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THE NEW BRISTOL TRAM PROJECT
from Dream to Reality
NOTES OF A TALK GIVEN BY
PLANNING OFFICER, BRISTOL CITY COUNCIL
13th October 1999
Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution
Andy Spearman said that his function was that of
transport planner within the rapid transit team of Bristol City
Council, although the scheme to be described was effectively a joint
one with South Gloucestershire, being Line One of an originally
projected larger network.
The need for a radical solution to the ever-growing
problems facing commuter traffic into and out of Bristol is readily
illustrated with a few statistics. There are 500,000 vehicle
movements into and out of the city each day, travelling at an average
speed of 11 m.p.h. ( and still falling ). There were 1607 injuries
and 17 deaths sustained by Bristol motorists in 1997, and the level
of pollution in the air exceeds target standards and is still
Fifteen years ago a radical proposal : Advanced Transport for Avon was first mooted for a rapid transit scheme to be built in the area. Good progress was being made when a devastating blow to the organisation of the proposals resulted from the abolition of the Avon County authority.
The primary objectives were that a fast and efficient
transport system should be made available at an affordable price, as
a viable alternative to commuter car travel.
The transfer of car use to a public transport mode was envisaged as increasing the whole economic effectiveness of the north Bristol corridor. This new deal for transport', bringing various improvements that are better for everybody, presaged the whole concept of Local Transport Plans that are now part of the prescribed local governmental process.
Bristol commissioned a multi-modal study, which,
whilst an expensive exercise, was of great value in showing that a
solution for Bristol was possible by including a balanced mix of
buses, park+ride facilities, rapid transit, and, most controversially, the introduction of road user charges.
The latter would be directly aimed at commuting motorists and represented the carrot and stick principle. However, it was recognised that it would be counter productive to introduce the stick before demonstrable progress had been made on the carrot of providing a useful and attractive alternative public transport system.
In order to gain government and private support it is
necessary to demonstrate not only the future integration of a
transport system, but that it provided value for money if it were to
be financed through a PFI initiative. This involvment of the private
sector is now a mandatory route for financing this type of scheme, as
a prerequisite to the conventional sequence of applying for Powers,
the construction phase, and subsequent operation.
In fact, of the £ 105,000,000 envisaged for the constructional phase in Bristol, commitment is available from the private sector of some 60% of the total capital cost,whjich is the best ratio for any such scheme in the U.K.
The Bristol scheme achieved appointment in 1997 of a
suitable consortium, Citylink, incorporating relevant constructional,
operational and financial interests, ( and including Railtrack ) this
was after followowing the competition rules laid down by the
Subsequent practical progress has included defining the alignment for the preferred route, identifying viable operational options, establishing patronage models and commencing to make key staffing appointments such as the Project Manager.
Other key elements of the project now established are
that propulsion shall be by means of electric traction, the trams
shall be low-floor twin cars, giving easy access level entry, with a
frequent and reliable service level ( at 6 mins to max 15 mins
intervals ), and with careful attention paid to the particular needs
of the park-and-ride passenger market, and to provision of passenger
The Line One route will be from Broadmead, through
the city centre and via Bradley Stoke to a terminus at Almondsbury.
The concept of a loop around the city centre was carefully considered
but has now been discarded. The whole route is 16.7km long, with
4.5km of this on-street. The anticipated journey time will be just 30
minutes from end to end, serving sixteen intermediate stops.
Much of this high average speed will be achieved by the involvment of Railtrack, who will make available a railway alignment from Temple Meads to Parkway, enabling mixing of light rail and heavy rail in similar fashion to what has been achieved at Karlsruhe in Germany.
Potential benefits have been identified from the proposed route in terms of regeneration, vitalising the local economy, decongesting road traffic, and providing enhanced travel opportunities and integrated transport benefits for travellers.
In regard to timescale, although the Transport &
Works Act processes have been delayed by the necessity to establish
financial resources, and there will inevitably be a public enquiry
still to come, there remains a realistic timescale which sees
construction commencing within the year 2001, and commencement of
operation before the end of year 2003.
The proposed Bristol scheme can already be proud that
its innovative procurement process will yield better value for money
than other similar schemes in the U.K. There is a real possibility
that future road-user charges will contribute to funding
Also, the scheme provides, at last, an effective solution to a problem that has been increasingly vexing Bristol over very many years, that of acute and steadily worsening traffic congestion and intolerable commuter conditions.
ANDY SPEARMAN then responded to a number of
questions from the audience
Q.1 : Will the scheme be progressed from the
Gloucestershire end or the Bristol city end ?
AS : I do not know !. This is a matter solely for the construction contractor to decide. However the underlying answer to your question is that it is the intention to open Line One in its completed entirety, not piecemeal.
Q.2 : There is a lot of building work currently in
hand around Temple Meads, has the route been secured ?
AS : There were originally two route options through the Temple Meads complex. However the way for the finally selected route is now protected in a development brief commisioned by Railtrack and SWRDA.
Q.3 : With regard to the track sharing from Temple
Meads to Parkway, assuming the light rail operation is a low voltage
overhead wire electrification, how will this be co-ordinated with any
future 25kv high voltage overhead wire electrification of the main
line railway ?
AS : The light rail scheme will involve reinstatement of two old tracks on an original alignment. Railtrack are only seeking occasional use track sharing for certain freight workings and rare emergencies. Also, realistically, there is only the remotest possibility of a future 25kv main line electrification at this particular location.
Q.4 : You quoted a six minute peak frequency of trams
each carrying 200 persons. How has this been related to establishing
sizes of park+ride car parks and the service capacity to be devoted
to housing developments ?
AS : The normal calculation is not made that way around. Unfortunately the limiting factor is almost always that of securing adequate and suitably sited land for the car parks, although an aim is made to achieve at least 1000 car spaces.
Q.5 : The passengers for the original tramways
invariably all arrived at the stopping places on foot. Now that we
are down to around just sixteen or so stopping places on the line,
are we assuming that in future a majority will not arrive on foot but
be dropped from a car ?
AS : Yes, but not only by car, bus feeders are envisaged on an extensive scale. Indeed it is expected that there will be a large-scale recasting of bus routes to provide such traffic. That is why it is potentially beneficial that the principal bus operator FirstGroup is a partner to the consortium.
Q.6 : You mentioned that future road user charging
revenues could provide a boost to the financing of the scheme, but
can you confirm that the original favourable financing climate did
not depend at all on road user charging ? What percentage of the
total financing will be derived from road user charging ?
AS : Yes, even on a conservative basis before the recent possibility of utilising road user charging revenues, the financial arrangements calculated were entirely favourable.
Q.7 : Your reply to Q.2 implies some unhelpfulness on
the part of those involved with the Temple Meads developments. As one
involved on that side I know that in fact an alignment was originally
reserved for the scheme, and it was not helpful that it was the
scheme itself which subsequently underwent change.
AS : The scheme underwent change when the consortium was appointed; it was clear that an alignment close to the station would be less costly to the scheme that the one through Temple Quay.
Q.8 : I must criticise that throughout your talk you
used the three terms : tram, light rail and light rapid transit as
though they were interchangeable and all meant the same thing. This
is not in fact the case.
AS : That may be so but we are trying to be clear and consistent what the end product of the Bristol scheme will be. Specialist groups, on the one hand, and the general public on the other may have different ideas as to what is meant by the terms.
Q.9 : You referred to elimination of pollution and
congestion as prime aims for the scheme. Technical developments in
vehicles will eliminate pollution within five years, leaving only
congestion as a factor.
AS : I would question that assumption; older vehicles will always cause pollution. As you say, excess cars will always cause congestion.
Q.10 : What are the crewing proposals ? Will there be
one or two persons ?
AS : Not yet decided. It is significant that in Sheffield operations commenced with minimal staffing, but troubles with vandalism, including that of remote self-service ticket machines at stops, has necessitated a re-think there and fare collection is now on-vehicle by a conductor.
Q.11 : In regard to financing, why not invite local
businesses to subscribe to bonds of say £ 1,000 each in value,
but these then confer a right to the holder to travel free of charge
for, say, five years, until they expire. Think of the upfront Fast
Track revenue to be derived from issue of 500 bonds at £ 1,000
AS : This is a novel idea and has certainly not been considered for Bristol. My immediate reaction is that there might well be a credibility gap on the part of the local busineses regarding the delivery of value from the scheme. Take-up of the offer might be quite slow.
Q.12 : How exactly is road user charging going to be
operated ? Will a charged motorist be given some sort of voucher to
encourage use of public transport for his/her next journey ?
AS : No details have yet been published for Bristol. There is widespread talk of the scheme incorporating smartcard technology, and the trend is for these to be used across several different modes, so it may well be that one card can be used to pay for public transport, car parking, road user charge and other services.
Q.13 : I am trying to understand exactly how the very
first motivating factor for the whole scheme originated and developed
? Where exactly did it all begin to get it off the ground ? This has
a relevance to origination of other new schemes such as for Bath.
AS : The early origins of the Bristol scheme came from a small group of businessmen who had the idea to develop a rail alignment from Portishead around to Bradley Stoke. However, in retrospect, they promoted an individual project lacking an integrated context, causing local resentment and resistance to the proposals. Later on the scheme became more refined and acceptable. As stated earlier, development by Avon Council was in full swing when the unfortunate demise of that authority was a massive blow to organisation and progress.
Q.14 : When exactly do you anticipate the
commencement of operations ?
AS : As I said earlier, the operational opening of Line One during 2004 remains a realistic target.
Q.15 : I wish to draw parallels between the rate of
achievement in Bristol and Manchester. Both cities originated schemes
at roundly the same date. Manchester has now been opened and
operating very successfully for several years, Bristol is, even now,
still only in the planning stage. My analysis is that in Manchester
local differences ( political, etc ) were subsumed to a common aim of
getting the tramway opened. I submit that in Bristol continuing
delays are inevitable due to personality clashes, and the same thing
will happen all over again in Bath.
AS : ( backed-up by another member of audience ) : I do not agree with the questioner. The essential difference is that Manchester ( and Sheffield ) were covered by a PTA / PTE organisational structure to look after strategic transport interests, and these were continued even after the metropolitan counties were abolished, giving much needed stability for this function. They enjoyed an entirely different approach to source government funds. For Bristol there has never been a PTA / PTE type of structure, and, as stated, the abolition of Avon Council was a set-back which also destroyed continuity.
Q.16 : Further to Q.15 I believe that the commuting
problem is quite different as between Bristol and Bath. In Bath sixty
per cent of the working population both live and work within the Bath
& North East Somerset Council area, so surely it should not
matter that we do not have a PTA / PTE organisational structure here
AS : I do not entirely agree with the questioner. Certainly some of the commuting corridors are wholly within B&NES;, but what about the corridors to Bradford-on-Avon and Trowbridge ? It seems to me that West Wiltshire should have a stake in the public transport routes to Bath.
Q.17 : Can I come back to the size of the public
transport interchange planned for Temple Meads. Is it going to be as
substantial as that at Cribbs Causeway ?
AS : It will not be as large as we would have liked. We are in a strange situation with Railtrack as a partner, in respect of advocating use of public transport in place of car usage, as Railtrack have to also have a regard to their main-line railway function, and for this they need to cater for cars at stations, and at Temple Meads they need replacement space for this too !. At Temple Meads the idea is that the other face of the building will be used for public transport access, details are currently being worked-up in a master plan.
Q.18 : Staying with Temple Meads, has any
consideration been given to providing better pedestrian access for
passengers across the river ?
AS : Yes, this is being catered for.
TRANSCRIPT: Peter Provest
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