Light Rail Transit Association - UK Development Group 


JUNE 2001 



Many places in Britain with plans for some form of light rail, but without a known source of funding, have found it convenient to change to a road based alternative. "The main reason was simply that there was very little money for new public transport investments outside the PTEs" (2). This appeared to be the case in Chester where a light rail scheme, known as TRAC 21 jointly promoted by the City Council and the Cheshire County Council, was presented to the public in a consultation brochure (3). This light rail solution, estimated at GBP15m, was eventually dropped in favour of the current bus-based scheme.


Light rail was partly ruled out because of the physical constraints imposed by the tightly-knit city centre in Chester (4)(5)(6). The first phase of a substituted guided busway was estimated to cost GBP7.5m for 3.lkm, and expected to reach 14km as subsequent phases are added. For these later phases, it is probable that private-sector funding may be sought because future plans could include a combined road and guided-busway scheme which in turn would be calling for planning permission along the route. A private sector involvement would also add incentive for the successful consortia to operate parts of the network.


Cheshire County Council has applied for a T&WA for phase 1 of the Chester Deeside Transport System which is in effect a GBP10.5m, 2.8km.guided-busway linking the city centre with a proposed Park & Ride site at the end of the M53 (7). This could well become an example of the cheapest scheme not necessarily being the best and in its present form provoking objections from the CPRE (Council for the Protection of Rural England). This well respected organisation has enlisted some transport academics in its campaign to stop the Park + Ride scheme (part of the guided-busway) from going ahead (8). By comparison, many existing light rail lines in Europe either penetrate into suburbia, make good use of feeder bus services or provide a small parking area for passengers not living close to an existing route.


A decision based on the availability of funds rather than providing an effective transit solution is not a good basis for involving public funds. Because of changing circumstances, a downgraded transit scheme should at regular intervals be put back on the "table" to ensure an inferior scheme is not provided by default. A long delay between feasibility and tendering often coincides with successes and failures of new concepts elsewhere and a promoter may have to swallow a certain amount of pride to change mid-stream to a major modal alteration.

Another factor that cannot be ignored is the reaction of a sceptical public on the proposed scheme. It is not unknown for instance for a technically sound scheme to fail simply because it lacks public appeal. For the record, the guided-busway proposed for Chester will follow the Essen model. It will be limited to Park + Ride services and have just one intermediate stop at Newton Lane. The cost of the scheme is expected to be met from Central Government funds and could be operating by 2003 (9). This fact sheet will now look at some recent developments in the traffic and transport field and although Chester has so far been used as the role model, the principle has a much wider application.


As well as cutting journey times, the 1.5km HOV lane along the A647 (Stanningley Road) into Leeds is claimed to have reduced overall traffic volumes by 10%. Also 10% of the vehicles contained people who previously travelled by bus which somewhat surprisingly had not dented bus patronage. This HOV experiment was funded by the EU's ICARO project and appeared to contrast somewhat with information coming out of USA where the Governor of New Jersey had ordered the scrapping of all that State's HOV lanes (11). This was more or less confirmed by an International Studies report that as Transit Lanes are not effective in reducing traffic gridlock, a number of states had either eliminated them as transit lanes or modified their use (12).


"Edinburgh's CERT scheme collapses in chaos" was the heading to a news report during the early part of 2001 (13). This coincides with a columnist in a Yorkshire newspaper calling for the MISGUIDED (sic) busways along York Road into Leeds to be modified into tram tracks and become a "fasttrack" approach to Supertram (14). Leeds is now the only place in the world still building a kerb guided busway (15). To a certain extent, this does imply that the kerb guided busway concept has been labelled unsuitable, reinforced by Adelaide's decision not to go ahead with an O-bahn line to its southern suburbs (16).


Several attempts have been made to reintroduce the trolley bus into Britain with known proposals in Bradford, Doncaster and Liverpool. The high profile rejection in Liverpool received much press publicity and was apparently dropped because its technically advanced proposals lacked operational experience. Attention has recently been drawn to Nancy in France where a new system of guided trolley buses was brought into regular service. Two unfortunate but so far unexplained accidents have since forced the Prefecture to suspend its operating licence (17).


Most light rail and Supertram schemes in UK, France and USA have been an immediate success story and although not cheap to build have nevertheless proved themselves good value for the money spent. The only exception was the South Yorkshire Supertram in Sheffield which had a shaky start, no fault of the technology, more political. It is now operated by Stagecoach, an operator with vast public transport experience and an ability to turn-around Supertram's earlier misfortunes, so successful in fact, that extensions are now being considered,


It is no coincidence that the few light rail/Supertram systems in Britain are making vast inroads into the field of struggling bus only transit networks. If, as a nation, we do really want good quality and convenient transport services (which include both buses and trams integrated with each other) and pedestrian friendly town centre shops, we should accept the cost of providing light rail as an integral part of the CBD shopping community.


  1. BUS OR LIGHT RAIL : MAKING THE RIGHT CHOICE - Carmen Haus-Klau et al - page 11 - April 2000.
  3. CHESTER AT THE CROSSROADS - The TRAC 21 light rail system.
  4. LOCAL TRANSPORT TODAY - 18th July 1996.
  5. Trams fit into the historic town centre of Strasbourg without any problems - LIGHT RAIL AND COMPLEMENTARY MEASURES page 88. Carmen Haus-Klau and Graham Crampton - May 1998.
  6. There are many towns in Europe with trams in narrow streets, equally as narrow as in Chester.
  7. LOCAL TRANSPORT TODAY - 12th August 1999.
  8. The point was made that regular users of public transport may be attracted back into using a car.
  9. TRAMWAYS & URBAN TRANSIT - June 1999.
  10. Leeds HOV lane cuts journey times by over two minutes LOCAL TRANSPORT TODAY - 22nd October 1998.
  11. I-287 LIGHT RAIL NEWSLETTER No 130 - November 1998.
  12. US STUDIES SNARL AT TRANSIT LANES by Chris Jones - (Brisbane) COURIER MAIL - 16th May 2001.
  13. The City Council in Edinburgh may now take legal action for breach of contract - TRAMWAYS & URBAN TRANSIT - March 2001.
  14. John Thorpe in YORKSHIRE EVENING POST - 16th April 2001.
  15. Michael Taplin - TRAMWAYS & URBAN TRANSIT - page 176 May 2001.
  16. TRAMWAYS & URBAN TRANSIT - page 184 May 2001.
  17. TRAMWAYS & URBAN TRANSIT - pages 184 & 187 May 2001.
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