A Summary of the Royal Fine Art Commission Circular


This is a summary by 'Trams for Bath' of the circular 'The Design of Light Rail Systems' issued by the Royal Fine Art Commission, June 1999.

Copies of the circular may be obtained by writing to:

 The Royal Fine Art Commission,
7, St.James's Square,
London SW1Y 4JU

R.F.A.C. website

1. Light Rail Systems are becoming increasingly popular as means of meeting transport policy objectives: reducing pollution, traffic noise & congestion. Seven systems now exist.

2. Light Rail Systems are welcomed by the RFAC. They wish to ensure good design. The purpose of this circular is to draw attention to ways of preventing the ugly impact of the Light Rail Systems' infrastructure.

3. This circular is aimed at promoters of Light Rail Systems & planning authorities. It offers advice on visual impact, not technical matters.


Procurement and funding
4. Light Rail Systems are public-private partnerships. Viability of Light Rail Systems depend on central government funding. Promoter is required to do cost-benefit analysis and invite tenders. Government says local authorities, in due course, will have to use revenues from various levies as funding.

5. Cost bidding must not lead to commercially driven schemes where design has low priority. This can be avoided by using the design flow chart (part of the circular).

5.1 - 5.5 deal with the details of how to put this flow chart into action.


Overhead conductor wires and their means of support
6. Overhead wires can be ugly. Promoters of Light Rail Systems should consider:
6.1 Alternative methods of power supply: conductor rails.
6.2 Suspend overhead wires from adjacent buildings. If not possible existing structures such as lampposts can be used. Number of masts in city centres should be limited.
6.3 Promoters should be prepared to meet costs of wall mounting. This could cause delays due to the need to negotiate with building owners, legal and surveying fees. Even after system is running, opportunities to replace masts with wall mountings should be pursued.
6.4 Design of masts important. Method of securing to ground also to be considered.
6.5 New masts could actually reduce existing clutter as they can perform a dual function and incorporate traffic signs and even lighting.
6.6 Location of masts important.
Track alignment and layout: hard and soft landscaping and urban design.

7. Integration of track into urban environment important. The following points should be noted:
7.1 Track should not be fixed in isolation, but should be designed as an integral part of the streetscape.
7.2 A new Light Rail Systems could be a catalyst to address deficiencies in the existing streetscape: improving pedestrian environment, street furniture, paving, adding landscaping etc.
7.3 Funding should take into account cost of associated works, as above.
7.4 Landscaping and paving should not just be a means of screening track. Should be low-maintenance. Paving can be used to reflect functions of different areas, and should be unfussy.
7.5 Local materials can be used to replace tarmac; grass can be used in open space to integrate with surroundings.
7.6 A landscape architect should be engaged.
7.7 Track alignment should take into consideration environmental and ecological factors: minimise disruption of existing natural and built environment, preservation of buildings, countryside, trees.
7.8 In open spaces track should run along natural boundaries such as hedges; where none exist screen plantings should be considered.
Stations and Platforms

8. Stations should not dominate or be intrusive; must be attractive and safe.
8.1 Although standardised station design incorporating advertising is cheaper, it is more important to have imaginative and varied station design. The same design may not fit into all the different areas the system passes through.
8.2 Tender should include site-specific designs and be of high quality.
8.3 Station canopies can incorporate telephone housings, ticket machines, lighting, bicycle stands, litter bins etc. as part of a single design.
8.4 Location of stops should not intrude upon local views, historic monuments etc.
8.5 Canopies should be transparent to discourage vandalism, make them less intrusive. Non-transparent elements should be minimal.
8.6 Platforms should be as low and short as possible.
Elevated track and bridges

9. If elevated track necessary, promoters should consider:
9.1 Design of bridges should be simple and elegant.
9.2 Areas under elevated track should be used beneficially and not allowed to become derelict.
9.3 Elevated track should be avoided if possible in urban centres where they can obscure buildings and create clutter and noise. As part of a new development elevated track can be a potent symbol of regeneration.
Depots and other ancillary structures

10. Light Rail Systems require a variety of ancillary structures. It is suggested that:
10.1 Depots can be buildings in their own right, not just adjuncts to the system. Investing in good design expresses a commitment to quality.
10.2 Park and ride schemes should be landscaped and avoid light pollution.
10.3 Ancillary equipment for masts should be underground; devices should be as inconspicuous as possible.
10.4 Fences and barriers must be carefully designed. Hedges are preferable; mounding and ha-has are less intrusive.

Signage and street furniture
11. Light Rail Systems is an opportunity to rationalise street furniture, rather than create more clutter. A well-designed system should require less signage, not more.

12. Signage should be elegant and enhance rather than intrude.

13. Associated signage should be kept to a minimum and if possible affixed to existing structures.

Advertising and Corporate Identity
14. Limits should be placed on advertising and logos; corporate images should be confined to rolling stock; colour schemes should minimise visual intrusion.

St. John of Fawsley June 1999

SUMMARY: Helen Cox
Article on the design of tramway overhead systems