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

Memorandum by The Confederation of Passenger Transport (UK) (RT 19)



  The Confederation of Passenger Transport is the national trade association representing the interests of operators of bus, coach and fixed track passenger transport systems, including the owners and operators of the principal light rail and tramway systems in the United Kingdom.


  The Transport Sub-committee wishes to investigate Light Rapid Transit with a view to seeing whether and how to assist the growth of such schemes in the UK. This follows the Committee's recommendation, in its report on the Government's Transport White Paper, that "the Government should carefully appraise light rail projects, giving particular weight to their ability to attract large numbers of people from their cars."

  In its response, the Government agreed that light rail can have a role to play, but added that "the capital costs of light rail are very high and more modest guided bus schemes and comprehensive bus priority measures can often deliver similar benefits at considerably less cost."

  CPT recognises that in the majority of towns in the country, buses will remain the dominant mode of public transport. Nevertheless, we believe that, in the right place—generally, on heavily used corridors in the larger cities—the benefits of light rail will outweigh its costs. In these circumstances, light rail can make an important contribution to the right mixture of public transport for an urban area. We develop these views further in the remainder of this response.


  There is a continuous spectrum of public transport provision which ranges from bus to heavy rail, as shown in the diagram below. In general, as we progress through the spectrum from bus to heavy rail, the speed and capacity of the modes increases.

Bus on road or tram on street            Busway transit           Light rail or Guided light transit           Metro or Underground           Heavy rail

  Light rapid transit covers the centre of the spectrum. The term implies that the vehicles are lighter than on a traditional railway. Consequently, they can accelerate and decelerate faster, and stations or stops can be closer together, making them suitable for urban operation. At lighter end, light rapid transit includes trams such as those in Blackpool operating largely in a publicly-accessible place; at the heavier end, the term includes metro systems such as in Tyne and Wear which have some of the characteristics of suburban rail.

  The key to providing a fast, reliable public transport system is segregation—that is, separating the transit vehicles from other traffic, either alongside the highway or on a completely separate track—so they can run at higher speed and are not delayed by congestion. Segregation is easier to provide for a rail mode, because the presence of rails marks the mode out as requiring different treatment from other traffic. Most examples of light rapid transit, therefore, are rail-based modes such as metros or light rail, the modern form of the traditional street tramway.

  For buses and street-running trams, complete segregation is less acceptable, and assistance is more usually in the form of priorities at junctions and bus lanes. These measures are helpful in producing a better quality service, but produce a lower quantum of benefits. Busway transit (buses on segregated tracks) lies at one end of the range of modes which are considered as light rapid transit.

  Light rapid transit also includes other urban transit systems which do not run on rails but which otherwise have similar characteristics, such as guided light transit, electrically-powered rubber-tyred vehicles running on a dedicated track. Technically-advanced systems such as these have been proposed for some cities in the UK.

  In this paper, we shall concentrate on light rail, as most existing examples of light rapid transit are of that form. In general the conclusions will also apply to other types of light rapid transit, and should be read in that light. We also consider busways because of the perception that they provide a cheaper alternative to light rail.


4.1.  Light rail

  Light rail, the modern form of the tramway, is an efficient mode of public transport. It is particularly well-suited to the movement of high numbers of passengers along fixed urban corridors. It can be controlled by signals, as on a railway, or on the driver's line-of-sight. Light rail can therefore run on a mixture of purpose built tracks, existing railway routes, former railway alignment, and city streets. Stations can be spaced close together and can be simply a platform in the street. Light rail can combine the speed of train travel with the advantages of a bus for access to town and city centres.

  Light rail can also share tracks with suburban trains to achieve a rapid journey to the city centre, then divert onto city streets to provide better access. There are currently no track-sharing systems in Britain, but there are examples in continental Europe, and track-sharing is planned on the Sunderland extension of Tyne and Wear Metro and in the West Midlands.


  A busway provides a dedicated right-of-way for buses, which may be alongside a highway or on another alignment. The main advantage of a busway over a bus route on an ordinary road is that it automatically provides priority over other traffic; other vehicles are excluded. The major problem of enforcing a conventional bus lane is thereby avoided.

  Busways have an advantage over light rail in that at the end of the segregated section buses are able to fan out onto ordinary roads to serve a wide geographical area whilst providing a through service to and from all destinations. They can also be constructed in short sections, each being opened when ready, to bypass congested sections or to avoid places where construction cost would be prohibitively high, as in a city centre.

  Buses on a busway can be automatically steered. The advantage of guidance is that the lane can be narrower than a busway where vehicles are manually steered. This makes the busway both cheaper and easier to integrate into urban environment. Guidance also aids docking the vehicle at a stop to provide level access. The mechanism can be either kerb-guidance, where small guidance wheels run along a specially-constructed kerb and operate the steering mechanism, or cable-guidance, electronically following a cable in the road. In either case, the driver can take over the steering if necessary, and retains control of the speed and headway (though cable guidance may allow the possibility of automatically restricting the maximum speed in pedestrian areas).


5.1.  The advantages of light rail

  Light rail systems have a number of advantages over the the traditional bus, some of which also apply to high quality bus services and busways:

    —  it is faster;

    —  it offers higher capacity;

    —  it offers a smoother ride;

    —  its precise path makes it more acceptable in pedestrian areas;

    —  with the right priorities over traffic, it can provide a reliable service;

    —  it appears to have a better image;

    —  it attracts more passengers who might otherwise travel by car;

    —  being electrically powered, it reduces pollution in the city.

5.2.  Type of city served

  Light rail is faster and has a higher capacity than the bus. In normal service the maximum achievable capacity on a light rail system is 15,000 to 20,000 passengers per hour in each direction. Light rail can achieve higher capacities, but only in unusual circumstances, such as clearing a sports stadium after an event. For comparison, the maximum capacity of metro trains is about 30,000 passengers per hour in each direction. Regular buses can carry 5,000 to 6,000 passengers per hour.

  The capacity of buses on a busway is limited by the rate at which they can use stops or exit onto city streets. This puts an overall limit of about 7,000 passengers per hour in each direction.

  Speed and high capacity are, however, only useful where the journey is long enough and there is sufficient passenger demand to realise the advantages. This points to the major application as being on heavily used corridors. This will generally be in the larger cities.

  Other local factors can favour rail. Manchester Metrolink has benefited from several favourable factors of this sort: it added city-centre penetration to existing well-used rail links, it has direct interchange with rail and bus, and it has strong destinations at the outer ends of the route. This last factor is also apparent in Midland Metro, Docklands, Croydon and the Meadowhall Branch in Sheffield.

5.3.  Costs

  The capital cost of a new light rail line lies approximately in the range £3 million to £10 million per kilometre. This is the overall cost, including infrastructure and a typical number of stations and vehicles. It also includes the cost of diverting utilities—a major expense for any fixed track system.

  Obviously the actual cost of any individual system will depend on many factors, such as the type of route, number of vehicles, number of stations, etc. Systems which are built on a former railway, such as Manchester Metrolink (£4.7 million/km), will be towards the lower end of the range. Systems which require a lot of construction in the street, involving the costly diversion of utilities' apparatus, tend to cost more. South Yorkshire Supertram, for example, which runs mainly on existing highway, cost £8.3 million/km. New tunnels or elevated tracks will increase the cost considerably.

  However, it is important to note that light rail is an order of magnitude cheaper than alternatives such as new metro or heavy rail construction, and gives similar benefits. Light rail should be regarded as a cheap railway rather than as an expensive bus. In addition, the operating cost of a light railway, over its lifespan of 30 years or more, is much less than that of a bus-based alternative, mainly because one driver can serve many more passengers.

  Making use of an existing railway alignment lowers the cost and improves the prospects for light rail. However, the revenue-earning potential will also be affected: the line may attract fewer passengers if it does not follow current travel patterns.

  The cost of a busway can vary a great deal, depending on the type of construction. On an existing bus corridor, the cost of installing sections of busway can be as low as £1 million per lane-km, excluding the cost of vehicles, depots etc. For complete new systems on reserved track with new stations, infrastructure and a new vehicle fleet, the capital cost could be similar to that of a light rail line.

5.4  Light rail systems in the UK

  Light rail systems have been enjoying something of a renaissance over the last couple of decades, with several new systems opening, and schemes being considered for most of Britain's larger cities. Blackpool has its original tramway, and the following light rail systems have opened recently:

Tyne and Wear Metro (1980) South Yorkshire Supertram (1994)
London Docklands Light Railway (1987)    Midland Metro (1999)
Manchester Metrolink (1992)Croydon Tramlink (due to open early 2000)

  Schemes are also planned in Nottingham, South Hampshire, Leeds and Bristol. The Annex gives further details of these schemes and of light rail in other countries.

5.5  Busways in the UK and abroad

  In the UK, there are two existing guided busways, in Leeds and Ipswich. There is a major guided bus scheme planned for Edinburgh, and a scheme for Northampton, using technically advanced guided buses. Runcorn has a busway, used by conventional (non-guided) buses, opened in 1967.

  There are very few examples of busways in other countries, but there are examples in Adelaide, Essen, Ottawa and Pittsburgh.

  Further details of these systems are given in the Annex.


6.1  Ridership

  In nearly all cities in the world with a new light rail system, it is well used, with ridership growing over the years after opening. In Britain, the Docklands Light Railway had to be increased in capacity, and Manchester Metrolink is currently experiencing crush loadings at peak times.

  On South Yorkshire Supertram, the initial ridership was lower than expected, and this attracted a certain amount of adverse publicity. There were, however, a number of unforeseeable or uncontrollable factors which adversely affected ridership, for example changes in land use, economic circumstances, and the lack of priority given to the system. Currently, patronage is in line with that forecast, following changes to fares and service levels, marketing initiatives, and the introduction of conductors to improve fare collection and revenue protection, with incidental improvements to vandalism and security problems.

  A busway transit system can offer some of the same advantages. The guided bus in Leeds offers a reduction in journey times, improved reliability, new vehicles and strong marketing. As a result it has experienced a large growth in passenger numbers, with growth still continuing.

    Not only does a new light rail or busway system attract passengers to use the system itself, but it can also increase the total number of passengers using public transport.

6.2  Effect on road traffic

  When a new light rail system is introduced in a city, it typically attracts around half to two-thirds of its passengers from bus, with about half the remainder being former car users, and a similar proportion making new journeys. One of the justifications for building a light rail system is that this produces a reduction in road traffic. In Britain, such benefits to non-users are among the criteria for public funding. Studies of British systems show the following results:

Manchester Metrolink

    —  attracts about 15 per cent of its passengers from cars;

    —  equivalent to a reduction in car traffic of two to two-and-a-half million journeys per annum;

    —  10 per cent reduction in total car traffic in the Metrolink corridors;

    —  2 per cent reduction in peak traffic entering central Manchester;

    —  equivalent to a reduction in city centre car parking requirement of 1,200 spaces;

    —  over the same period, traffic in areas not served by Metrolink increased by 5-10 per cent.

Tyne and Wear

    —  3 to 4 per cent less car traffic growth in the city centre than in outer areas;

    —  increase in the use of park-and-ride;

    —  724 peak-hour journeys forecast to transfer from car to Metro on Sunderland extension;

    —  benefits of £18 million per annum to the remaining car users as a result.

South Yorkshire Supertram

    —  attracts 22 per cent of its passengers from cars;

    —  indications of a reduction in car journeys to Meadowhall;

    —  increased use of park-and-ride.

  Results from cities in other countries are similar. In Nantes, there was an increase in 65 per cent in the number of public transport users, with 35 per cent of these having previously used a car. The demand for city centre car park spaces was about 1,000 fewer. In Lille it was estimated that about 3,000 fewer car journeys per day were made to the city centre.

  Although light rail attracts substantial numbers of former car users, the overall effect on road congestion across the city is small, generally amounting to perhaps one or two years' natural growth in traffic. One reason is that a light rail line serves at most two or three corridors into the city centre. Even if the reduction in road traffic in these corridors is substantial, as was found in Manchester, it would be unreasonable to expect there to be much effect in other corridors.

  Another reason is that there is a latent demand for car travel. In the absence of other measures, therefore, any car journeys which transfer to public transport are likely to be replaced by others.

  By providing an attractive alternative to the use of the car, light rail can make it more acceptable to introduce traffic restraint and environmental measures such as parking restrictions, pedestrianisation, or—for the future—road charging.

  Light rail may also have a small effect on the speed of road traffic. According to some analysts, traffic congestion reaches an equilibrium when a journey by car takes, on average, the same time as by public transport. If a faster public transport mode such as light rail is introduced, car travellers will transfer to it until the average speed of the remaining traffic rises to that of the new mode, to the benefit of all travellers.

6.3  Non-quantifiable benefits of light rail

  Light rail provides a high quality of public transport. Experience with Quality Partnerships between bus operators and local authorities shows that high quality public transport, whether bus or rail, is attractive to passengers, and is particularly effective in attracting car users. Some of the attractive features of a quality public transport system are:

    —  Comfortable, modern vehicles;

    —  Attractive and well lit stations or stops, which can be equipped with seats and shelter;

    —  Stops with names for easy recognition, both for the traveller looking for the system and for the passenger looking for where to get off;

    —  Information provided at stops and is easy to obtain;

    —  A well-used system with other people around, to give a feeling of security;

    —  A comprehensive network of routes serving the whole area

  Light rail also has some specific features:

    —  A comfortable ride on modern, continuously welded track;

    —  Smooth acceleration and braking;

    —  Free from noise and vibration;

    —  Quiet and vibration-free on the exterior;

    —  Being electrically driven, light rail is free from pollution at the point of use;

    —  Rails or fixed track provide an impression of permanence: the passenger knows where the system runs;

    —  A good accident record, being—like buses—several times safer than cars in urban areas;

    —  Research shows that rail based modes are perceived to have an attractive image, and are more likely to attract car users.

  In the longer term, a light rail system brings benefits to the conurbation as a whole. Developing transport infrastructure facilitates a relocation of land use activity. In Tyne and Wear there have been developments adjacent to the Metro line. In Manchester it is estimated that 5,000 permanent jobs were created following the introduction of Metrolink, and the local GDP grew by £170 million per annum. Midland Metro and the Beckton extension of the Docklands Railway were expressly constructed to act as catalysts for re-development.


7.1  During Development

Obtaining Legal Powers

  Formerly, light rail systems in the UK required a Parliamentary Act to give the necessary legal powers. This procedure has now been replaced (except in Scotland) by the Transport and Works Act (TWA) 1992.

  The main advantages of TWA are that it simplifies the Parliamentary procedure. Inquiries are held locally, by a professional Inspector, rather than in Parliamentary committee. However, the promoter still faces lengthy and expensive procedures (typically three years from first application to decision). The promoter must use considerable resources in designing a scheme in detial, with no indication as to if or when approval will eventually be forthcoming.

  Busway transit systems which require non-highway land and cannot be built under highway powers are subject to the same procedure.

Obtaining Funding

  Obtaining funding is usually a greater hurdle than obtaining powers. Most light rail systems have been built using Government grants (known as Section 56 grants). The assessment process is detailed and is based on benefits to non-users, such as reduction in traffic congestion.

  The major factor that militates against light rail schemes is that a substantial amount of time and money has to be spent in order to submit a proposal to Government for funding, without any indication as to whether the scheme will eventually go ahead. As a result of the lengthy processes, the gestation period for an LRT scheme is long, typically at least eight to 10 years between conception and operation. During that time the criteria used for assessment and the preferred funding methods can change. The Government's decision on funding often depends on budgetary considerations as well as on the merits of the scheme in question. The process can be wasteful in time and resources.

  More recently, light rail schemes have exploited new sources of finance, in particular private finance initiatives. The light rail scheme for Nottingham and the extensions in Manchester are financed almost entirely in this way. However, the uncertainties associated with the lengthy process for obtaining powers are an obstacle to finding private sector partners. It is difficult for the private sector to commit funds for three or more years ahead, with no guarantee of return. It would be better if a decision in principle could be made to fund a scheme, within a defined timescale, before some of the most detailed design work had to be undertaken.

7.2  During construction

Disruption and Traffic Delays During Construction

  Some disruption to traffic during construction of a light rail system is inevitable, especially when building in-street. This causes a certain amount of adverse criticism in the media, although it tends to disperse once the benefits of the system become apparent. In Croydon, lessons were learned from the earlier systems, and better traffic management was introduced, together with requirements on the contractors for phasing the work. This led to a much lower level of complaints and criticism.

Diversion of Utilities

  A major element in the construction of a light rail line in the street is the diversion of utilities' equipment—gas, electricity, telephone cables, etc.—to locate them away from the rails. Until recently, the utilities contributed 18 per cent of the cost of relocation, in recognition of the fact that the equipment was renewed in the process. The Government has recently reduced this contribution to 7½ per cent for public transport projects (although it remains at 18 per cent for highway projects). This increases a major element of the cost of light rail construction, and effectively constitutes a "tramway tax".

Accessibility Requirements

  The Rail Vehicles Accessibility Regulations contain provisions for the construction of rail vehicles to aid disabled people. The Regulations were finalised only two months before they came into force in January 1999, so vehicles which had been designed and ordered before the final provisions were decided contained minor departures from the requirements. It was therefore necessary to obtain exemptions, a procedure which takes the form of an Order laid before Parliament, and is cumbersome and time-consuming.

  A second problem is that operators are likely to find themselves in a vulnerable position if a minor defect occurs. This is because the defect must be put right on the first return of the vehicle to depot—in practice, before the start of service the next day. Since light rail systems hold few complete spare vehicles, this may result in a vehicle being taken out of service to avoid the operator committing a criminal offence. This inevitably reduces the service for all passengers, including the disabled passengers whom the Regulations were intended to help.

The Consortium Approach

  Recent light rail systems have been constructed by a consortium of civil engineer, operator, vehicle manufacturer and financier. One lesson from this approach is that the experience of an operator is essential in designing many features of the system, so the operator must be involved as early as possible in the design process. If this is not done, the contractor, working to a timescale and budget, might be tempted to economise on certain features which can cause on-going problems for the operator. An example is not installing CCTV cameras at stops, which can lead later to problems of vandalism and security.

  When inviting tenders for extensions, the presence of an incumbent operator may make it difficult to obtain truly competitive bids. On the one hand, the incumbent operator has a head start in putting in a bid. On the other, if another consortium wins the bid, it will be necessary to cancel the existing contract, invoking termination penalties. This happend in Manchester when tendering for the Eccles extension. Similar considerations apply when one consortium has been involved in preliminary design, then another wins the main bid.

  Loss of expertise is another consideration, and leads to inefficient use of resources when a virtually new team is put together for every contract. The team will have to re-learn all the snags and solutions which occur during construction, putting pressure on a fixed budget.


  A light rail line can improve the appearance of city, especially in the city centre, but only if attention is paid to the aesthetic aspects of construction. Items such as street furniture, the paving of grassing of the tracks, and supports for overhead wires can be designed to give a better appearance and minimise the impact of the line. Unfortunately, these factors also tend to cost a little extra, and are an easy target for a contractor or the government needing to achieve a fixed budget.

  It should not be forgotten that, while many factors can improve the appearance of a light rail line, these are marginal to the construction of the public transport system itself. With other modes of transport, they would be regarded as general city improvements unrelated to public transport. This puts light rail at an unfair disadvantage in comparison with other modes.

7.3  After opening


  Vandalism problems are not confined to light rail systems, and are simply a reflection of problems in society. It is now routine for light rail stops to be equipped with CCTV cameras linked to the central control room, who have access to police, and this helps keep the problem to manageable levels. The introduction of conductors in South Yorkshire has also helped to contain the problem.

  Some systems have also experienced vandalism during construction. Again, this is largely a problem shared with other sectors of industry, perhaps exacerbated by the extended layout of a railway construction site.

Competition from Buses

  One of the reasons for the initial low patronage in Sheffield was the fact that some of the light rail corridors were also served by fast bus services which took a more direct route. This was not so much of a problem in Manchester because, being based on a former railway, Metrolink offered a faster journey, though recently some express bus services have been introduced. In the West Midlands, Metro is part of the same company as the predominant bus operator, and there has been a substantial co-ordination of services.

  Potential competition from bus services is a fact of life in a deregulated environment, when bus operators are free to respond to a perceived demand. The solution is to recognise the respective merits of light rail and bus, and design light rapid transit systems accordingly—in other words, horses for courses.

The Problems of Success

  Ridership on a light rail line may grow to the point where vehicles are overcrowded, as occurs at peak times in Manchester. One advantage of light rail is that it may be possible to couple vehicles together to provide extra capacity, but only if platform lengths allow it. Alternatively, a higher frequency can be provided, but only if there are sufficient vehicles available, and if the track layout does not have bottlenecks such as stretches of single line. The requirements for expansion must be allowed for when designing the system. There must also be provision for occasional increased capacity at certain locations to serve football matches, music concerts and the like. Unfortunately, financial considerations will often dictate that only minimum provision is made, another example of how economies in construction can cause operational problems later.


  From the foregoing discussion we can draw out a number of conclusions relating to light rapid transit, and recommendations which would aid the growth of light rapid transit as part of the package of measures to improve transport in cities. The conclusions are framed with reference to light rail, but would mostly apply to any form of light rapid transit.

Light rail (and other forms of light rapid transit) should be viewed realistically as an available transport mode

  It should be neither dismissed out of hand nor regarded as the solution to all problems.The right mix of modes for a given town or city will depend on the particular set of circumstances. Light rail is most likely to be appropriate in busier corridors in the larger cities, but local circumstances might favour light rail in other locations. In the right circumstances, light rail can make an important contribution to the right mixture of public transport for an urban area.

Light rail produces quality public transport which attracts passengers, especially from cars:

    —  it attracts more travellers to public transport and increases total public transport use;

    —  in particular it attracts travellers who would otherwise use a car;

    —  it is better for the environment because it is non-polluting at the point of use;

    —  it aids economic regeneration and urban renewal.

Quality Costs Money

  Admittedly, light rail is expensive—though not as expensive as heavy rail or new road construction. It should be viewed as a cheaper alternative to rail rather than an expensive alternative to bus. Furthermore, not all of the costs are directly attributable to light rail; some of the cost arises from improvements to the city environment (pedestrianisation or betterment of utilities' apparatus, for example). Light rail needs to be judged fairly alongside other transport modes, to ensure that the system which gives the greatest benefits in return for cost is chosen.

Busway systems can give some of the same benefits, but in smaller amounts

New funding sources, such as Private Finance Initiatives and road-user charging, are becoming available for public transport schemes

  They will only be acceptable, however, if they produce significant visible improvement in public transport. Light rail provides such improvements, and given the availability of new funding sources will not be so dependent on government grants.

Light rail is an important part of an integrated transport package, including through tickets, park-and-ride, city centre improvements etc

The procedures for obtaining powers through the Transport and Works Act need to be simplified.

  Faster decisions and powers that last for a sufficient period would make it easier to obtain funding, and reduce the overall cost of the system. An early indication of approval in principle would reduce wasteful detailed planning on schemes which do not go ahead.

The operator of the system needs to be involved from the start of the design process

  Otherwise, there is a temptation to economise on design features which can result in problems and cost to the operator later—economising on CCTV resulting in vandalism problems, for example.

There is a need for standardisation

  Using a new design team, and designing different equipment for each new system, results in extra cost.

The accessibility regulations for rail vehicles should be revised

  This is required to avoid placing unreasonable restrictions on light rail operators, while in no way compromising the provision of facilities for the disabled.

The utilities' contribution to the diversion and betterment of their equipment should be restored to its former level

  The extra cost which the reduction of this contribution places on light rail systems is a major element of their cost, and could make the difference between viability and non-viability.


  In this paper, the Confederation of Passenger Transport has tried to present a realistic assessment of light rail (and other forms of light rapid transit) as a public transport mode. We believe that, in the right location, light rapid transit can make an important contribution to the provision of public transport for an urban area.

  If requested to do so, CPT would be happy to be called as witnesses to give oral evidence to the Transport Sub Committee and to answer any questions and clarify or expand on any of the points raised.

October 1999

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