Rail Industry Focus

01.07.15

Government reiterates support for uk light rail sector

Source: RTM Jun/Jul 15

RTM’s David Stevenson attended the 10th UK Light Rail Conference in Nottingham and reports on some of the biggest issues raised at the event.

The recent UK Light Rail Conference has been labelled a resounding success, as the government reiterated its support for the sector and the event achieved record-level numbers for both delegates and exhibitors.

 In a special video message to the conference, Andrew Jones MP, the transport minister responsible for light rail, said: “The government’s view on light rail is very, very simple. We support it”.

 During the 10th edition of the two-day show, organised by Mainspring, nearly 300 delegates, exhibitors and speakers attended from all over the world.

 Held at the Nottingham Conference Centre for the second year in succession, delegates heard about the many opportunities and challenges facing the industry.

 RTM headed down to the conference where we heard former transport minister Norman Baker, who gave the go-ahead for the Nottingham Express Transit Phase Two extension in December 2011, discuss how HS2 can provide a great platform for light rail to develop in the UK and help generate economic growth in cities close to the line (see page 75).

 Delegates also heard how work being done by Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG), an academic department of the University of Warwick, as part of the Revolution Very Light Rail (VLR) Consortium to develop ultra-light rail vehicles, which feature two lightweight self-propelled bogies, is progressing.

 Dr Nick Mallinson from WMG highlighted that the vehicles will use a modular lightweight segmented body structure and a full powertrain is to be assembled and tested in September this year.

 WMG, which only recently ventured into rail, is also working with Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council to develop a VLR Innovation Centre to be located at Castle Hill in Dudley.

 Network Rail’s head of the delayed £60m tram-train pilot between Sheffield and Rotherham gave an update on the project, and admitted that design problems have affected the pace of work and that the infrastructure picture “isn’t positive”.

Speaking during a panel session, Simon Coulthard said his team is “learning lessons the hard way” but that design and implementation works should be complete by about autumn next year (more on page 74).

 Tom Norris, the outgoing general manager of Edinburgh Trams, who is taking up a senior position with Abellio, discussed  how his organisation has been able to deliver passenger numbers 10% higher than forecast in the first 12 months of operation.

 “Reliability for the first year is approximately 99% and we have fantastic passenger satisfaction scores at 95%,” he said. “That has come down to the hard work of the staff, which has focused around authenticity, relevance, advocacy and positivity.”

 Norris added that the approach has always been about trying to find the positives, which he admits was difficult at the beginning as the project has faced severe delays and escalating costs.

 “One of the measures of success for me was to see how long it would take for Edinburgh City Council to start talking about the extensions to the route,” he said. “This has been about six months: far less than we expected.”

AS RTM went to press, the local authority was to look into options to extend the tram network to Newhaven, Ocean Terminal or the foot of Leith Walk, which could cost up to £145m.

 Paolo Carbone, head of public transport capital programmes at Transport Infrastructure Ireland, highlighted how the cost and the impact of light rail construction are two of the biggest challenges faced by mid-size towns in adopting these solutions.

 Mark Barry, an adviser to the Welsh government, also gave an update on the potential development of the Cardiff Metro. He said that all transport options, including light rail, are being considered. However, Barry noted that despite the political ambition for the project unless the various institutions surrounding the potential are aligned then “we won’t have a project”.

 And Marc Walters, senior customer services manager at Stagecoach Supertram, discussed the operational lessons learned during the ongoing track replacement and renewal work in Sheffield.

 Admitting that getting things right with customers is difficult, Walters said: “Good communications with customers is massively important. Use everything you have at your disposal be it social media, leaflets, posters and anything to promote the work you are doing.

 “Massively important to achieving a project of this scale has been making sure all divisions of the business work together. And it is really difficult. We thought we would be ok because we’ve carried out works before on weekends but nothing on this scale.”

 Following the event, Matt Johnston, managing director at event organiser Mainspring, said: “We were delighted to bring the Light Rail Conference back to Nottingham for 2015, especially as this is a special year for us in marking the event’s 10th anniversary. The support we’ve received from the city and its partners has been exceptional, and Nottingham’s expanded tramway is a fine example to other cities, both in the UK and Europe, of how Light Rail can transform a region.”

Comments

Nicholas Finney OBE   25/08/2015 at 17:39

As transport adviser to Andrew Turner MP on the Isle of Wight we are engaged in a vital debate about the future of the Island Line . Some want to carry on with the broken heavy rail system Andrew Turner wants to explore more imaginative options of light rail and tramway . This has to be considered now because the SWT franchise is now up for renewal . Ideas and contact details welcome .

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