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

Annex A


  A.1  The select Committee terms of reference refer to light rapid transit systems (LRT). There is no universally agreed definition as to what constitutes a light rapid transit system, although a number of definitions have been proposed. However the use of the term "light" is intended to differentiate such systems from conventional higher capacity heavy rail systems (including both main line and underground/metro systems). Similarly the term "rapid" implies a service which provides significantly shorter journey times than alternatives such as conventional bus.


  A.2.  The term "light rapid transit systems" is most widely used to describe modes of transport otherwise described as light rail or tram systems. There are some 300 such systems worldwide, including seven in the UK.

  A.3  Modern light rail systems in the UK are:

    —  Tyne and Wear Metro (opened 1980 and extended 1991);

    —  Docklands Light Railway (opened 1987 and extended in 1991 and 1994, extension to Lewisham due to open 2000);

    —  Manchester Metrolink (opened 1992, extension to Eccles due to open 2000);

    —  Sheffield Supertram (opened 1994);

    —  Midland Metro (opened 1999);

    —  Croydon Tramlink (due to open late 1999).

  A.4  In addition there is the Blackpool Tramway, the sole survivor of the earlier generation of tram systems.

  A.5  These systems exhibit a range of technical characteristics. The Tyne and Wear and Docklands systems are both fully segregated from pedestrians and road vehicles. The other system, have long lengths which are similarly segregated, but run on street either in dedicated lanes or with other traffic elsewhere. The Docklands system is controlled automatically and there are no drivers (in normal operation). On vehicle staff are used on fare collection and customer care duties. The other systems are all driver operated—predominantly driven on "line-of-sight", but the segregated sections of Manchester Metrolink are controlled by conventional railway signalling.

  A.6  In addition to the systems listed above, a number of other towns and cities have considered the introduction of light rail systems. Schemes which have gained authorisation by means of Act of Parliament or a Transport and Works Order, but have not yet been implemented include Leeds and Nottingham and extensions to the systems in Tyne and Wear, West Midlands, Manchester and Docklands. Award of a concession for the construction and operation of the Nottingham system is expected very soon.

  A.7  Light rail systems are expensive. The cost (including route infrastructure, central facilities and rolling stock) is typically £5-10 million per route km for at grade systems. Systems with significant lengths of elevated or underground routes are significantly more expensive.

  A.8  In many European cities light rail systems have been funded publicly, with no great requirement to demonstrate value for money. In the UK context such schemes have to meet strict economic and financial criteria, and as a consequence many schemes which have been put forward are unlikely to viable under current criteria.


  A.9  Recognition of the current position has led a number of local authorities and passenger transport executives to consider lower cost alternatives to light rail systems. The aim is to provide most of the high quality aspects of light rail systems, and hence to attract similar levels of patronage, whilst reducing the cost. A range of potential technologies have evolved to fill the gap between conventional bus and full light rail. One approach has sought to reduce the cost of light rail by an innovative approach to vehicle and track design. However most seek to dispense with the fixed steel rails and use rubber tyred vehicles with some form of guidance for all or part of the route. Such systems are known collectively as Intermediate Modes.

Kerb Guided Bus

  A.10  Kerb guidance can be fitted to any conventional bus, and comprises small rubber guide wheels which run on vertical upstands on either side of the route and steer the standard vehicle steering system. Systems have been operating in Essen and Mannheim in Germany and in Adelaide in Australia for a number of years. In the UK a trial length of kerb guidance operated in Birmingham from 1984-87. A short length of kerb guidance has been introduced in Kesgrave, Ipswich between two separate residential estates, as part of a wider quality bus initiative. In Leeds kerb guidance has been introduced in Scott Hall Road on a radial corridor to the north of the city. Kerb guided bus systems are planned for Edinburgh, Leigh (in Greater Manchester), Chester and the York Road corridor in Leeds.

  A.11  As the guidance system relies on upstands either side of the route, kerb guidance can only be provided on segregated section of route. Elsewhere the bus has to be manually steered. Special entry sections are required at the beginning of guided lengths, and these may impose a speed restriction at these points on higher speed systems, although short gaps in straight lengths can be crossed at full speed. The Essen and Adelaide systems have long lengths of segregated operations. By contrast, the Leeds system utilises guidance only to pass the more congested parts of the road network, and the Ipswich system is essentially a self enforcing bus-only "gate" between two residential estates.

Electronic Guided Bus

  A.12  This system can also be fitted to any conventional bus. A pair of wires carrying an electronic signal is laid in the road surface. An antenna mounted under the front of the vehicle picks up the signal and an on-board computer controls the steering to follow the route of the wires. This system is in operation on specially built vehicles in the service tunnel of the Channel Tunnel. A demonstration system was successfully trialled in Newcastle. This technology was selected for the Merseyside Rapid Transit System. The first application in service will be the Millennium Transit linking Charlton Station to the Millennium Dome at Greenwich, due to open later this year.

  A.13  The system can operate on segregated and shared alignments. Vehicles can be manually steered when not on the guided section, and it is possible for vehicles to enter or leave guidance at any point. Two sets of wires carrying different frequency signals and following diverging routes can be used to provide the equivalent of railway "points".

Guided Light Transit

  A.14  Guided Light Transit (GLT) has a central rail laid flush with the road surface which is followed by a double flanged wheel which operates the vehicle steering system. A prototype has operated in Rochefort in Belgium for a number of years and the system has also been trialled in Paris. The system has been selected for Caen and Nancy in France.

  A.15  The system can operate on segregated and shared alignments, but entry to guided sections can only be made at special depressed "funnels", which must be located on segregated sections and traversed at low speed.

Automated People Mover Systems, Monorails, Maglev Systems

  A.16  There are a number of people mover systems, usually fully automated and which require special fully segregated track. These are used over relatively short distances at locations such as airports, shopping centres and theme parks. They are not appropriate for urban transport and are not considered further here.

Attributes of Intermediate Modes

  A.17  The overall attributes and characteristics of intermediate mode systems can vary widely. They can loosely be divided into two categories: bus up and tram down. Bus up schemes are essentially conventional bus with a number of enhanced features. These are likely to be relatively low cost options, but may suffer many of the disadvantages of conventional bus operation. Tram down schemes aim to preserve as many as possible of the successful attributes of light rail systems, but with reduced cost. In this context the Leeds and Ipswich kerb guided bus systems, and the Millennium Transit are bus up whereas the GLT and Merseyside Rapid Transit are tram down.

  A.18  Features which move a system image closer to that of the tram are:

    —  high quality vehicle with distinctive (non-bus) image;

    —  quality stops with low-delay step-free boarding, clean modern shelters, and good passenger information;

    —  stops located to serve key destinations and interchange points (including park and ride where appropriate);

    —  regular, reliable, high frequency service, with fast journey time;

    —  a high degree of segregation and/or effective priority over other traffic to minimise journey times;

    —  a high degree of segregation and/or effective priority over other traffic to minimise journey times;

    —  smooth ride, low noise, environmentally friendly traction (electric or "clean" fuel);

    —  significant lengths of guidance.

Getting the Right Attributes

  A.19  In principle any or all of these attributes can be applied to any of the systems described above. The overall combination of the right attributes is more likely to result in a successful outcome than the application of a particular system selected purely on the basis of its technology.

  A.20  Where rapid transit is to be implemented by upgrading existing bus systems the bus up approach is often appropriate. Bus priorities and short lengths of kerb guidance can be introduced at key locations, together with a modest upgrade of stops and vehicles, together with the introduction of system branding and marketing. This was the approach in Leeds, where it has shown a significant increase in patronage and mode transfer from cars.

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