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Green Issues

Affordable and sustainable rail technology


A comprehensive report published in April 2004, by the UK National Audit Office, examined the publicly promoted and funded light rail schemes opened thus far. It concluded that the capital costs were twice as high as equivalent schemes built in the rest of the EU. Objectives were rarely achieved, especially passenger and hence revenue forecasts, leading to systems operating at a loss, needing subsidies, on top of capital grants. It can hardly be a surprise that the UK Government cancelled in 2006 £1bn of projects in Leeds, Liverpool and Portsmouth, where the grant offered still left funding gaps, not to mention the need for operating subsidies.


TRAM Power Ltd. products are cost effective and can reduce capital costs. When coupled with promotion of routes where significant volumes of car traffic can be attracted, commercial schemes become practical. Here the operating surplus can be used to fund part or even all of the capital investment. This would be a win-win situation, where public authorities can benefit from having new light rail schemes in their areas, without the cost or trouble of having to promote them. TRAM Power Ltd. is working with a number of local authorities which are interested in having privately promoted and funded light rail or tramway schemes.


Potentially privately funded projects could result in a new light rail scheme being opened every year in the UK, and allow existing systems to add new lines to create genuinely integrated networks. The first generation of tramways and railways in the 19th century were all privately promoted and funded, and provide the basis for our surviving networks. Private enterprise has similarly revolutionised telephones, also a 19th century invention. Of course Government's have conflicts of interest in that petrol taxes are a large revenue. Reducing car use will reduce petrol tax take. Encouraging more fuel efficient cars, will also reduce Government petrol tax income. When Health, Defence and Education all need more investment, the odd light rail line is going to come low in the Government's calculus, even in politically marginal areas, especially as a typical light rail line is equivalent to four major hospitals or 30 senior schools ?


The recent award of the Nobel Prize to Al Gore for his work in publicising the dangers of global warming reminds us that transport is a significant and growing producer of greenhouse gases, and also health threatening pollution. In the UK whilst about 4000 people a year are killed in transport crashes, about 24,000 die as a result of diseases caused by transport pollution. This excludes those who die prematurely by being unfit through constant driving. Whilst the moderate exercise required to use public transport will not significantly alter that, TRAM Power Ltd. is concerned to maximise the attraction of new rail systems, so that more people at least get some exercise.


Evidence in Europe and North America is that car drivers will switch some of their trips to rail transport, Whilst there used to be extensive rail networks, many of the surviving lines are in the wrong place to satisfy new travel patterns, which have emerged in the last 50 years. The motor car allows people to live further from their work, shops, schools etc. In the UK just 1% of trips are made by rail, and 70% of those are London based. If more car trips are to be attracted to rail, then new rail lines are needed. TRAM Power Ltd. is concentrating on the technology for making urban rail lines affordable, since nearly 90% of Europeans live in towns and cities. There is an equally strong case for new interurban lines, where trips can be attracted both from cars and airplanes. In both cases the key to attracting the maximum number of car trips is fast and frequent services, accessible via convenient Park and Ride Stations.


Uniquely railways can be easily electrified and with renewable power generation, are energy sustainable, needing no fossil fuels, and so further reducing the greenhouse gas emissions, from less private car use. Electric traction is also quieter than internal combustion engines and emits no pollution in city streets. This therefore helps to achieve two of the key URBAN ENVIRONMENT Objectives of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Traffic is the most frequently cited urban noise nuisance in Europe. TRAM Power Ltd. has track and vehicle products that separately reduce urban noise below 60dBA, and together reduce it below that figure.


Light Rail or tramway systems can be more easily and quickly threaded through the urban fabric, than mainline railways or Metros. Indeed Pierre Laconte, Director General of UITP observed that a light rail system costs about 10% of a metro but delivers 90% of the benefits. Being able to traverse tight corners, climb steep hills and have simple stations close together, make new systems accessible and competitive in journey time. With these important advantages, why has light rail not made more impact in the UK ? Over the last 20 years a new system has on average been opened every four years in Birmingham, Croydon, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield. At this progress it will take 150 years to achieve the same level of penetration as Germany.

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