LIGHT RAIL schemes are back on New Labour's transport agenda.
Following the announcement of a £35M Treasury grant for the Tyne & Wear Metro extension, public money will now be given to light rail schemes in Leeds, Portsmouth, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow and Medway, if they demonstrate value for money.
This attitude has developed since the Government's Transport White Paper showed preference for guided busways because of the high expense of light rail. The paper stated that 'funding for new major light rail schemes will therefore not be a priority'.
A Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions spokesman said: 'Evidence of existing light rail schemes over the last year has been very encouraging.
'The Manchester Metro continues to do well, while the Sheffield Supertram has perked up considerably.'
Passenger numbers on the Sheffield light rail system have risen from 6M to 10M since it was taken over by Stagecoach 18 months ago.
The £100M Tyne & Wear Metro extension to Sunderland will be funded with £35M from the Treasury, £40M from Railtrack, £16M from the European Union and £8M from the Tyne & Wear Passenger Transport Executive Nexus.
Railtrack will manage the construction of the project from this spring. The 14.5km extension is set to start running services by early 2002.