Select Committee on Transport Tenth Report

1  Introduction

1. In May 2000 the Environment, Transport, and the Regional Affairs Committee, on which many of us served, reported on Light Rapid Transit Systems.[1] While the report concluded that "The Government should adopt a "horses for courses" approach to ensure that investment is directed to the modes of transport which is best suited to local conditions and passenger flows",[2] it was also clear that Light Rapid Transit (LRT) was likely to tempt motorists out of their cars. The Committee noted:

    If the Government is serious about enabling LRT to play its full role in tackling traffic congestion, it must go beyond statements of support and be prepared to contribute public funds to projects which are unable to cover all of their costs through fare revenues, but which reduce congestion, bring environmental improvements and can stimulate economic development. In that respect its recent announcements about the Sunderland Metro Extension, Manchester Metrolink, Nottingham Express Transit and Docklands Light Railway have been most welcome, and we look forward to similarly positive decisions in future.[3]

2. We identified "Integrated Transport" as a subject for inquiry last summer, but have only been able to turn to it recently. We decided to open this inquiry with an investigation into Light Rail and Modern Trams[4] because it is clear that the optimism of 2000 is no longer appropriate. Funding for the Manchester Metrolink, Leeds Supertram and the South Hampshire Rapid Transit has been withdrawn by the Department for Transport, which appears to have developed a preference for bus over rail-based schemes. A National Audit Office Report on Improving Public Transport in England through Light Rail found that light rail had improved the quality and choice of public transport, and departmental expenditure had been kept within budget, but it also considered:

  • Passenger numbers, and therefore passenger benefits, had been lower than expected;
  • Light rail systems were not fully integrated with other forms of public transport;
  • Light rail had had a limited impact on road congestion, pollution and road accidents;
  • It was not clear what impact light rail has had on regeneration and social exclusion.[5]

We felt we needed to find out whether the problems were intrinsic to light rail as a mode of transport, or had been caused by past mistakes on the part of government, promoters and operators. Essentially, does light rail have a future in the United Kingdom?

3. Accordingly we called for evidence on the following points:

  • The costs and benefits of light rail;
  • What light rail systems need to be successful;
  • How effectively is light rail used as part of an integrated transport system;
  • Barriers to the development of light rail;
  • The effect of different financing arrangements (public/private) on the overall cost of light rail systems;
  • The practicality of alternatives to light rail, such as increased investment in buses.

Since it was possible that there would be a May election, we gave respondents only four weeks to reply. Even so we received nearly 100 memoranda: light rail is clearly considered important.

4. Many of the memoranda related to personal experience of two schemes: the Manchester Metrolink and the Nottingham Express Transit (NET). We have read these submissions, and have drawn upon them in our report, but to save space and money we have not printed them unless they explicitly addressed the questions in our call for evidence. Some raised particular questions about the proposed route extensions to the NET. We are not qualified to comment on such local matters, but appreciate these insights into the views of those affected. We note that the representations from Nottingham, where the tram system is relatively new, tended to raise concerns about noise, safety and the routes of possible extensions, whereas those from Manchester, where the Metrolink has been open since 1992, were strongly in support of light rail.

5. The limited time available to us meant we had to limit our oral evidence; we heard from the National Audit Office; AEA Technology (Rail), a participant in the Light Rail Thematic Network, Tramtrack Croydon, Transport for London, Nottingham City and County Councils, Mr Tony McNulty MP, the Minister of State at the Department for Transport, Merseytravel, Manchester City Council, the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities and Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority and Executive, and JM Parry and Associates and Holdfast Carpet Track. We are grateful to all those who gave evidence, both written and oral.

1   Eighth Report of Session 1999-2000, HC 153 Back

2   HC (1999-2000) 153, para 56 Back

3   HC (1999-2000) 153, para 57 Back

4   "light rail" covers all light rail systems, including metro like systems with no on street running; trams typically have on street running, although they may use segregated track for part of their route. Back

5   Improving Public Transport in England through Light Rail, Report By The Comptroller And Auditor General, HC 518 Session 2003-2004: 23 April 2004 Back

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