POLITICIANS NOT technical problems are preventing light rail being run on existing urban and regional rail infrastructure, transport engineers said this month.
All the technological issues associated with running trams on train lines have been overcome, a joint meeting of the Institute of Highways & Transportation and the ICE Scottish Traffic & Transportation Group heard.
'Tram-train' systems are now proven in several cities across Europe. They can provide greater transport flexibility in urban areas by increasing use of existing heavy rail infrastructure. They allow expansion of the overall network, can respond to new demand at low cost, improve journey times, and reduce the need for intermediate passenger interchanges.
But viable tram-train schemes often fail to get off the ground because of lack of political support. Legislative difficulties and problems with safety and technical compatibility can also be a major obstacle.
The findings were set out in a recent European Union study called CrossRail which explored the benefits and barriers to implementation of tram-trains.
CrossRail looked at systems operating in German cities Karlsruhe and Saarbrucken, at Sunderland Metro which was completed this year, and at the planned tram-train in the Ile de France region around Paris.
Halcrow principal consultants David Bishop and David Simmons, who were both heavily involved in the study, said it showed safety and technical compatibility concerns are now unfounded - there had been worries over the performance of light rail vehicles in crashes, but these have been successfully dealt with in existing operations, including Sunderland. Here, safety issues arising from dual running were addressed by upgraded signalling and the use of train protection and warning systems.
In all cases, the main benefit to passengers was the availability of modern vehicles providing quick transit times from new stations in residential areas direct to the city centre, supported by good publicity and information.
Other benefits included lower infrastructure and vehicle costs, greater flexibility in service patterns compared to traditional rail operations, increased ridership, and local control over services, fares and infrastructure.
Of crucial importance was the application of transport policy measures to encourage people not to use cars for local journeys.
The study found that political barriers can be overcome, and are best tackled using a single authority to plan, procure and deliver the system. This also helps overcome legislative problems associated with providing access to heavy rail infrastructure and associated track access charging regimes.