NATIONAL AUDIT OFFICE LIGHT RAIL REVIEW IDENTIFIES THE NEED TO REMOVE BARRIERS TO LIGHT RAIL INNOVATION

A new report issued by the National Audit Office on 22nd April 2004 identifies that "there are barriers to the development and adoption of new and cheaper technologies" that are seen as discouraging the wider take-up of light rail.

In section 3.20, the report describes how "traditional light rail systems are powered by electricity extending over the full length of the system. New forms of light rail vehicles might be non-electric light rail or hybrids using various energy storage devices to supplement electricity. Fuels instead of electricity include hydrogen and liquid petroleum gas".

Without naming the PPM system as such, the report is clearly drawing on information which the NAO gathered about PPM innovations.

It observes that such technologies "might offer scope for reducing cost" but that there are "no funds available from the Department for Transport to develop innovative technologies that could be used in light rail schemes. Promoters of new light rail technologies are ineligible to apply for grants to develop energy-saving transport technologies under the Department of Trade and Industry's Foresight Vehicle Programme or the Energy Saving Trust's New Vehicle Technology Fund, because such grants are for road-going vehicles only".

Meanwhile, the NAO also notes that "local authorities are not necessarily best placed to promote, develop or adapt innovative technology. They are generally perceived by innovators to be risk-averse and cannot afford to spend money on new and untried technologies".

By contrast, the NAO states that "the Strategic Rail Authority told us that it was receptive to the further development of light rail to help improve the cost-effectiveness of some local urban rail services. Potentially, through some re-aligned track for light rail, it could free up network capacity for longer distance passenger and freight services. In addition, the development of light rail systems might reduce the need for some major infrastructure upgrades on the heavy rail network".

PPM has learned from its own direct contacts with the SRA that under its Community Railway programme between ten and twelve local rural lines appear to be suitable for operation by PPM vehicles because of the facility to operate separately from the mainline network used by heavy rail rolling stock.

Generally, the NAO report concludes that "light rail does appear to be hindered in its further development" and among the issues which now "need to be addressed for light rail to make a bigger contribution to the government's aim of improving public transport" are the above-mentioned "barriers to the development and adoption of new and cheaper technologies".

The other "Parry" innovation which can draw comfort from the report concerns the sometimes unnecessary relocation of utilities. By encouraging the innovative move of installing non-electrified light tramways on top of, or inset just into, the 150mm blacktop surface of the road, PPM can help to deliver the NAO's objective of reducing the cost of system construction.

ADDITIONAL NOTES

In contrast to the impression given by media comment following publication, the report is very positive towards further development of light rail. "Light rail delivers fast, frequent and reliable services and provides a comfortable and safe journey. Local authorities monitor the performance of light rail operators and told us that, on the whole, they were satisfied with performance levels." On attracting car drivers to use public transport, it states that "systems have encouraged a shift away from car use" and reports that "the Department's [for Transport] and local authorities' evaluation studies found that 18 to 20 per cent of light rail passengers previously used a car for the same journey in Manchester, Sheffield and Croydon. They also found that the drop in the number of cars on the road in Croydon helped to reduce the number of road accidents, which fell by 11 per cent in the Croydon Tramlink's first year of operation".

The report notes that "in passenger satisfaction surveys, systems have generally scored highly for speed, reliability and frequency" and that "light rail systems have widened the range of public transport available and generally provided attractive services for passengers. Passenger groups and other stakeholders we consulted commented favourably on the achievements of the existing light rail systems". It adds that "most people think that they enhance the image of their host cities or towns".

 



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27 April, 2004