Thursday 2 October 2014

Are Trams the Smart Way Forward?

48 years plus on this somewhat unstable planet and I have only just realised that "trams" spelt backwards is "smart"! Actually I think that's quite appropriate, as I am becoming quite a tram fan, and next year my mission is to go around the country sampling as many of the tram networks as I can. I thoroughly enjoyed Edinburgh's trams a few weeks ago, and on Tuesday I was back in Croydon taking pics of London's only tram network, in fact make that the whole of Southern England. The question is why is it Southern England's only tram network? On paper building a tram system is easier and cheaper than building a new railway. Because it can share roads with other traffic it isn't as exclusive as a guided busway, yet is versatile enough to use train tracks to provide the best of both.

The trams in original London red and white livery sharing the road wiith other traffic
Croydon Tramlink was opened in May 2000 and as I was working for Connex at the time, and my partner for Metrobus I had staff and partner passes galore and so was sampling the trams within a week of their launch. So impressed was I that I encouraged the former other half to take a look at them as the job of driving them looked so easy and had to be less hassle than bus driving in that area. So a few weeks later we took a trip on a tram on a Sunday lunchtime, and promptly were involved in what turned out to be Tramlink's first suicide. Not a pretty sight and suffice it to say the decision to switch from buses to trams was permanently shelved!

There were initially 3 routes - Route 1 Elmers End - Croydon, Route 2  Beckenham Jct - Croydon,  and Route 3  New Addington - Wimbledon. In June 2012 a new route Elmers End - Therapia Lane was introduced to ease pressure on Routes 1 and 3, although finding a map showing this is not easy to find, so here is a map making it easier to see the various connections with national Rail that Tramlink provides. If you travel North West from Croydon to Wimbledon you will find Therapia Lane so just fill in Route 4 yourself!

In 2008 TfL bought out Tramlink and so decided that as they are "green" way of travelling they should so reflect that and so out went the red and in came the green that are still in operation today. Incidentally the fleet numbers for Croydon Tramlink start at 2530, which isn't as random as you might think as it is a continuation from the highest numbered tram 2529 on London's former tram network that closed in 1952. The first 24 trams are low floor Fexity Swift CR4000's built by Bombardier not in Derby but Vienna.

Tramlink 2536 heads into Croydon Town Centre on Tuesday
Of course opening a new route in 2012 meant a need for new trams. 6 new Variobahn trams built by Stadler, similar to those in Bergen, Norway, were introduced in June 2012 with 4 more on order for 2015. I was lucky enough to see 3 of them on Tuesday.

Relatively new Variobahm 2556 at East Croydon Station
Like buses the trams aren't immune from all over ads and I spotted this one approaching East Croydon Station with an all over ad for McMillan Williams Solicitors

Tram 2534 in all over ad for McMillan Williams Solicitors
One little nugget of trivia is the on board announcements on Tramlink are voiced by well known transport enthusiast and BBC Newsreader Nicholas Owen.

Tramlink carried over 30 million passengers in 2013, and further expansion is planned, though this being Great britiain Lord only knows how long the various feasibility studies, planning applications, public enquiries, newt relocations etc will take. And that is the problem with tram expansion. Although cheap to run once built, even cheaper if a couple of wind turbines can be used to provide the electricity needed, the pre construction costs are enourmous. Something needs to be done - I mean wouldn't it be good if say the 8 from Caister to JPH became a tram route. If planners and Councillors can get their fingers out and really focus on transport needs then we may see more trams on our roads and disused rail tracks in the future. But for that to happen with regards to TRAMS a lot of people need to SMARTen up!

Trams in Yarmouth? Nah it would never work!!!


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  2. [Corrected] I know it's something a number of highway authorities have looked at, mostly in relation to substantial new developments. But you have made the point about inflexibility, that public transport needs to serve the places people want to go. It's less of an issue in metropolitan areas like Edinburgh or Croydon, and the construction costs are high enough there anyway. More locally there's a CIC looking at the issue in Bishops Stortford which is "suffering" major expansion, and where the road network might actually allow it. Likelihood it will get off the ground: miniscule. Apart from the bureaucracy, what would you cut to pay for it: education, elderly care, policing (more than they are already?) And many of the improvements in services are already charged to developer contributions. Or perhaps less affordable housing for young people? Sure, everyone says HS2, but that's about the national economy. (And yes it does matter, even to those of us that are retired: where do you think our pensions come from?) The simple fact is that a tram isn't going to solve Great Yarmouth's economic woes, or anyone else's for that matter. We could do a Cambs, and stop funding buses for everyone else in Suffolk/Norfolk (including the Dial and Ride services), but that had Government money too (as did Croydon) and was justified on cutting congestion on the A14. Are you suggesting a tram as an alternative to improving the A47? Seriously? That's the sort of argument for modern cost/benefit. And rightly so. Everyone is screaming out with good ideas.

  3. Oh come now Smurfy my boy! You don't seriously think money for trams comes out of the highway budget do you? Or the Police budget? Of course not. Just like improving the A47 won't affect the Social Care budget or indeed your pension! The probable way forward for any viable tram project i would imagine would be PPI, where the investors got a return on the revenue in return for funding the project. In the end however, we are going to run out of free space and will have to use existing infrastructure better. When that is the case then trams might make a bigger comeback.,

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    1. Why do you think i suggested the 8 Harry! I know Caister Rd depot used to be a tram depot too which is why i chose a Caister route! I'm with you in that they really should think about bringing them back in conjunction with the road improvements taking place..