Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Couldn’t organise a piss-up in a distillery

Posted in Great Britain, Infrastructure, Metro, Politics by Chairman Pip on 31 July 2010

As everyone will doubtless know, for much of the first half of the last century, virtually every major town, city or conurbation in the United Kingdom had a tram system. And, as everyone will also know, virtually every major town, city or conurbation in the United Kingdom, with a single exception, got rid of its trams over a 10-15 year period from the start of the 1950s to the mid 1960s. Because the motor bus was the future, trams were seen as outdated and obsolete, and so they were scrapped, and tramways were ripped up. As is so often the case though, the views of central planners in the mid 20th century were eventually discredited, as the idea of the city tramway was revisited in the mid 1980s as a way not only of improving transport, but also of ensuring the use of railway routes that had been discarded by British Rail. This brought the Light Rapid Transit concept to the UK with the commissioning of the first new tram system, the Manchester Metrolink, in 1991. Since then Sheffield (Supertram), Birmingham (Midland Metro), South London (Tramlink) and Nottingham (NET) have all reintroduced tram systems fairly successfully, using a mixture of on-street running in the city centre and use of old railway lines. While there will always be some degree of disruption when building a tram system, because it does after all mean digging up the road to install the tramline, as well as putting in the OverHead Line Equipment, the new systems have been built reasonably within the estimated time and budget. In addition to these of course are also two networks that are similarly classified as light rail, but do not have on-street running:

These two again were built using a mixture of old heavy rail lines and new build line, and again broadly to time and budget. DLR, Tyne & Wear Metro and Metrolink have all been periodically extended, with proposals to extend the other systems as well (of course, at the moment this is in the face of financial difficulty when it comes to public spending). But, notice one thing if you will. All seven systems, the five trams and two light rail, are all to be found where? That’s right. In England. Now, Scotland is in the process of building a new tram system in Edinburgh, to be called Edinburgh Trams. Given the experience of building seven major light rail networks in six different cities/conurbations in the UK, this should have been fairly easy to accomplish. Unfortunately, Edinburgh Trams has proved to have been something of a cauchemar for the people of the city, as there have been political wrangles between Edinburgh City Council and the Scottish Government, missed construction deadlines, contractual disputes between Edinburgh and the builders, and major cost overruns that have put the enitre project into question. Indeed, the rail-hating SNP had a manifesto commitment to cancel the project during the 2007 Scottish Parliamentary election, only backing down after suffering a defeat on the issue in the Scottish Parliament. Nevertheless, the project is at least two years behind schedule in terms of construction, with the delay such that CAF, who are building the trams for the network, were asked to deliver them for storage and testing to Tramlink in Croydon before they were moved up to Edinburgh. Thankfully this will not be happening, with the vehicles instead going to Siemens’ test facility at Wildenrath in Germany where they will be tested prior to delivery. I have heard that (thankfully), the work on Princes Street has largely been completed, as when I was up there last August it was an absolute mess, so at least this year I will be able to walk on both sides of the road should I wish to. But it’s still a case that there is huge amounts of work left to do – the project was due to be finished and open by 2011, but it is now thought that, although part of it will open by this date, this is the section being constructed on old railway alignments that don’t disrupt traffic/businesses/people. The rest of it is now looking at a 2014 opening, three years late and more than £100m over budget. Not the finest hour in Scottish construction I think you’ll agree. Perhaps next time someone in Scotland has an idea to do something like this, it’d be best to leave the planning and oversight of it to the English.

“Tram chiefs admit: we have no idea what final bill will be”
“Tram project ‘could be delayed'”

Not being an engineer I can't really comment, but I feel I should say "if Birmingham can build a tram system, how hard can it be?"

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  1. […] the laying of the new tramway being installed as part of the Edinburgh Trams’ route, that I’ve spoken about before. While this was a good thing certainly, it struck me that the line simply went from Waverley Bridge […]


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