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

Memorandum submitted by The Railway Forum (RT 20)



  The Railway Forum is the trade association for the whole rail industry, and has over 40 members. A principal objective of the Railway Forum is to promote policies which will encourage the development of opportunities for rail based transport, and to analyse and respond to Government policy affecting the competitive position of rail. Membership includes Docklands Light Railway and National Express Group (operators of Midlands Metro) and the Passenger Transport Executive Group, as well as consultants and suppliers of light rail equipment represented by the Railway Industry Association.


  Light rail can be described as an intermediate transport mode between bus and conventional ("heavy") rail. Light rail construction involves lower civil engineering costs as the systems can use lighter structures, simpler stations and an alignment which can accommodate steeper gradients and tighter curves, avoiding the need for heavy earthworks. It uses vehicles which are lighter than normal railway or Underground coaches, offering higher capacity than buses but less than heavy rail urban metro systems. Systems may provide better access to city centres, delivering passengers at street level instead of underground. In operational terms, they may share streets with pedestrians or with other road traffic, and have simplified signalling systems, or involve driving within the braking capability of the vehicle without fixed signals, like buses. Alternatively, like Docklands Light Railway, they may be totally segregated perhaps with automatic operation.

  These characteristics have been used in Great Britain to provide street level access in city centres, such as Sheffield and Wolverhampton or to link rail networks either side of the central area, such as in Manchester and Newcastle. They may be used to reach points inaccessible by conventional rail such as New Addington (Tramlink) and Hillsborough (Sheffield) or may be used as a way of renewing and upgrading a life-expired heavy rail system as was the case in Tyne and Wear and Manchester. They are ideally suited to serve corridors where demand exceeds the practical capacity of a bus route and where rail is either impractical or not cost effective.


  Six light rail systems operate in the UK (excluding those operated primarily as a working museum or for leisure purposes). A seventh will open later this year (Croydon Tramlink) and work has started on an eighth (Nottingham Express Transit). Nevertheless, few of the 40 proposals identified in the Committee's previous report Urban Public Transport: the Light Rail Option (May 1991) have been progressed.

  Excluding Blackpool, where tourists form a significant part of the traffic base, and Midlands Metro which has only been open since June 1999, table 1 shows the relative size of the existing systems expressed in terms of passenger journeys.

Table 1


Passenger Journeys in 1998-99 (m)

Docklands Light Rail
Manchester Metrolink
Sheffield Supertram
Tyne & Wear Metro

  The systems are continuing to grow, as is shown in table 2.

Table 2



Passenger journeys (m)
Route km

  Note: These statistics are those for Docklands Light Railway, Manchester Metrolink, Sheffield Supertram and Tyne & Wear Metro. For 1999-2000 they include Midlands Metro and Croydon Tramlink as well.

  Fuller details of the systems operating currently in the UK are given in the Appendix.


  The Government's view, set out in the July 1998 White Paper on Integrated Transport, expresses caution about new light rail schemes. The capital costs are considered high, particularly in comparison with bus priority measures and guided bus schemes. With this in mind, the White Paper states that "funding for new major light rail schemes will therefore not be a priority and schemes will be supported only if they represent good value for money and form an integral and necessary part of a strategy in a local transport plan—demonstrating clearly that the objectives of the plan cannot be met in alternative ways."

  The Railway Forum is concerned that the White Paper expressed a generalised antipathy towards light rail schemes. There is no reason why they should not be a priority for funding, any more than other forms of transport expenditure. Indeed, light rail schemes should be assessed fully and fairly, and on the same basis as alternative solutions, giving full weight to wider social and environmental benefits. Moreover, it is essential that the appraisal of light rail schemes should always be undertaken on a basis of full cost/benefit analysis using the same methodology as used for highway schemes. This means, among other things, that all time savings expected to result should be given full value in the appraisal. Currently this information is merely optional and Government does not have to take it into account it its own appraisal. This is an artificial approach which discriminates against light rail projects.

  As to financing, we welcome the Government's proposals for road user charges and workplace parking charges, which are in principle capable of yielding substantial revenues to local authorities for use on transport schemes. The acceptability of such charges will be much greater if they are accompanied by real and visible improvements to public transport, such as the provision or extension of light rail systems. Light rail systems are often provided in conjunction with pedestrianisation and other environmental works, especially in city centre areas, in an integrated package of improvements. Potentially, therefore, the new charges will both strengthen the need for light rail systems and enhance the funding available to build them to improve the quality of the urban environment. It is essential that local authorities take advantage of the new powers and we look to the Government's proposed mechanisms for regional transport to encourage them to do so.

  To allow the new powers to provide an efficient financing mechanism for long-term projects, it is also essential that the Government allows local authorities to guarantee the hypothecation of revenue for appropriate periods, such as the life of the rolling stock, rather than the 10-year period envisaged in the Government's proposals.


  In giving approval to these light rail schemes, the objective of both central and local government has been to support socio-economic as well as transport objectives. Their success cannot be judged in transport terms alone, but must be considered in the context of the other policy objectives they were designed to fulfil. In the context of the broader objectives of the integrated transport policy set out in the White Paper of July 1998, this would include:

Transport objectives—  relief of road traffic congestion
—  overall journey time savings
Environmental objectives—  reduction in emissions
—  elimination of pollution at the point of use
—  effect on land use and regeneration
—  improving the quality of the wider environment
Social exclusion objectives—  accessibility, particularly for people with disabilities
—  linking homes and employment opportunities
Health objectives—  improvement in air quality in the corridor served
—  reduction in road casualties
Trade and Industry—  the opportunities offered for UK suppliers and the stronger base this provides to encourage exports
Employment—  the effect of schemes on employment during construction and subsequently in operation of the system.

  The reviews of schemes so far undertaken appear to have been limited in scope, charting the growth in passenger demand, and making some assessment of diversion from other modes. We are not aware of any comprehensive monitoring of the effect of light rail schemes or comparisons with the objectives originally established. It is particularly important that we should study and benefit from the experience of other European cities which have built new or extended systems in conjunction with radical improvements to the urban environment. This holistic approach to transport and the environment has transformed the quality of life in many European cities. As yet however there is little information available on the scale of the benefit. An urgent assessment is needed so that local authorities can take the benefits into account when considering, for example, the use of their charging powers. The multi-disciplinary nature of such a study suggests that it would be best initiated by Government.

  Evidence from the first phase of Manchester Metrolink indicates that some three million passengers a year (21 per cent) have transferred from the roads to Metrolink. Between Altrincham and Central Manchester, early research indicated a 10 per cent reduction in car traffic in the corridor concerned.


  48 countries worldwide have tramway or light rail systems, and in addition, nine countries have plans to introduce light rail systems.

  Elsewhere in Western Europe, further new light rail systems are planned as shown in Table 3:

Table 3


New Systems Planned/
under Construction
Extensions to existing systems

Great Britain

  Whilst modern light rail systems in many European cities have developed from street tramways, those in Brussels and Cologne have developed further with some corridors converted to metro systems. Others routes have been put underground in the city centre as a "pre-metro", with light rail vehicles running through the tunnels pending conversion to full metro routes at a future date. In Brussels and Vienna light rail routes are used as feeder lines to metros and in Singapore, light rail loops are being built to serve new residential areas and link them to the mass transit system.

  Many European systems have been opened or extended within the last 10 years and have often been planned as part of a broader planning and traffic management initiative, coupled with traffic restraint measures or even exclusion of cars from parts of city centres. As a result, some have achieved higher than forecast growth. In particular, the Trans Val de Seine system in Paris quickly established impressive ridership figures. By the end of first year of operation in 1997, it was carrying 20 per cent more daily passengers than had been forecast for 2000.


  Whilst some of the UK systems share space with other road vehicles in the street running sections, all are physically segregated from other heavy rail traffic. Segregation has been required for safety reasons, because the end load strengths and vehicle design are different, so that in the event of collision, the risk of serious damage to the light rail vehicle and its passengers was high. However, modern signalling technology with automatic train control systems, means that separation of conventional trains and light rail vehicles can be established where they share tracks, and opens up the possibility for shared use and lower costs of conversion of suburban railways for dual-mode operation. The Sunderland extension of the Tyne and Wear Metro will involve shared tracks, and will be the first example of this new approach in the UK. There is considerable potential for shared access to parts of the existing suburban rail networks at much less cost than new construction, which could radically alter the economics of proposed schemes.


  It is sometimes claimed that bus priority routes or guided busways can offer similar benefits to light rail schemes at a fraction of the cost. However, an alternative view is that rail based projects offer a higher degree of reassurance and credibility which is needed to attract people out of their cars. Both conjectures remain untested, and comparisons are difficult as only 23km of guided busway exist throughout the world. It is accepted, however, that the results from quality partnerships such as Line 33 in Birmingham, and the Leeds busway project have produced significant increases in ridership. The research being undertaken under the auspices of DETR into public perceptions and their effect on mode switch should help to clarify this.


  Light rail equipment has been supplied from the UK for a number of systems, such as Strasbourg, Oporto and Milan as well as British systems. This includes:

    —  Light Rail vehicle body shells.

    —  Wheelsets and bogies.

    —  Power supply equipment.

    —  Rails.

  UK consultancy and civil engineering companies are also active in the light rail field and have been involved in a number of schemes overseas. However, development of UK capability has been restricted by the limited nature of prospective developments and the Government's view of the scope for new light rail projects. Adoption of the measures proposed in this paper leading to an expansion in the number of light rail networks in this country would also have the benefit of strengthening the domestic supply industry. In time, further expansion of light rail networks would provide increased opportunities for UK based suppliers and strengthen the opportunities for exports.


  1.  Three new light rail networks have opened in the last 10 years and a fourth will open before the end of 1999. Extensions to two others are under construction.

  2.  The first system (Tyne and Wear and Manchester) are now well established, with a successful track record, and considerable British expertise has been established in this area. This increases confidence in the further development of light rail projects.

  3.  Although information is available on the traffic carried on light rail systems, little appears to be known about their wider impact in socio-economic terms.

  4.  Further research into the wider impacts of light rail development is required to inform decisions on future projects, and because of the multi-disciplinary nature of such a study, it would be appropriate for Government to lead this.

  5.  It is particularly important that we should study and benefit from the expereience of continental cities.

  6.  New light rail schemes should be assessed fully and fairly, and on the same basis as alternative solutions, giving full weight to wider social and environmental benefits.

  7.  Light rail can form an important part of holistic environment and transport planning in the transformation of urban centres.

  8.  Further consideration needs to be given to the new powers of local authorities and how they are encouraged to use those powers. In particular, longer-term hypothecation of charging revenues is needed.

  9.  New signalling technology should allow greater flexibility and reduce the costs involved in sharing infrastructure between conventional and light rail services. It may justify re-evaluation of some schemes previously rejected.

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