Tram-Train trials in Sheffied UK, should our politicians have a look?

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Tram-train, where light rail vehicles can operate on tram (streetcar) or regular railway tracks, is getting a lot of interest around the world. The reason? It’s cheap to install and operate.

Our politicians and transit bureaucrats should investigate tram-train operation, especially for the interurban before squandering billions of dollars on politically prestigious transit projects like the Evergreen line and SkyTrain extensions to UBC and Surrey. For the cost of 10 KM. of SkyTrain in Surrey we can build a deluxe Vancouver to Chilliwack tram-train service; the sad thing is, is anyone listening?

An innovative form of public transport called a ‘tram-train’ is to be trialled for the first time in the UK on a the ever-growing 37 mile stretch of the Penistone Line between Huddersfield-Barnsley-Sheffield.

Five new tram-trains, which can run on both railway tracks and tram lines, will replace conventional trains currently used on the Penistone Line; tram-trains are lighter and greener than conventional trains; they use less fuel and weigh less, which reduces wear and tear on tracks therefore decreasing the need for disruptive maintenance works. Tram-trains have faster acceleration and deceleration rates so they can also offer passengers better journey times.

The trial will commence in 2010 and will last for two years. It will look at the operating costs, environmental benefits and technical suitability of the tram-trains as well as gauging how popular the vehicles are with passengers on the route. A second phase could also be possible, which would test the vehicles on the Sheffield Supertram system to see what additional benefits the vehicles can deliver when extended onto city centre tram lines.

The manufacturer of the five new tram-trains has yet to be decided, with Northern Rail (owned by Serco-Ned Railways) planning to run a competition to decided which manufacturer to use. All five vehicles will be leased. Network Rail have signalled that they will spend around £15k in track improvements and alteration to stations in readiness for the trial.

Transport Secretary, Ruth Kelly, is quoted as saying: “Tram-trains will bring quicker journeys and offer a greener travel option for passengers in Yorkshire. This trial, the first in Britain, could herald the start of a new era in public transport. Passenger feedback is a vital ingredient in determining the success of the trial and I look forward to hearing what the people of Yorkshire think about the comfort and reliability of tram-trains.”

The Penistone Line, one of the most successful Community Rail Partnerships, has been chosen for the trial because it offers the chance to test the tram-trains on a route that in part is for passenger trains only and in part for passenger and freight trains.

The project is a partnership between the DfT, Northern Rail and Network Rail and seeks to establish whether tram-trains similar to those operating successfully in Europe are suitable for Britain’s railway network.

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