Light Rail policy

Railfuture welcomes the document ‘Green Light for Light Rail’ published by the Department for Transport in September 2011. We have always considered there was a good case for light rail and that the wider benefits to urban transport it can provide had not been fully acknowledged: We support the introduction of light rail systems or tramways, particularly where they complement existing rail services, as an environmentally sound electrified transport system.
  1. Trams perform best on corridors where passenger traffic is heavy, and buses have difficulty coping with overall demand:
    • Trams can individually carry much larger numbers of passengers than buses
    • They can share street running with other traffic, or run on separate central or roadside reservations, inaccessible to other road vehicles
    • Unlike buses, they are pollution-free at point of use, smooth-running and more energy-efficient. Their silent passage and predictable course for pedestrians to observe safely make them more acceptable in narrow shopping streets
    • Their introduction in run-down urban areas invariably re-generates the area when combined with other facelifting measures, and attracts a modal switch from motorists who would not make the switch to buses instead.
    • Their operation lends itself more readily to gaining signalled priority over other traffic at intersections than buses.
  2. Railfuture prefers retention of existing railways, suitably electrified and controlled with modern management systems, over conversions to light rail. However, Railfuture supports light rail schemes that replace withdrawn, under-used, or infrequent conventional rail services where a major benefit can be demonstrated by upgrading lightly used lines and using street running to better penetrate town centres (such as in Croydon), pass by or terminate at a more important central railway station, or serve areas not reachable by conventional rail.
  3. Railfuture does not generally support replacement of busy commuter lines with trams purely for economic reasons or for very small re-routing gains, especially where major railway investment could be justified instead.
  4. There is scope for trams to share tracks with railway services in some areas where both have a role to serve different local traffic public transport needs, as on the Newcastle Metro. The technology to permit light rail vehicles to use the National Rail network should be developed to enable smaller towns to promote light rail schemes using existing rail routes and some street running sections to better penetrate town centres, thus enabling the rail network to broaden its catchment area following the German Karlsruhe model. Except on street running sections, new light rail routes should be built to a generous structure gauge to permit later upgrading for dual operation of conventional rail services for freight and Metro-style passenger trains.
  5. Railfuture supports bus priority and busway schemes on existing roads or new routes that provide better public transport services to complement existing rail and bus services, where rail or light rail schemes are not viable. Railfuture campaigns against the conversion of rail routes to busways, which causes a major loss of network benefits. Light rail is much more effective than busways in achieving modal switch by persuading motorists to leave their cars at home, creates less pollution and is three times more energy efficient.
UK Tram have published an Advice note for promoters considering a light rail scheme and An Investigation into the Economic Impacts of Cities of Investment in Light Rail schemes.

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