  Better Public Transport for Cities also contains detailed reviews of the evidence available in 1996 of the effectiveness of public transport investment in attracting patronage, particularly from the private car; and a comparison of the relative advantages of bus (including guided bus) and light rail. These may contain material that will be helpful to the Select Committee. The main references are as follows:

    (i)  Chapter 4 reviews the results of urban transport strategy studies and the relative effectiveness of different policy options. The evidence is summarised in more detail in Annex C to the report. Paragraphs 4 to 15 of this Annex discuss public transport options; paragraphs 28 to 37 discuss integrated options which combine public transport improvements with restraints on car use.

    (ii)  Chapter 5 and Annex D review the results of past public transport investments in the UK, including their benefit: cost ratios. Annex D to the report includes material on Manchester Metrolink and the Robin Hood Line as well as some older schemes. There is a short section on continental experience, including Grenoble, Hannover, Stuttgart and Zurich.

    (iii)  Chapter 6 (particularly paragraphs 6.11-6.18) examines the relative merits of different forms of public transport, including the potential advantages of light rail over bus. The report concludes, however, that the choice of public transport mode should be made on the basis of a full analysis of the benefits and costs and that novel and imaginative ideas need to be tried out more widely, including guided bus and other intermediate technologies between buses and light rail. There is a detailed note on the characteristics of different public transport modes in Annex E and Table 1 of the report.


  In assessing the potential of LRT systems several factors should be properly taken into account. Some of the critical issues are reviewed above. Further aspects are considered in the following paragraphs.

Types of System and their coverage

  LRT systems include conventional street trams, light rail vehicles running mostly on own right-of-way, and line which operate largely as urban metros. Options such as guided bus and "full" metro lines come either side. Unlike "heavy" (suburban) rail systems, LRT systems are generally local to a particular conurbation (metro systems share this principle). So the mix of characteristics can be adjusted to meet the particular characteristics of the City/region served: i.e. LRT can be tailored to suit its catchment. (The catchment should also be tailored to suit the LRT system—the synergy with land use planning is considered later).

  At present there are about 160 conventional tracked (light rail) systems in Europe. Over a third are in Germany, and most countries have at least one or two. A good proportion derive from former street tramway systems, and many retain considerable substantial sections of on-street running, especially in older urban areas. However, the larger cities with such systems have seen investment and restructuring, often of a substantial scale, with concentration of central area routes through tunnels, priority over other road traffic at junctions and for on-street running, sophisticated control systems, addition of substantial lengths of reserved right-of-way on outer areas, and modernisation of rolling stock. At the same time a number of new systems are being built. France in particular eliminated its tramway networks as thoroughly as did Great Britain but, as a matter of national policy is now encouraging the provision of LRT systems in Paris and other cities, using standardised approaches to system design and rolling stock in order to secure economies of scale.

  The nearest alternative options—light metro and guided bus—remain very limited in application. Some metro systems, though on fully segregated track, share technical characteristics with light rail: eg Tyne and Wear and Docklands systems in the UK, Lille in France (Docklands and Lille are both fully automated). Some German light rail lines have characteristics close to metro lines, with almost total separation from traffic and distinct stations: Amsterdam has one segregated light rail line whose vehicles run through on to part of the metro. There are a few bus routes operated on guided bus sections, including that in Leeds. This indicates how light rail, albeit the dominant form of LRT, fits into a wide range of system types in the "toolbox" and that a line or system can evolve as need and investment requires: from bus corridor through guided bus sections to light rail and perhaps ultimately to metro.

  In most European mainland cities, integration of operations and ticket systems is the normal situation. This is very evident for example in the Netherlands, where physical and operational integration of rail, LRT and bus are expected, while a common local transport ticketing system (the "strippenkaart") is used through the country. Thus in the main conurbations light rail systems serve the main corridors, with bus routes co-ordinated to provide local connections; in turn, light rail forms the main connecting network for "heavy" rail lines. This is not the case in Great Britain, where bus services outside London have operated with no commercial regulation since 1986. The implications for Manchester have been identified earlier. This also explains in good part the poor initial performance of the Sheffield Supertram system, which was originally developed in a context of integrated operations.

Comparison with bus service development

  Significant improvements to the actual and perceived quality of bus services forms a fundamental part of improving public transport. ILT broadly supports the Government's aims for bus development (as indicated in From Workhorse to Thoroughbred) and would encourage stronger action to implement them. Bus networks are important in all urban and suburban areas, as well as in more thinly populated areas. On main corridors, bus projects implemented as Quality Partnerships can dramatically improve individual route image (and carryings), as e.g. Birmingham route 33 and the Leeds guided bus section have demonstrated. Bus routes like these benefit from a fixed infrastructure (named stops, platforms, canopies) and hence a sense of permanence and quality. However, bus services are very rarely seen as either permanent or as an acceptable alternative to car travel.

  Rail services, including LRT offer the confidence of perceived permanence. LRT infrastructure may attract the attention of potential passengers more than any other mode: it generally combines physical permanence with visibility in the neighbourhood, or even the street, and stops close at hand (metros and "heavy" rail lines are generally less visible, unless design and marketing of stations is good). LRT sytems are thus more "user-friendly" for urban travel than most bus routes, demonstrating a commitment to public transport along a main urban corridor which bus routes do not have. This comes across especially in the ambience of systems in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands. Bus services can be easily re-routed, whereas trams cannot: but generally this is a virtue for major routes, as people will have more confidence in an LRT system's continued existence and may be more likely to use it for that reason.

  Users' perceptions are important, and have been substantiated through the much higher levels of patronage achieved by light rail than previous bus or heavy rail services on the same corridor and by "stated preference" surveys. So the presence of LRT systems can enable a more permanent lifestyle shift towards public transport. This also offers confidence for employers that there is commitment to enchancing their neighbourhood: this will encourage them to commit investment to developing their business in that area. Thus LRT is an important tool in planning and regeneration for urban areas.

Components of LRT systems

  The construction of an LRT system—or the upgrading of an older tram system—will include five main components:

    —  the route, tracks and overheads;

    —  LRT vehicles;

    —  designated stops (stations);

    —  associated street works, including environmental enhancement;

    —  depot/workshops.

  While the route layout will reflect local circumstances and the fleet of vehicles may do so, systems have usually been constructed using manufacturers' standard components. Today the main railway equipment manufacturers have developed a modular approach towards vehicle provision, so that LRT vehicles may be specifically designed to meet local circumstances through using an assembly of standard modules. This is important since it offers standardised designs for a market which is more limited than for buses. LRT vehicles are much more expensive than buses, in particular as they are larger and more heavily engineered than road vehicles, so they are safer in collisions and have a higher capacity. However, efforts are being made to produce vehicles which maintain the capacity, security and operating quality but have a much lower manufacturing cost.

  At present there is a growing number of new design low-floor LRT vehicles coming into service in many European systems. These are bringing a definable change in the attractiveness of even conventional street networks. They are particularly important to meet the needs of groups with lower mobility, especially disabled, but also elderly people, mothers with children in pushchairs, and those with luggage or shopping. They also bring a further element of convenience and hence appeal to attract passengers generally.

  LRT systems may operate over a variety of types of track, from completely independent through segregated sections alongside roads to on-street tracks. If LRT is to deliver speed and reliability it must be freed from congestion of other traffic. This is possible even with on-street running if any sections it shares with road traffic, or crosses it, are properly controlled through traffic signals and traffic management, including parking restrictions. One of the principal failures of the Sheffield system is that traffic priorities were not provided on main road sections both sides of the city, so that LRT vehicles were caught up in congestion (this has now largely been sorted out). In contrast the combined route 4/6 in Budapest—perhaps the most heavily trafficked LRT line in the world—operates successfully although it runs along existing streets throughout: a lot of it is physically in central reservation, but it benefits from management measures where the route shares the carriageway with other traffic and from priorities at the frequent road crossings along the route.

Use of existing/redundant rail lines

  LRT systems can successfully provide new transport opportunities by connecting previously disparate (and perhaps lightly-used) railway lines into parts of an LRT network. Examples in the UK include the Croydon Tramlink and Manchester Metrolink systems; elsewhere in Europe Paris line T2 forms another example. Additionally the operation of LRT vehicles over suburban railway lines, but linked through the city centre over new or existing tram/LRT track, is now proving of considerable interest, following the initial development of this approach for the Karlsruhe region. Such track sharing requires both technical and administrative barriers to be overcome to ensiure accepted safety levels are maintained; but there are a lot of suburban and local railway lines in Great Britain, in and around the larger cities, which carry relatively low traffic levels, and thus a considerable potential exists for this type of scheme.

  Schemes for re-using redundant or existing local railway lines offer the valuable benefit of maintaining the existing rail line but providing higher frequencies, links into city centres, and a much improved ambience (new LRT vehicles against large conventional rail vehicles). They also offer a sense of "local ownership", as they are usually developed and funded through the local authority and local operating interests rather than as part of a (national) railway company. These conversion/through-running schemes can prove cheaper overall, and offer better traffic results, than developing the existing railway line. In Manchester there was a significant increase in patronage on the Manchester-Bury line after conversion to Metrolink. Substantial growth has been reported in carrying on the lines in the Karlsruhe region now served by light rail. It is therefore crucial that the opportunity for conversion to light rail should be reviewed before existing heavy rail concessions are extended.

Air pollution and noise

  There are obvious environmental advantages to LRT systems: an important issue in view of the local air quality management responsibilities placed on local authorities. Although the cleanest buses now are a vast improvement over older buses, especially with the implementation of Euro II and Euro III standards, LRT systems do not emit any pollutants in their vicinity. They can also "coast" for some of their journey, as well as having regenerative braking fitted, thus improving on the efficiency of fuel use in relation to traffic carried. They do cause the emission of pollutants at power stations, but this is an issue which is being dealt with nationally. Trams are quieter than buses: 70-80 dBA at 10 metres, as opposed to 75-85dBA for an average diesel engine bus.

The need for strategic planning

  As indicated, a major criticism of LRT systems is that high capital investment is needed. However, this is one sided: the cost of any system has to be balanced against the benefits. There is a strong case for LRT where traffic is dense, distances relatively long, park and ride potentially important and off street infrastructure needed and available for rail. LRT vehicles have a far higher capacity than a bus, effective lives two to three times as long, and good riding, and far higher capacities per vehicle. They also offer greater effectiveness and a better travel environment, generally reflecting the characteristics built into modern systems: better ride quality, better lighting and seating, higher speeds, and level access. LRT systems are thus likely to attract far more people of out of their cars than buses.

  Bus systems can be developed to meet most of these characteristics, and this is the broad aim of Quality Partnerships. Modern bus systems are likely to prove more effective where the characteristics favouring LRT are not present, and particularly where it is desirable for services to "fan out" and serve a number of destinations, a modern bus system is likely to have the edge. There is no reason why such a system should have lighting and seating inferior to LRT, although the ride quality probably will be.

  The importance of strategic planning should be emphasised, as this is essential to properly assess all the relevant factors for an investment case are properly assessed against the objectives for the proposed system, compared to alternative options. A key element is integration with other forms of public transport and with land use planning. (Sheffield's problems resulted largely from the failure of both). As long as we have deregulated buses (outside London) any serious form of integration is impossible. This a major difference between the UK and the rest of Europe (and the rest of the world?!), and a major factor in their success with fixed track systems and our relative failures (traffic levels on the Tyne and Wear Metro, planned as part of an integrated system, have fallen since deregulation).

  In Great Britain this means that the strategy and proposals must come through the Local Transport Plan/Local Transport Strategy, so that options and use of funds are properly evaluated as part of a cohesive strategy. The whole strategy will need to be set against wider aims, which for a larger urban area will almost certainly include emphasis on supporting a sound economy, a good environment and social cohesion. This means full integration with land use planning (discussed below).

  This more comprehensive approach underlies the widespread development of LRT in most countries of mainland Europe to a certain degree. For example, implementation of new tram routes in various medium size French cities over the last decade has almost invariably caused a significant jump in total public transport patronage to a new level which is then maintained. In France, as in Germany and the Netherlands, regional and city transport planning establishes a consistent framework for investment over a long period, subject to regular updating: this forms a valuable context for fully assessing the role of LRT against alternative options.

  The process for moving a line from strategic decision to construction is complex in Great Britain. Generally any form of LRT will require to apply for an Order under the Transport & Works Act 1992. The procedures under this Act do not readily aid the proponents of a scheme to fully establish its role in relation to local strategy and funding. The Institute reviewed the strengths and weaknesses of these procedures in its 1998 report Promoting new transport projects.

Funding availability

  The few schemes built or building in Great Britain have been funded by a combination of private and public money. The cost is significant at local level, involves works involving public and private land and utilities, and cannot see any return until the system is operating, so identifying the likely return on private funds is not easy. It is therefore essential that Government ensure provision of funds through public sources and establish clearer principles for encouraging private funding. In part this will also be served by giving stronger formal recognition to Local Transport Plans/Strategies. The net proceeds from road pricing regimes and parking charges should be allocated to public transport improvements, including light rapid transit. It may be possible to devise public/private partnerships in which the improved public transport is funded up-front on the back of forecast revenues from charging. But some pump-priming direct from central government may be needed also.

  Currently Great Britain spends much less on investment in surface transport infrastructure than its western European neighbours, and current funding levels appear far too low to provide systems which will meet the ambitious targets of Government transport policy. In its submission to the House of Commons Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee inquiry on the integrated transport White Paper, the Institute suggested that an additional £3,000 million per annum needed to be invested each year in surface transport infrastructure. Broad assessment suggests that the additional amount needed per annum on all public transport, including vehicles as well as infrastructure, could be in the order of £2,000 million: a moderate proportion of this should be attributed to LRT schemes.

Construction—the need for phasing

  LRT systems take time to build, and building each line can involve disruption to other traffic (a concern with construction of the Sheffield system). For this reason it is almost essential to build only one line at a time. In principle this has to be self-sufficient, so as to justify the investment. The schemes in Manchester and Sheffield are examples of this. However, the West Midlands scheme was originally conceived as a much larger system. Evolving a major regional system as a start may prove counter-productive: it may be better to start with one line and let it prove successful in appropriate terms, rather than apply for the powers for several lines first and then see them lapse. There is also value in seeing LRT system evolution from the current situation, from bus corridor in a Quality Partnership through guided bus sections to light rail and perhaps ultimately to metro.

  However, the scope for significant extensions may need to be assessed and allowed for, especially in such factors as initial depot capacity (this reinforces the need for effective strategic planning). The Manchester system is now extending to Salford, with plans well advanced for a series of extensions. Most new French systems have generally consisted of one line, which has then been extended into a network following initial success. It remains essential that system extension remains within the clear framework of the Local Transport Plan.


  The Local Transport Plans and the Regional Transport Strategies within which they are to be guided, and the Local Transport Strategy in Scotland, are specifically related to Development Plans (under the Town & Country Planning Acts). Such integration has been long discussed in Great Britain, but only following the 1998 transport White Paper are steps being taken to put it into practice, following Government consultations on draft guidance this year. It is essential that this integral approach is developed in practice if LRT systems are to be properly assessed. But at present land use planning remains largely discretionary in the UK rather than adopting the more directive approach found elsewhere in Europe.

  LRT systems play their most effective role in densely occupied corridors, with fairly high residential densities along their length, coupled with a significant number of attractors. Land use planning strategy thus needs to be aimed at delivering development of this nature if public transport is envisaged as playing a key role in urban travel patterns. Denser urban development on these lines also offers other significant benefits—better access to a wider range of facilities, more neighbourhood economies, better social cohesion—which are fundamental to regeneration of city living, as the Rogers Report identified. But city design has to be of high quality, in detail as well as in overall strategy, in order to attract businesses and families. Provision of visible, high quality public transport forms a key element in this, and LRT can prove very effective.

  On the reverse side of the coin, dense flows of people along defined corridors should provide LRT systems with good traffic levels, so that the net revenue and return on income are sound. From this point of view, corridors need not be short and compact: an LRT line may link a number of densely occupied key nodes separated by low density development or open land. In effect the Manchester Metrolink system reflects this principle, serving a number of local centres built round former suburban railway stations. Perhaps the major weakness in planning the Sheffield system was that the high density of development envisaged by the original studies did not occur: inner city areas scheduled for regeneration were largely demolished, while the planned Mosborough New Town, at the south east end, was only partially completed and not focused on the Supertram.

  Elsewhere in Europe the integral relationship is built into the planning of cities and development of transport projects. Particular examples may be seen in France and the Netherlands. In France, the first lines in Grenoble (opened 1987 and since extended) and in Orleans (under construction) are relatively short but serve planned corridors, including new and refurbished high density housing, major commercial and university sites, and a restyled city centre. In The Hague and Utrecht (Netherlands) major new residential areas, largely on reclaimed polders, are being served by extended branches off existing LRT lines (the Delft line from the Hague, the "sneltram" at Utrecht). This provides easy links to the respective city centres and supports high density development designed for low levels of car use but high quality of environment.

  These examples indicate how the commitment to public transport indicated by investment in LRT forms an important element in urban planning, especially in regeneration. This justifies the case for investment in it. At the same time, major developers are likely to be significant beneficiaries, and there may often be a case for developer contributions.


  The Government's intended transport policies rest heavily on motivating people to reduce car use in favour of public transport. As the Institute's 1996 report Better Public Transport for Cities pointed out, this requires heavy investment in quality public transport accompanied by constraints on use of cars where appropriate. LRT systems—light rail and similar—can offer the necessary quality and appeal. They do require relatively significant investment—but price comparisons with buses are misleading, as LRT can prove more effective in the right circumstances. On the other hand converting "heavy" rail to LRT may well be cheaper than continuing to invest in the former.

  LRT systems, mostly light rail, are widely used across mainland Europe. Their use is optimised through the integration of public transport services, development within a proper strategic planning framework for transport, and integration into city/regional land use planning. ILT considers that the benefits from LRT systems can only be understood and achieved when British transport development benefits from these principles, which ILT have urged on Government. In addition, there must be adequate funding for transport investment, especially in infrastructure.

  ILT recommends the following specific measures to achieve the benefits of LRT:

    —  Local Transport Plans/Strategies should define a full strategic public transport network, with clear proposals for routes which are suitable for light rail. There should be a programme, with indicative time-scales, for installation/conversion. This approach should allow for a phased approach where appropriate: once in service, initial systems are likely to offer wide benefits from significant extensions.

    —  Government should abandon the "one scheme per year" approach and commit itself to giving LRT proposals fair support in the context of Local Transport Plans/Strategies and funding. If Government aims for modal transfer are to be achieved, very substantial increase in the funding available for local public transport will be required across all conurbations and cities. Where possible the funding should come from charging regimes approved as part of the local transport plan.

    —  Development of integration—within public transport, across all transport and with land use planning—should form a key principle in the evolution of policy measures.

    —  Light rail investments should be backed by demand management systems. This will assist modal shift, increase patronage and make systems easier to finance.

    —  Priority should be given to public transport investments that offer a high quality alternative to routes affected by congestion charging or demand management systems.

    —  All suburban/local lines should be reviewed to identify the likely candidates for conversion to light rail (with central area running where appropriate). This should be done before franchises are extended/renewed.

October 1999

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