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

Memorandum by Transport 2000 London & South East (RT 42)

  Transport 2000 continues to promote the development of sustainable transport modes; public transport, walking, cycling and planning policies that do not encourage car use. This includes investment in, and improvement and co-ordination of, rail and bus transport to promote its greater use in the interests of accident prevention, social justice, the protection of the environment and the conservation of land and energy.

  T2000's London groups welcomed the Government's Integrated Transport White Paper and the series of "daughter" documents. T2000 London seeks integration between public transport systems wherever possible. However there was some concern about the Government's muted enthusiasm for promoting light rail schemes. Those introduced so far have been generally successful in enhancing the image of public transport and they have induced modal switch.

  Light rail (and other forms of guided transit) could play an important role in developing sustainable transport networks in many centres. Light rail systems with tram style vehicles based on continental practice can bring the benefits of rapid transit to areas not served (and not capable of being reached) by conventional rail services.

  Significant benefits can accrue from the development of light rail networks, with improved "in-town" distribution through better penetration of city centres. Conversions of lightly used rail routes that serve a sizeable population or centres of business activity to light rail can be very beneficial, linking routes across a town centre, providing more frequent services and new journey opportunities.

  Systems developed in the UK demonstrate these benefits in different ways and with varying levels of success. One particular benefit is that they have been made fully accessible, benefiting not only wheelchair users but many other passengers who are burdened with luggage or infants in push-chairs. However investment in light rail or guided bus systems should not necessarily be seen as an alternative to upgrading existing networks which should be prioritised wherever possible.

  Where conversions do take place, or where a light rail network links parts of the existing rail network which otherwise would not be connected, it is essential to ensure that integration with the "main-line" rail network is retained including through fares and ticketing. Service and timetable information must be available in other areas, including through National Rail Enquiry Service (NRES) which at present even has difficulty giving details of London Underground services! Some degree of timetable integration should be achieved wherever possible when services are less frequent during early mornings or late evenings.


  Proposals to convert existing (or disused) rail routes into light railways or guided busways can be less appropriate, and less cost effective, than restoring a conventional rail service. In the South East and Eastern regions several guided bus schemes over disused or abandoned rail routes are under consideration but none have yet passed the planning stage.

  For over 10 years local residents have campaigned for the reopening of the railway from Luton to Dunstable, continuing beyond Dunstable to Leighton Buzzard and Milton Keynes later on. British Railways Network South-East management had planned an electric Thameslink service extension to Dunstable and the town even appeared on train destination blinds. After the consolidation and expansion of the network under Chris Green's stewardship, this plan was dropped. Luton Borough Council subsequently pursued a plan to convert the railway to Translink, a guided busway, but at a considerably higher cost than the rail scheme and subject to considerable criticism locally.

  A conflict is demonstrated here between the strategic benefits of restoring the rail link from Luton through Dunstable to Leighton Buzzard at the West Coast Main Line. This option could encourage inter-urban modal switch and provide freight capacity that would outweigh the purely localised benefits of the guided busway proposal. Local residents are sceptical of the consultant's recommendation to promote a busway but are confident that a local rail service would attract not only local journeys to rail, but also encourage more longer distance travellers to use rail instead of their cars. Light rail could be an option here with shared use of the track.

  Retaining rail is fundamental to maximising flexibility but the issue of shared use and operation has to be addressed to ensure infrastructure is used most effectively. This is discussed in several other case studies noted in this evidence.


  Where a local need is identified for an urban or suburban light rail network many other benefits also accrue to this mode that are not necessarily attributable to road or bus based networks.

  Light rail attracts passengers who would not consider buses as an alternative to the private car, even guided buses. Light rail vehicles (LRVs) or trams are perceived as faster and more reliable than buses and provide a positive image for public transport. However, this can be damaged by unfavourable local media, as in Sheffield.

  Rail based schemes have more permanency than bus networks even where part is guided. US practice suggests regeneration and development follows the introduction of urban light rail services since they improve access to labour markets, offering incresed capacity on congested urban corridors. This is relevant to both major conurbations and medium sized cities.


Tyne & Wear Metro

  The excellent Tyne & Wear Metro was developed 20 years ago from the former local rail network. It connected existing suburban rail lines North and South of the Tyne across the city with the central area in sub-surface or deep level tunnels serving six new or relocated underground stations, offering a very high quality service. The T&W Metro set new standards for light rail in the UK but it had many similarities to continental underground urban metro systems.

  The central section thus equates more to the London Underground style of operation but with continental-style vehicles. London's nearest equivalent light rail scheme with conventional height platforms is the Docklands Light Railway but while the DLR is fully automated, the T&W Metro cars are manually controlled by the driver.

  The T&W Metro was fully integrated with local rail and bus services with common ticketing and subsidised fares under the PTE's control, until deregulation in 1986. While some of this integration was lost, reducing the steady traffic growth of the early 1980s, ultimately leading to a real fall in passenger numbers, many of the combined ticketing and service arrangements fortunately remain but without the cohesion and marketing "power" of a common branding and identity.

  However this system never achieved its full potential as only limited investment in extensions and new stations has taken place, the most important so far being to Newcastle Airport. The Sunderland extension project has started and this will be an important boost to the network and demonstrate how light rail can operate safely and effectively with conventional trains between Pelaw and Sunderland. However other projected extensions west to Denton Burn, south to the Team Valley and Washington or south-west to the Metro Centre have not come to fruition. There is a strong case to promote a programme of Metro extensions, using surface alignments where possible or practical, along with improvements to other local rail services to provide a unified network.

Manchester Metrolink

  Manchester Metrolink is a high profile system that similarly linked two existing conventional rail routes across the city centre and was the first modern network with on-street running. This project came to fruition after an earlier government had declined to support an underground rail link across central Manchester. Views differ in professional circles as to whether Manchester might have benefited more from the conventional sub-surface urban metro system planned in the 1970s. Joint running over parts of the British Railways, now Railtrack, network was envisaged, similar to operations in Liverpool or Glasgow, but with higher frequencies.

  A lower cost solution was urgently required as the one surface rail link across the city was becoming congested. On-street light rail was used to achieve better in-town distribution, link the city centre rail stations as well as relieve the conventional rail link between Piccadilly and Deansgate. Metrolink has been successful in its own right offering very frequent services but there is only limited ticket integration with bus or surface rail and this problem needs to be addressed.

  The nearest south-east comparison with the Manchester system is Croydon Tramlink, linking existing rail routes on-street. However the Croydon network has been designed for low-floor trams and former station platforms have been removed or lowered to accommodate full accessibility. Both approaches have merits.

  Other Metrolink extensions are planned both on street and over former rail alignments. However it is at Oldham where the cost effectiveness of on-street running versus a former rail alignment, which does not penetrate the town centre, must be evaluated. This is particularly pertinent as a higher proportion of the costs of moving street services will fall on the promoters of these schemes. Will the additional cost of diverting from the old rail route under the edge of Oldham yield sufficient benefits to users, and increase use? Doubtless additional passengers would use the proposed town centre route. However if the cost of the deviation away from the existing route were so high as to delay a scheme from being started, should Government encourage a two-stage approach to get the system operational, initially using the existing infrastructure, diverting the route via the town centre at a later second stage? LRT or local metro schemes should thus consider alternative strategies to facilitate early completion even if the initial scheme may not be the planner's "ideal" solution.

Sheffield Supertram

  Sheffield Supertram is a very high quality system based almost entirely on street alignments and some of these were once part of Sheffield's municipal tram network. Only a small part of the current network follows a former rail alignment on the east side of the Don Valley. Concentrating investment in one system is demonstrated here where two railway stations on the west side of the Don Valley were closed after Supertram opened, effectively reducing public transport access to those areas which were not within convenient walking distance of new Supertram stops.

  Although South Yorkshire PTE has been supportive of local rail services relatively little new investment in infrastructure has occurred. The benefits accruing to conventional rail services, including the restoration of services over former rail alignments should be evaluated. Achieving a balance in investment strategies is important, if public transport is to be effectively promoted area-wide.

  The major concern about Supertram was the failure to integrate bus and tram networks with the result that the competing bus operator could offer alternative services at a lower cost. A full study needs to be undertaken of the Sheffield scheme to evaluate the financial ramifications of the Government funding any light rail (or guided bus) scheme, allowing it to operate in a market that permits open competition when a managed network may offer greater user benefits.

West Midlands Metro

  West Midland Metro opened this year after a series of technical setbacks. It is another network that uses an abandoned rail line for most of its route. It is remarkable that between Birmingham Snow Hill station and West Bromwich—The Hawthorns, a railway route that was once completely abandoned now has all four tracks restored, two for rail services to Stourbridge and two for Midland Metro to Wolverhampton.

  This is an example where the light rail scheme is perceived as a major influence for promoting regeneration. It is not however without its critics who argued that restoring a conventional rail network could have offered different journey opportunities and wider benefits within the West Midlands' congested rail network. This could then be combined later with a light rail network based on the German shared track system used at Karlsruhe. This is another case where regional benefits may be distinct from the local benefits. Such considerations are not always fully quantified in the consultant's study, particularly if the initial brief only specified evaluation of a local network.

  For this scheme to achieve its fullest potential, extensions are planned through the centres of both Birmingham and Wolverhampton. However a major extension towards a district shopping centre, Merry Hill at Round Oak, would take over another mothballed rail alignment. The Government and SRA should ensure this extension incorporates the design capability for dual use enabling a conventional rail link across the "Black Country" from Stourbridge to Walsall and Lichfield to be reinstated. This conflict between aspirations for the light rail scheme and a major regional inter-urban rail service, that could eventually serve destinations as far away as Worcester or Derby, is a fundamental issue.


Docklands Light Railway

  The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) was first opened in 1987 as a low cost scheme to provide a high profile network to improve local access in the rapidly redeveloping London Docklands area. This was a case of a line being too successful from the outset as the local economy grew, and what started out a very low cost system has now cost more than 10 times its original £77 million price-tag.

  Later extensions were built to a higher specification to meet the short term growth in traffic due to the delay in starting the Jubilee Line. While the DLR provides a very useful local distributor network it also demonstrates the consequences of unclear planning objectives, caused by the serious failure of earlier administrations to take a more strategic overview of links to and through Docklands. In hindsight it would have been better to have built the Jubilee Line earlier.

  The new DLR line to Lewisham will be a very beneficial cross river link, and the planned extension to London City Airport is an important development. However the most important extension for this network could be across a new bridge at Gallions Reach (mini ELRiC), if this were built. We are concerned that plans are now being considered to extend the DLR over some conventional rail routes between Stratford and north Woolwich, continuing through a new Thames rail tunnel crossing to Woolwich Arsenal. The conversion of this route to light rail could be detrimental to the flexibility of the London-wide surface rail network.

Croydon Tramlink

  This scheme is again similar to the Manchester Metrolink concept of linking lightly used or abandoned rail routes with some entirely on street new sections across the centre of Croydon. This is an acceptable approach to using existing rail alignments for light rail as Tramlink will offer a more frequent service than the conventional rail network. More importantly it improves access to the town centre and interchange with both bus and main line rail will be very convenient. However economies meant that the route at New Addington was cut short so many housing areas are not served by Tramlink.

  T2000 London has thus supported this project from the outset, even though it removed several rail lines from the national system. There is still some local opposition to the discontinuation of the conventional rail services but we consider the benefits of Tramlink outweigh any minor disadvantages, providing through ticketing and connections are maintained.

  We would like to see this network extended over street alignments but it should not take further routes from the regional rail network, such as the Thameslink line from Sutton to Wimbledon.


  London Transport Planning has evaluated a number of potential networks across the conurbation for "intermediate mode" guided light transit schemes. These could come to fruition as guided bus or light rail networks. Whatever technology is adopted, it is essential to ensure some level of compatibility between systems, so what may initially be "stand alone" local networks can eventually operate as part of one larger network.

  LBs of Barking, Havering, Redbridge and Newham are working with LT Planning to evaluate orbital road based guided bus or light rail networks. These would link into existing rail networks focusing on Barking and Romford railway stations and development zones in the Thames Gateway area. This network could link to the proposed Gallions Reach Thames crossing and connect with the projected Greenwich to Woolwich and Thamesmead extensions of the Millennium Waterfront Transit route. This is London's first electronically guided bus service linking Charlton and Greenwich Stations to North Greenwich Station, adjacent to the Millennium Dome.

  One scheme supported by T2000 London in our representations to the Terminal 5 Inquiry was a West London light rail network that could traverse the congested A4020 Uxbridge Road and provide a link to Heathrow through Hayes, and later northwards to Harrow. This corridor urgently needs additional public transport investment as existing underground and rail routes are congested. It is supported by the LB Ealing. The present bus route operates from Shepherds Bush to Uxbridge, but an extension eastwards along Bayswater Road could bring light rail to Oxford Street.


  Access for rail freight traffic may not be possible after conversion to light rail, when an existing rail line has been used freight traffic which may have to be abandoned. The Tyne and Wear Metro was a notable exception when it first opened with established freight traffic sharing tracks west of Benton or using parallel single-track working on the South Shields line. Other arrangements are possible, such as moving freight at night, but capacity may be limited.

  The scope for through running from conventional rail routes increases the flexibility of a light rail system and could permit some rail based local freight movement where a comprehensive network is developed. Where established rail alignments are used, existing rail freight traffic should not be transferred to road, and the track and structure gauge required for conventional rail operation should be maintained to allow for through working of conventional rail vehicles wherever possible.


  Light rail must have an important role in the renaissance of urban transport networks where modern European style street running tram services should be introduced on densely trafficked bus routes with frequent services as part of national and regional programmes.

  The committee should also evaluate the work undertaken by Professor Lewis Lesley in developing a modern light tram vehicle and lightweight trackwork, and recommend to the Government that support be obtained for use of this technology in pilot schemes at the earliest opportunity.

  The development of tram networks could, and should, boost the home industry in developing LRVs. Only the Tyne and Wear system is fully equipped with UK built vehicles, constructed at the former Metro Cammell works, now Alstom at Washwood Heath in Birmingham. Adtranz at Derby manufactured the "Eurotram" for Strasbourg and its use is proposed for Nottingham. Steady home growth should help establish a stable British market and could help bring down the cost of a standard LRV.

Richard H Pout,

Consultant Adviser to Transport 2000 London Region Groups

October 1999

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