Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; it’s the infrastructure stupid

Posted in Infrastructure, London, Metro by Chairman Pip on 26 February 2010

I never had much truck for Ken Livingstone when he was the Mayor of London, as in my view he was far too profilgate with spending money on fancy initiatives and seemingly not interested too much in long term investment (when I say long term, I’m talking for the coming decades, not the coming election). However, occasionally, he did come up with things that were useful, and one of those was extending the tram network. At present, Tramlink is the only tram system operating in Greater London, providing a rapid transit service for parts of South London that are not connected by other networks. One of Ken Livingstone’s ideas was for a new tram system called Cross River Tram, which would have brought about a new north-south RT artery connecting Camden Town to Peckham and Brixton. The intention for building this was to be twofold:

  • To relieve pressure on the overcrowded Underground, particularly the Northern line
  • To provide connections to the transport network for areas without good public transport links, particularly in South London, thus aiding urban regeneration

However, the project consistently stalled due to funding issues, mainly the lack of support from the government. As a consequence, owing to the need to save as much of TfL’s money as possible for those projects already underway, as well as absorbing the cost of taking over Metronet, Ken Livingstone’s successor as Mayor, Boris Johnson, cancelled the Cross River Tram scheme in 2008. This is unfortunate, as it would be a vital piece of infrastructure for the capital to relieve the horrendous overcrowding that can occur on the Tube. The current Mayor should not take the whole blame (although cancelling it outright was I think too much, and he should be criticised for that, rather than looking at ways to incorporate the construction into future budgets). No, the blame should be shared with the government who, according to the All Party Parliamentary Light Rail Group

lacks an overall light-rail strategy, does not treat light rail proposals in the same way as other modes and…has a tendency to “micro-manage from the centre”…to bring back trams to more city streets there needs to be a clearer lead from Government, less bias against trams in the appraisal processes, and for ways to be found of further cutting the costs of new schemes.

The success of new tram systems in the UK is palpable – they do work. Indeed, since the opening of the first new system, Manchester Metrolink in 1992, four further cities have opened systems, with Edinburgh currently building one. Manchester and Nottingham have concrete proposals to extend their networks, while the West Midlands and London have proposals to do so. Such proposals as Cross River Tram are vital to improving the economy and, in a major city like London, would be used. The government needs to see that, and needs to take into account the idea of spending your way out of recession, by engaging in this type of public works. Why can’t they see that?

Cross River Tram, London
“Tram schemes hitting the buffers”

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