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

Memorandum by Scott McIntosh Esq (RT 26)



  My name is Scott McIntosh. I am a graduate of the University of Cambridge. I have been a student of Light Rail and associated transport for over 25 years and I have been employed by private sector companies and public authorities involved in the provision of public transport since 1986.

  I have advised on light rail schemes both at home and overseas. I was involved in the building and commissioning of one system, was the project manager for the planning and authorisation of a second and am currently managing studies for two light rapid transit schemes. I am also the Director of a company seeking to develop new technologies for use in Light Rapid Transit schemes.

  I am a member of the International Passenger Transport Association (UITP) Light Rail Commission, I am a member of the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK "Fixed Track Systems" working group and I am a member of the Permanent Way Institution.

  The views expressed in this paper are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of any of my employers or of any of the professional groups of which I am a member.

The Inquiry

  The sub-committee wishes to investigate Light Rapid Transit (LRT) to see whether it is worthy of support and if so how this can be assisted within the UK. The Committee stated in response to HMG's White Paper "the Government should carefully appraise light rail projects, giving particular weight to their ability to attract large numbers of people from their cars."

  In a somewhat less enthusiastic response HMG concurred in the view that light rail can have a role to play, but stated "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 costs."

  Light rail is not the complete answer to every transport problem, but experience shows that the most economic and environmentally friendly balance can be achieved by a mix of "heavy" rail, underground, light rail, bus based rapid transit systems, improved bus services and on-demand services, such as taxis.

  It is claimed that "the capital costs of light rail are very high", but it is relevant to ask, "high in comparison to what?" If we are comparing light rail with other electric railway systems then light rail is not expensive;

length km
cost £m
Cost £m/km

Manchester Metrolink
surface Lt Rail
Croydon Tramlink
surface Lt Rail
Midland Metro
surface Lt Rail
Sheffield Supertram
surface Lt Rail
Toulouse Metro line B
Turin Metro extension
Meteor Paris
Singapore Metro NE line
London Jubilee Line Extension

  ie approx. 28km of UK tramway could be constructed for the cost of 1km of UK underground railway.

  Nor is it particularly expensive in comparison to the capital cost of building an urban road of comparable capacity;

  Costs of urban road approximately £1 million per lane ie

  2 lane Single carriageway £2 million/km—capacity 2,000 vehicles—2,500 passengers per hour/per direction.

  2 lane Dual carriageway £4 million/km—capacity 4,000 vehicles—5,000 passengers per hour/per direction.

  3 lane Motorway £8 million/km—capacity 5,000 vehicles—6,000 passengers per hour/direction.

  However the costs of urban roads with tunnels etc. are considerably higher—e.g. London Docklands Northern Relief Road—approximately £150 million/km.

  It should be noted that the costs of light rail in the previous table include the costs of rolling stock and vehicle storage, if these are excluded then the comparison becomes even more favourable for rail as against highway.

  HMG's response goes on to say that "more modest guided bus, and . . . bus priority measures can often deliver similar benefits . . ." It is my belief that there is very little current evidence to support this view. It is certainly the case that investment in existing bus services can lead to an increase of ridership—and this will have a beneficial effect upon the financial performance of the bus operator. However the evidence would seem to show that much of the increase of patronage is made up of existing bus users using the services more frequently, rather than car users switching to public transport;

  The three "showcase routes" sponsored by Centro in the West Midlands have shown significant growth in passengers. The first scheme, line 33, has shown 5 per cent growth in the corridor (but 29 per cent on line 33—ie there is significant abstraction from competing, lower-quality routes). The Bloxwich Road scheme has shown an 18 per cent growth and the Coventry scheme 5 per cent.

  However most of the extra trips are from existing bus users and walkers, with only 2 per cent of trips gained from automobiles on Line 33, 3 per cent on Bloxwich Road and 5 per cent in Coventry.

  Given that some of this "captive" bus market is using weekly or monthly contract tickets an increase in their usage may lead to an increase in the number of passengers with very little increase in revenue. Increased use of buses by elderly persons using concessionary fares may only lead to a marginal increase in the operator's revenue, but will increase the call on public funds allocated to concession fares schemes, this may be a social benefit—in that it helps to reduce social exclusion amongst the elderly—but it is not the direct economic and environmental benefit that can be achieved by modal shift from automobiles to public transport.

  HMG's response concludes by saying that these improvements to bus services may be achieved "at considerably less cost" . . .

  In fact there is some evidence that the actual capital cost savings of bus based LRT as against a tramway of the same quality was less than has been assumed. Recent work on a number of potential schemes has shown that when the lower capacity of a bus and its shorter life are taken into account the total Life Cycle Costs of a bus-based LRT scheme may be very little different from those of a tramway.

  There can be no doubt that a basic bus "quality corridor" scheme can be significantly cheaper than either RTRT or tramway but:

  Such a scheme will not be fully disabled accessible (DDA requires a platform/vehicle gap of >50 mm and a step height of >50 mm—the best "kneeling bus" can only achieve a step height of approximately 250 mm).

Service speeds—and hence vehicle and staff utilisation— will be lower.

  The same level of modal shift will not be achieved.

  There is a great deal of evidence that rail systems—including light rail—can lead to a transfer from the automobile to public transport. This has an immediate benefit in reducing car trips. It also has a longer term benefit in allowing scarce public open space to be reallocated from the automobile to public transport, pedestrianised areas and landscaping, thus changing the "downward spiral" of car use-congestion-and road building into a "vituous rainbow" of increased mobility and free open space.

  Research into the performance of Manchester Metrolink showed:

  10 per cent modal shift from the car, plus 30+ per cent of passengers using Metrolink had a car available for trip.

  It is suggested that there should be three objectives in improving public transport;

    —  halt the long term decline in public transport use;

    —  encourage modal shift from the automobile;

    —  influence patterns of development such that they are more sustainable and less dependent on the automobile.

  This last point was not addressed in HMG's response to your Committee, but there is an intimate relationship between the provision of transport services and land use planning. If new developments are to achieve the densities required to provide all the new homes and workplaces required without swamping the countryside and be sustainable and be attractive places in which to live, work and raise families, then they must rely less on automobiles and more on public transport. This can only be achieved in a free market if the public transport is attractive, reliable and seen to have a long term commitment to its continuation.

  Whilst buses are capable of demonstrating an ability to achieve the first of these objectives there is very little evidence to show that they can achieve the other two. Rail has demonstrated the ability to achieve all three—and of all rail systems tramways provide the best cost/benefit ratio, except at the very highest passenger densities.


  Light rapid transit (LRT) may be described as . . . a mode (or series of modes) intermediate between a full metro and a conventional bus . . .". Thus any modern tramway is unmistakablyLRT, but the definition may also include "Rapid Transit on Rubber Tyres" (RTRT), which is a system derived by building on the technologies of bus and road building and allying them to the technologies of mass transit.

  The result is a system which should embody AT THE LEAST the following:

    —  frequent, reliable services;

    —  a protected route free (as far as is practicable) from road congestion and disruption by street works;

    —  a well aligned, easily maintained guideway;

    —  full disabled accessibility (as required by the Disability Discrimination Act);

    —  level boarding from defined stop platforms;

    —  full waiting, ticket purchase, real-time information and safety equipment at every stop;

    —  guidance on at least parts of the route to ensure good ride quality, accurate alignment at stops (to comply with DDA requirements) and the ability to penetrate pedestrianised areas with safety;

    —  environmentally friendly traction power, preferably electricity.

  In addition to this the system must be safe for passengers, operators and persons living along the route. It must be visually attractive and have a low environmental impact, preferably with a high level of recyclability and use of renewable resources.

  There are many examples of tramways and light rail systems throughout the world. There are currently over 360 systems in operation with over 40 having been opened in the last 15 years.

  Light rail is ideally suited to primary urban corridors. It can combine the speed of a metro with the ability to penetrate the town centre on the surface, thus avoiding costly tunnels and the time penalty for passengers of travelling from the station to the surface at each end of their trip. Indeed in rejecting metro building Zurich claims that it can obtain "90 per cent of the benefits of a metro at 10 per cent of the cost".

  Light rail can penetrate pedestrianised areas in safety (demonstrated in Amsterdam, Strasbourg, Karlsruhe and many other places) with the advantages of a clearly defined vehicle path, low noise and no polllutant emissions in the street. Light rail can run on a mixture of existing railway routes (including sharing with existing trains), remodelled former rail routes, open spaces and city streets, short viaduct or subway sections can easily be incorporated in difficult areas. Given the right level of system management and traffic priorities light rail is fast, reliable and can have the passenger capacity of an eight-lane urban motorway.


  Unfortunately there are no operating examples of full RTRT in the World. The Merseyside Rapid Transit scheme (recently rejected by the Secretary of State) would have the first such system. However there are a number of systems that show some of the characteristics:

    —  the Millennium Transit scheme in London will have an almost entirely segregated route, with traffic priority. Half the route is on a new guideway with electronic guidance and all stops will approach full RTRT standards. The dedicated vehicles are low-floor and comply with HMRI accessibility requirements;

    —  the Essen guided busway. One former narrow-gauge tram route in need of modernisation was converted to a kerb-guided busway in 1980 using funds provided by the Federal Ministry for Technical Development. The vehicles are dual-mode (diesel/trolley) and some of the stops have platforms at bus floor height. Although the route has been technically successful it has not been a notable commercial success. With the withdrawal of Federal funding the decision has been made to concentrate investment on the modernisation of tram routes and the extensions of the light rail system;

    —  the Adelaide guided busway. This is the longest kerb-guided busway and the only one in service outside Germany. The kerb guidance means that the system cannot be incorporated within an existing carriageway and the segregated section ends at the outskirts of the city centre and the buses must run downtown in general traffic. It is claimed to be successful, but no extensions have been built and no further systems have been built to date.

  Other guided bus schemes—such as those in Ipswich and Leeds—are basically high-quality bus priority measures. The guideway sections form self-enforcing bus lanes to take the buses up to the front of traffic queues at traffic lights, whence they can be given priority and allowed to get ahead of the general traffic stream. Critics might argue that a bus lane provides the same priority if strictly enforced; a busway can be regarded as merely a self-enforcing bus lane.

  One of the other elements of an RTRT scheme should be electric traction. This is well established in the world. There are approximately as many trolley bus systems in the world as there are tramways, albeit there have been very few systems in recent years.

  Electric traction has a number of significant advantages:

    —  it is far quieter than any internal combustion engined system, both in acceleration and braking.

    —  Decelerating vehicles can return energy to the overhead system where it can be used by other vehicles on the line, thus saving overall fuel consumption and avoiding the noisy and fuel inefficient system of friction braking or hydraulic retarders.

    —  The vehicles produce no pollution at the point of use. This is of particular advantage in crowded city streets. It has been argued that the pollution is merely removed to the generating plant, but herre there are a far wider choice of fuel sources, including renewables, and it will always be better and more economic to clean up one Power Station smoke stack than the tailpipes of hundreds of individual vehicles. If the Power Station is a combined heat and light plant then the overall energy efficiency of electric traction becomes even higher.

  A good example of a city which is achieving a system having many of the characteristics of RTRT would be Arnhem in the Netherlands. The city centre was largely destroyed in 1944-45 and with it went its tramway. Post-war reconstruction lead to the introduction of a trolley bus system and new buses. A radical plan adopted a few years ago and now coming to fruition has a three level public transport provision.

  The lowest demand areas are served by dial-a-ride and paratransit, secondary corridors are served with buses using "green diesel" and LPG power and with limited traffic priority. Primary routes are served by a modernised trolley bus system, with 18m articulated, low-floor buses running on a mixture of bus priority lanes and segregated bus roads. Traffic signal priority is given at intersections. The system performs well and is held in great regard by the citizens—indeed one of the slogans of the city is—Arnhem, trolley stadt.

  Public transport usage in Arnhem (population c. 140,000) is lower than that in the large, tram and metro equipped, cities of Amsterdam, Den Haag and Rotterdam, but is still significantly higher than other Netherlands cities of a similar size.


  It has been argued that a decision as to the type of rapid transit system suitable for a city can be related to the size of the city, the lower limit for them is hard to define. French experience has shown that tramways can be successfully operated in smaller and smaller cities:

  Nantes 510,000—Strasborg 450,000—Grenoble 378,000—Valenciennes 340,000—Orleans 250,000.

  It is far more likely that the prime indicators for success are:

    —  a relatively dense urban core (as is found in many Scottish cities and in older provincial towns and cities in England and Wales);

    —  a vibrant town centre, offering work and leisure activities;

    —  an integrated transport undertaking capable of planning and securing services (including feeder buses);

    —  a planning authority willing to seize upon the opportunities to reorganise development to benefit residents, pedestrians and public transport users.

  Professor Hass-Klau, in a report for the DETR, has shown that light rail can lead to an exemplary improvement in public transport, with environmental and economic benefits. But LRT on its own is not enough, there must be complementary measures to ensure an integrated (and well-marketed) system, traffic restraint and planning policies that lead to sustainable development.


  The UK political climate has not been conducive to the development of LRT in the last two decades. The UK tally is two light metros, three tram systems and a single line in Birmingham. In the same period France has developed two light metros, 14 tramways and a start on an RTRT scheme. The French lead can be accounted for by the importance attached to public transport by politicians, the availability of funds from the versement transport and the willingness of private firms to develop, build and operate schemes as part of their 20-30 year monopoly franchises.

  The stop-go nature of developments in the UK has meant that the industry is unable to develop a strong home base for manufacture, investment houses do not have a broad experience of the risks and returns of investing in such schemes and planners do not have an opportunity to build upon past experience.

  This again contrasts with France where a community of LRT professionals has grown up. Their camaraderie enhances a mutual exchange of technical data. It is relatively easy to arrange a seminar in which the benefits and problems of developing an improved transport system can be explained to local politicians, consumer lobbyists, environmentalists and public servants. This can help to reassure local citizens and can ensure that each new system builds upon the experience of previous efforts—thus speeding the process and ensuring a better product.

  The dis-integrated nature of developments in the UK and the fact that each scheme has been constructed by a different consortium, with very little transfer of experience, means that many of the same mistakes are repeated on each scheme and practical experience does not lead to improvements.

Legislative procedures

  LRT schemes have always been deemed to need Parliamentary approval in the UK. This is in marked contrast to major construction projects, or the introduction of new bus services, which have only needed local permission. The promotion of a private Bill is an expensive and time consuming procedure and Parliament has attempted to simplify requirements by successively introducing the Tramways Act 1870, the Light Railways Act 1896 and finally the Transport and Works Act 1992 (TAWA). It would have been expected that this progress of legislation would have eased the lot of promoters of schemes. Unfortunately this has not proved to be the case. Whilst there can be no objection to any proposals being freely scrutinised and all affected parties having a right to be represented, there can be no doubt that the tendency has been to regard any transport proposal as being destructive and against the public interest.

  The lack of any "locus standi" limitation on the rights of individuals to attend and speak at public enquiries needlessly extends the length of public enquiries. This can only serve to prolong the period of uncertainty for people directly affected by the scheme.

  There have often been long delays between the deposit of a Draft Order under the TAWA and the opening of any Public Enquiry, this has largely been due to the difficulty of finding suitable Inspectors with the time available to sit through long enquiries. The Inspector has often taken an extraordinarily long time to produce his Report afer the conclusion of an Enquiry. Thus further prolonging the delay. It can only be concluded that the lack of a full-time corps of Inspectors means that consideration and preparation of Reports have to take place amongst a plethora of other demands upon their time. This cannot be of benefit to the promoters of the scheme, those affected, or the wider community.

  Once a Report is completed it has to await confirmation by the Secretary of State. There is no time limit upon the time that this can take. This can add further delay and contrasts with the procedures under the 1896 legislation, where promoters could begin works once the Light Railway Commissioners had pronounced in favour of a scheme. This long drawn out procedure can impose severe delays, costs and uncertainties on a scheme. Whilst the procedure may be justified for a comparatively large scheme, involving significant compulsory purchase of property and major physical works, this becomes a major problem for a comparatively simple scheme as, say, a guided trolley bus scheme.

  This whole procedure makes any scheme seem far too difficult to embark upon for many authorities. It will certainly mean that the lead-time for the provision of a public transport scheme will be longer than for the majority of building schemes along the route, thus reducing opportunities for integrated planning or co-funding. It can also mean that—say—a new housing scheme is built and occupied long before an appropriate transport provision is available. Occupiers will thus tend to use their automobiles for journeys and it will be more difficult to break this habit once established than to encourage them to use public transport from the outset.


  Existing arrangements for assessing the elegibility of a scheme for funding under the provisions of section 56 of the Transport Act 1968 can be long drawn out and time consuming. Indeed it is often difficult to know how long the process will take, or when it is completed. There is a suspicion that the process is more of a way of rationing and delaying the allocation of Government funds than a concise way of establishing the worth of a scheme.

  Private sector funding is difficult to obtain at reasonable rates of interest if the scheme is thought to have unquantifiable risks attached to it. These are particularly associated with the uncertainty inherent in an unregulated market, such as obtains outwith London. It is also associated with the costs and risks of delays inherent in dealings with the Statutory Undertakers. The uncertainty of obtaining authority to build a scheme inherent with the TAWA legislation can also make the obtaining of private sector funds more difficult and militate against any "roll-up" schemes involving property development and the funding of transport provision.

  There are many other ways of providing private sector funding. Most of our leading partners in the European Union have developed ways of providing state, local and private funding for schemes. Many countries use a dedicated tax revenue stream to support transport developments [versement transport in France, dedicated local purchase taxes in USA]. In the UK a guarantee that Congestion Charges and/or workplace parking charges will be hypothecated to transport funding—over a period far longer than the currently proposed 10 years would allow transport authorities to issue Bonds to part-fund LRT schemes. Alternatively it could provide a year-on-year revenue stream to the operator, enabling him to borrow at advantageous rates.


  The existing practice of requiring the tendering of a complete package DBFO contract for a scheme has not always resulted in the right balance between the members of the consortium and has helped to reduce the "carry over" of experience from one scheme to the next. Each UK scheme has been a new start with a different team and this has resulted in some of the same mistakes being needlessly repeated. A tendering method that allowed the operators, funders and equipment manufacturers greater input at an earlier stage could be of advantage.

  Relations between the transport authority and the Statutory Undertakers (SU) have not always been harmonious. The decision to reduce the SU contribution to the cost of relocating their equipment has not only increased the cost of the public purse of funding a scheme, it has also reduced the disincentive to leave equipment where it was found [the clear intention of the new Roads and Streetworks Act 1992]. The SUs are in an uniquely protected position, being able to determine the scope, timing and cost of relocation. This makes the risk on this element almost unquantifiable and has resulted in the risk remaining with the public sector in the case of most schemes.

  The requirements of HMRI have served to add to the cost, delay and difficulty in implementing a scheme. We all agree with the Railway Inspectorate's objective of making schemes as safe as is reasonably possible. However it is difficult to understand why a tram running on the street should be subjected to more onerous requirements than a bus, which is solely subject to Construction and Use Regulations.


  The construction of an LRT operation is a major undertaking that will lead to disruption and traffic delays. Replacing buildings also causes disruption, yet it must be done if cities are not to be reduced to museums. However the total time for in-highway works is often less than 24 months, if this is set against the life expectancy of the infrastructure—50 to 100 years—this is a small proportion of the system's life.

  Construction phasing needs to be carefully managed and co-ordinated with the relocation of SU equipment and the introduction of new traffic circulation patterns. This has not always been done with success, particularly in Sheffield, however Croydon has shown that with growing experience of the problems the project management will improve.

  The use of a consortium, which often lets a turnkey contract to a construction joint venture, has the problem that it often reduces the influence of the operator [and the transport authority] in the specification of the equipment. This can mean that the operator is saddled with problems as a result of the builder's decisions and can adversely affect the long-term value of the scheme.


  Building an LRT system is a long-term commitment and must be backed up with sensible land use planning. One of the problems in Sheffield has been that much of the property in the corridors served by Supertram was demolished as the system was opened. The failure to provide adequate Park and Ride sites further reduced potential traffic. These problems were compounded by the failure of the city authorities to provide traffic priority at junctions as had been expected. Other problems, such as high levels of fare evasion, poor fare structure and aggressive competition in an unregulated market, further depressed the performance of the system. Since reorganisation the performance of the system has been more successful, with current patronage being in line with forecasts.

  Elsewhere the problem has been largely one of success, with overcrowding becoming evident in Manchester and Birmingham.

  It is a regrettable fact that vandalism is prevalent in society and this effects public transport. The Tyne and Wear Metro had particular problems in the early 1980s. The Docklands Light Railway did not and this can be attributed in part to a higher presence of staff and in part to the provision of closed circuit television. This should be a standard provision on all new LRT schemes to deter vandalism and to increase security.

  There can be no doubt that virtually all new LRT schemes attract significant increases in ridership. What is more important is that most of them have demonstrated the ability to attract drivers away from the automobile. This effect is most pronounced where new rail schemes are introduced, especially where this is integrated with the overall improvement in the transport system [as in Zurich]. This can have a huge effect on the corridor served and enable the local authority to reduce the amount of space available to the automobile, with significant environmental and economic benefits.


  If cities wish to regenerate they must offer a distinctive image, modern public transport can play a part in creating that new image (eg, in Docklands and in Croydon where Tramlink is the current symbol of the town). It gives a new image to the area and allows a greater volume of people to move around without increasing road capacity or pollution. Some of these effects can also be seen in the best bus projects (eg Leeds), but there is always a danger of dilution of the image if parts of the route do not reach the new high standard. Both BR and LT have found that total route renewal had a greater marketing impact than a piecemeal approach. Thus the claimed flexibility of the bus can be to its detriment.

  LRT cannot produce urban regeneration on its own. It must be part of a comprehensive programme, but where such a programme has been followed the results can be spectacular (eg Montreal, Grenoble, Docklands).


  The proponents of guided buses claim that they can achieve many of the benefits at a lower cost. Experience would seem to show that only a proportion of the benefits will be achieved with a bus based system—modal shift and changes in land use may not be influenced significantly.

  At the same time the total Life Cycle Costs of a high-specification RTRT and tramway system may not be significantly different. This may provide the answer to the basic question: If guided buses are so good, why are there so few of them in the World? In the case of a number of French cities the answer has been that there is much stronger evidence of the success of tramways and the cost savings of RTRT are not sufficient to compensate for the increased risk.

  Efforts to reduce the costs of LRT schemes should be pursued with vigour—and the pioneering work of UK groups such as Trampower and Electric Railway Operating Systems in attempting to use technology transfer to reduce vehicle costs should be applauded (and supported by government). A rolling programme of new starts in the UK would help the industry to develop equipment and methods to reduce construction costs and progammes and growing experience of the risks and rewards of investing in tramways should enable financial institutions to loan money at reasonable rates.

  Experience shows that if one wishes to achieve modal shift, move people through cities economically and with least environmental impact then it can best be done with electric railways—and light rail is the cheapest form of electric railway.

October 1999

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