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

Supplementary memorandum by the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK (RT 19A)


  Following the oral evidence given to the Transport Subcommittee by Messrs Depledge and Lusher on behalf of CPT we would respond to the supplementary points as follows:


How significant a role is there for Ultra Light Rail systems as an attractive and cost effective alternative to the car?

  Ultra Light Rail is a largely untested mode at present. Experimental designs such as the Parry People Mover have demonstrated that the mode is cheap and technically feasible. It remains to be seen whether it can be an economic mode of transport. Like standard light rail, it requires a fixed infrastructure and must be approved through the Transport and Works Act process. However, it has a lower speed and carrying capacity compared with standard light rail, and its attractiveness to car users remains to be proven. As compared to the bus alternative, then, it would appear in general to have the disadvantages of light rail without the benefits.

  There may be specific circumstances where Ultra Light Rail could have a role to play. One possibility that comes to mind is to link a city centre with a poorly-located railway station. Bristol Temple Meads is one example of such a station, another is Stourbridge where there is currently a demonstration project of the Parry People Mover. This reinforces the point in our submission that the transport needs of each city must be assessed according to their specific circumstances. Ultra Light Rail could give the transport planner another tool in the armoury of available solutions, to be assessed alongside other possible solutions.


What technical and administrative barriers are there to track-sharing in the UK?

  Track sharing refers to the mixed running of heavy and light rail vehicles at the same time on the same track (generally, Railtrack track). It is recognised that light rail vehicles cannot meet all the construction and operating standards which apply to heavy rail; they would not be light rail vehicles if they did. Railtrack has therefore recently developed, with the assistance of HM Railway Inspectorate and ourselves, a set of standards[8],[9]for track sharing by light rail vehicles. The general principle is that vehicles of lighter construction can be acceptable if suitable risk control requirements are in operation and a risk assessment is made to demonstrate that no additional risk is incurred.

  The standards address such issues as wheel profiles, braking performance, visibility of vehicle, layout of headlights etc. One obvious concern is collision prevention; this was raised in the Committee's questions to the Light Rail Transit Association. The consequences of a collision between a heavy rail and light rail vehicle could be very serious, therefore the signalling system must provide a very high degree of protection. In practice, this means that control by signal observation alone will not be acceptable, and shared running will only be permitted if all vehicles using the shared line are fitted with suitable and compatible protection systems such as train-stop or train protection and warning system (TPWS).

  Light rail vehicles must also go through a Route Acceptance procedure to demonstrate that they are suitable for the route on which they are to be used (as must all rail vehicles on Railtrack infrastructure). The details would depend on the particular circumstances, but this might mean, for example, light rail vehicles not being permitted to track-share with high speed trains or fast freight trains.

  All the relevant factors would be considered as part of a Railway Safety Case which would need to be accepted by Railtrack. Many light rail operators already submit Safety Cases directly to the Health and Safety Executive for their current operations; they are a legal requirement for systems defined as railways (such as Tyne and Wear Metro), and some tramway operators do it voluntarily. (The Committee may wish to note that HSE has recently introduced a substantial charge for this approvals process, which is akin to charging for a VAT inspection or a roadside check).

  It should be noted that there are other, less demanding forms of track sharing than mixed running, the main ones being:

    —  exclusive running, where heavy and light rail use the same track but not at the same time, for example where the light rail line is available for freight trains at night. Here, there must be suitable interlocking signals and points to ensure that one type of vehicle cannot access the line when it is in use by the other.


    —  parallel running, where light and heavy rail share an alignment but with no connection between the tracks. Here, the required precautions are fairly obvious, such as ensuring that there is sufficient separation between the tracks and that signals cannot be confused.

      We believe that these arrangements overcome the administrative barriers to track sharing by setting out the technical and operational requirements that must be met, and requiring a demonstration that no additional risk will be incurred.

    How considerable is the potential for converting existing heavy rail lines to light rail or guided bus operation and for track-sharing by light and heavy rail systems?

    Can you give examples of the lines in the UK which would be most suitable for conversion or track-sharing?

      The advantages of converting an existing heavy rail line are that it can be cheaper and easier than renovating a heavy rail line or constructing a light rail line from new. The sort of line which might be suitable for conversion or track sharing would be one which offered the potential for a substantially better service if light rail could run at higher frequency and divert from the line to give better access to the city centre and possibly suburban or satellite centres as well. Manchester Metrolink was a system of this type, and might well have been suitable for track sharing if the standards had been available at the time.

      It is difficult to be specific about locations without a detailed study of the local transport patterns. There are probably lightly-used lines in most cities which could be considered for conversion, but it would depend on an assessment of the relative costs and benefits. It would be important to remember that if a line is lightly used it may be because it does not go where the passenger demand is. There may also be benefits in converting quite heavily-used rail lines if light rail offered a significant improvement in access and penetration to the city, or relieved demand at a congested point on the rail network.

      Much the same criteria would apply to conversion to busway operation, whether guided or not. A busway might well be cheaper to construct (though not necessarily when a rail trackbed exists already), and offers the advantage that buses can serve areas off the line as well. It should be noted that constructing a busway on land which is not within the limits of a highway may require Transport and Works Act approval in the same way as a light rail line.

    What criteria should be used when evaluating the potential for conversion or track-sharing?

      The criteria for evaluating the potential for conversion or track-sharing should be the same as for evaluating a new light rail line, or any other form of transport investment. The investment must be judged as part of a range of options for transport in the area, taking account of the number of passengers carried, the numbers attracted from cars, the reduction in noise and pollution, and the improved accessibility which light rail offers for disabled people. (On this latter point, in our written evidence we mentioned our concerns about the effects of the DDA on light rail operations, and we would be happy to expand on these if the Committee wished).

      The assessment would need to weigh the benefits of the scheme (including time savings and benefits to non-users such as reduction in congestion and development potential) against the costs incurred, and come to a conclusion about the best option for the particular area concerned.


    What implications, if any, has the failure of the Merseyside Rapid Transit scheme to gain approval under the Transport and Works Act had for the promoters of other LRT schemes?

      Without more detailed knowledge, it is difficult to answer this question. It would be a cause for concern if a properly-thought out scheme failed to obtain approval, but we do not know if the non-approval was on the merits of the scheme itself or a result of a failure of the Transport and Works Act process.

      We understand that the Inspectorate expressed doubts about the use of cable-guidance in a pedestrian area, and about the arrangements for park-and-ride facilities. Normally, these features would be fully considered and evaluated as part of the appraisal process before a scheme was presented to an inquiry. We also understand that the Inspector commented that the scheme would abstract passengers from bus services. We would consider this to be a matter for the commercial judgement of the operators concerned, and not part of the Inspector's remit.

      Provided that a rapid transit scheme is properly-thought out and evaluated, and considered on their merits at a public inquiry, we see no reason why the Merseyside decision should have implications for other schemes.

      I trust that the information above is helpful to the Committee in reaching their conclusions. We would be pleased to assist the Committee further in any way.

David Walmsley

Fixed Track and Integration Officer

24 January 2000

8   Railway Group Standard GM/RT2452 "Acceptance of Trams and Light Rail or Metro Vehicles for Shared Running on Railtrack Controlled Infrastructure" Back

9   Railway Group Guidance Note GE/GN8502 "Operation of Trams and Light Rail or Metro Vehicles over Railtrack Controlled Infrastructure". Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 8 June 2000