Rail Industry Focus


The case for tram-train

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Aug/Sept 2012

RTM hears from Centro’s Geoff Inskip, chairman of UKTram.

Industry leaders in the light rail sector have been calling for a bigger Government push on tram-train technology – by setting aside £100m a year from the £3bn ‘McNulty savings’ the heavy rail industry has to make.

At a recent meeting at the House of Commons, organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Light Rail, Geoff Inskip, chairman of UKTram and chief executive of Centro and pteg, said this would ensure the DfT can achieve its aim of delivering a better value-formoney railway and a greener, more sustainable economy.

He said that while the DfT’s tram-train trial in South Yorkshire is welcome, tram-train is a proven concept, especially elsewhere in Europe, and it is desirable that viable projects elsewhere proceed as soon as possible to ensure the UK is not missing out on the full benefits.

It can be more economical than heavy rail by reducing track maintenance and signalling costs, while lighter vehicles can serve more frequent stops without unduly extending overall running time. Street running in city centres can provide greater connectivity for passengers while reducing congestion at central stations, he said.

The following is an extract from Inskip’s speech on this issue.

“Whilst the PTEs collectively welcome the DfT national tram-train trial as a test bed for heavy rail, there is a risk that the trial may not be able to demonstrate the full range of potential benefits of all the various options for tramtrain.

“I believe it is therefore essential for ITAs and PTEs to continue to develop complementary/ supplementary tram-train projects elsewhere around the country. This will enable successful outcomes of the national trial to be immediately captured in follow-on schemes without causing prolonged interruptions to the flow of suitable deliverable projects nationally (by allowing for necessarily lengthy scheme development stages).

“Therefore today I want to call on Government/ DfT to set aside £100m per annum from those savings they will be making from McNulty and ringfence that money for tramtrain… Taking into account the potential benefits and limitations, the following three scenarios summarise where tram-train could improve the current offer on UK transport systems. The ‘Efficiency’ scenario is where tram-train can offer reduced costs of service provision compared with current rail services. Lighter vehicles should enable reduced track maintenance and renewal costs, in the same way that multiple unit operation offers savings to Network Rail compared with locomotive operation. Superior performance characteristics might also offer the opportunity for a different approach to signalling by transferring the control to drivers, especially in relatively low frequency operations or where there is a single service on a route. Tram-train also offers the potential to operate driver-only, transferring the limited safety responsibilities to the driver.

“Some of these cost benefits may be more attainable if the infrastructure were able to be transferred from Network Rail to a structure where tramway standards can be applied rather than railway standards. Passenger benefits, and therefore revenue growth potential, may also be possible through fleet replacement where the business case can be made on the basis of lower operating costs – these are likely only to apply on journeys of around 30 minutes or less given the characteristics of tram vehicles – [and] through the potential for additional station/stop sites without additional running time, enabled by the superior performance of tram-trains compared with trains.

“Possible applications: branch lines independent of the national network [or] branch lines capable of becoming independent of the national network.

“But PTEs are keen to see more tram conversions and new tram-train implemented in their regions for two reasons: to provide the opportunity for improved connectivity and to optimise existing rail services where they are constrained. “Scenario two; opportunities for better connectivity. Tram-train can enable new routes to be provided more cheaply than through building a new tram route by using spare rail capacity on existing corridors – perhaps surprisingly there is a significant quantity of such spare capacity within a couple of miles of major cities which is unable to be used because the final access to the terminal is at capacity; by using former rail routes to reduce or avoid land acquisition, but leave open options for future rail use; by limiting the need for use of existing road space to that necessary to connect rail routes to trip generators and attractors; [and] by avoiding any claim by proposed services at key city centre rail nodes where capacity is scarce or required for longer distance services.

“This enables reductions to the capital costs for major projects, and makes possible positive business cases for investment, enabling communities to benefit from better access and connectivity which could not be afforded with either conventional rail or tram, or would not be included in rail development plans. Possible applications in Centro area: Wednesbury- Brierley Hill-Stourbridge / Walsall- Wolverhampton / Walsall-Wednesbury.

“Scenario 3 – optimising existing rail services. Many local rail networks include services where frequency is constrained by available capacity on a line where there is also a longer distance service. These services generally make frequent stops, and so use much more capacity than faster trains, as well as providing a lower financial return, and so improved frequencies are often prevented in order to allow for future long distance growth.

“By connecting such routes to on-street networks, the extent of capacity used by urban services can be reduced, releasing capacity for higher value use, and in the longer term, potentially avoiding the need to provide additional capacity track and signalling.

“Where tram networks exist adjacent to rail routes, the potential also exists to segregate outer and inner-suburban services by transferring the latter to the tram route where frequency and connectivity can potentially be enhanced. Catering for the inner suburban market separately in this way enables faster outer suburban journey times and reduces the size of rail fleet required for such trains, which can include vehicles required for 20 minutes or less in each peak. Possible applications in the Centro area: Rowley Regis-Snow Hill- Shirley service operated separately from Kidderminster-Birmingham-Stratford service; Walsall-Birmingham all stations service (onstreet from Duddeston area).”

Inskip concluded by saying that tram-train is a “fundamentally proven concept”, that it frees up capacity in cities, and is “ideally suited” to bridge the gap between urban rail services and light rail systems, while making the best use of both.

He said: “The application of light rail technology, linking and connecting with existing heavy rail systems, can create bigger networks at reduced capital cost freeing up capacity at mainline stations.”

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