10th February 1999 at Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution

Don Lovell, Convenor of the Transport Group at BRLSI, welcomed the audience of 30+ persons, and introduced Adrian Tuddenham, Secretary of the Trams for Bath Group.

Adrian Tuddenham ( AT ) :
Before commencing the main business of the meeting, drew the attention of those present to the events and activities that were being organised by the Trams for Bath Group, and invited anyone who was interested but had not already done so, to apply for membership and thus help the work of the TfB Group by supporting and promoting its interests.

AT said that, for the benefit of persons present who might not be closely aware of the details of transport technology, it was desirable to first define exactly what was meant by the mode that was referred to as a "tram" :
A "tram" could be defined as a form of transport combining the following characteristics :

(1) : This normally means a steel tyre in contact with a steel rail, a combination that gives minimal rolling resistance, typically just one-fifth of that of a rubber tyre on a road surface. This combination used for tramways is also efficient in other ways, a worn steel tyre can be ground back to profile, and when eventually too worn for this the steel can be recycled. Use of rails implies a fixed and defined route, set free of infrastructure obstructions when initially installed, and this clarity of route cannot subsequently be interfered with by road planners and developers, etc., as can happen with bus routes. Confidence of potential passengers unused to the area is greatly increased by having a 'visible' route ( i.e. presence of rails --unless they are rusty ! ) and as tramway services tend to have a fairly frequent service interval, passengers may be happy to just wait and not feel it essential to first seek out a timetable. The very precise vehicle guidance provided by rails enables platform-to-vehicle access for disabled persons to be installed with only minimal gap clearances necessary.

(2) : Street running with relatively closely-spaced stops ( as distinct from 'stations' ) improves the facility for collecting passengers from stops close to where they are, and similarly delivering them close to where they want to go. Where conditions make it suitable to separate the tramway onto 'reserved track', it brings a complementary advantage of enabling high-speed running to reduce overall journey times.

(3) : Use of externally-generated electrical power means that at the vehicle itself there are absolutely no fumes, and when the vehicle is halted it is not just 'idling' but is absolutely silent. Generation of electricity in bulk at an external source enables easier use there of large efficient equipment to achieve effective pollution control, without needing a pollution control unit on each individual vehicle, which also implies a weight penalty on each vehicle. The electrical distribution linkage from central source to vehicles also allows a reverse flow when appropriate, i.e. regenerative braking that returns electrical energy from the tram to the supply system for use by other trams elsewhere that are currently taking power. It is important to stress that self-contained electrical vehicles, i.e. battery-powered, despite a very long history since around 1890, have had little long-term success except perhaps for a niche usage as milk floats. Improvement in the past century has not exceeded a factor of two to date, and typically a battery-electric vehicle bears 41% of its weight as its chassis plus a further 38% for the batteries, giving just 21% for payload, and this restricted to an operating distance of a mere thirty miles before charging or battery replacement becomes necessary.

(4) : Passenger carrying trams can be large or small. The original Bath trams were on four wheels and weighed around ten tons each. The proposals that TfB are making do not envisage a reintroduction of trams built on the scale of vehicles that are now currently seen in Sheffield, etc, as whilst these are suited to their own local conditions they would be far too large for the restricted street situation that has to be worked around in an historic city such as Bath. There are 'new' suppliers of trams where the initial purchase cost would be around half that of vehicles that have been specified for the new major systems such as Sheffield, Manchester or Midland Metro. The requirements for Bath dictate a design of single-unit vehicle rather than an articulated one, and, perhaps uniquely, the most effective answer to limitations of road space might be to pursue the reintroduction of double-deck vehicles, albeit in a modern form.


Potential problems.

A major problem in Bath is a preponderance of heritage building design that included coal cellars extending from the frontage of the building out under the road. ( BRLSI cited as a relevant example ). The roofing of the cellars thus supports the road and there are misgivings that this slender support is insufficient to take much interference ( such as installing tram track ) without excessively weakening it --although many city roads do at present satisfactorily take the passage of full-weight lorries on their 'thin' structure.
A likely palliative solution to this would be to adopt modern track forms such as Prof. Lewis Leslie's "LR.55" system. Apart from a shallow profile, this track sits in a pre-stressed concrete unit which acts somewhat as a lintel, which all helps alleviate potential problems of track installation across the tops of coal cellars. The "LR.55" formation can include ready provision for ductwork to be incorporated to carry cables. It has to be stated that "LR.55" is not, so far, in general operational use anywhere, and as such must be regarded as unproven, but there is a short trial length in place on the Sheffield tramway which is at a heavily trafficked road crossing.

The routes envisaged for Bath.

The primary principle that has been adopted is of a series of radial routes feeding into the centre, not 'crossing' the centre, but running into a gyratory "centre circle" ( single line track, probably operated in a clockwise direction ) This brings in a principle that, regardless of which radial route is used, anywhere in the city centre bounded by the centre circle track will be as accessible as anywhere else. As the circle will be used by all the radial routes this means that the combined service around the circle will be very frequent indeed. It would be an attractive feature if journeys made around the circle portion were to be free of charge, but realistically this will depend on the conditions under which the Operator operates, and the technicalities of the fare collection method employed.
Other surveys have shown that potential passengers are quite happy to have to walk 250m in order to board a passenger transport mode, though their tolerance of such a walk fades if it becomes necessary to walk as much as 500m. The TfB proposals envisage radial routes to Oldfield Park, Southdown and Whiteway; to Odd Down ( P+R ), with a bifurcation to Combe Down; to University, to Bathampton; to Batheaston with a bifurcation to Larkhall; to Lansdown; and a composite route primarily serving the new Western Riverside development, before bifurcating to Twerton, Newbridge ( P+R ) and Weston.
These proposed routes through Western Riverside have a particular significance as the 7.5 minute service proposed for the radial services would combine to a 3+ minute service through that section. As a primary factor in the development is to obtain the best possible benefit from regeneration of land, this provision of adequate public transport would drive down the otherwise likely allocation of some 30% of the developed land just for car parking. Perhaps surprisingly, looking again at the total plan for Bath, applying the 250m rule reveals that some 75% of the population fall within such catchment, and even at the less popular 500m distance threshold, over 90% is served.
This is just a broad rule of thumb, as the measure has been taken from the line of tramway, rather than from each proposed stopping place, and there will also be some anomalies of access caused by physical obstructions to being able to take direct walking routes, and in other cases the presence of hills and the river. An interesting sidelight on this is that in re-investigating for a new tramway pattern the TfB Group has come up with proposals that largely replicate the original scheme of a century ago, which is a tribute to the thoroughness and foresight of the original planners even when present-day 'access criteria' are applied.
One routing option has still to be finalised. In conjunction with the general traffic planning for Bath, it will be necessary to determine whether the designated Visitors' Coach Park should be closely served. If it is to be served, the centre circle will need to be extended a few streets further to the west to provide the interchange.
The total length of all routes aggregates to some 40km.


Some particular features of the proposed system.


Financial costings.

The laying of street tracks, some 40km at £ 500,000 / km would be : £ 20,000,000, but if an allowance is made for bridges and other special works this may reach : £ 24,000,000.
Fifty tramcars should cater for the service, at a cost of : £ 25,000,000.
Electrical, signalling and communications systems will cost around : £ 15,000,000.
Provision of a depot will cost : £ 4,000,000.
Other works such as statutory service diversion, stops, furniture and sundries : £ 3,000,000
The grand total of the above comes to some : £ 71,000,000
. It is worthy of note for comparison that some £ 70,000,000 was spent on the single scheme of the Batheaston by-pass.

Taken over a fifty year life-span, the comparative costs of operation by buses or tramway almost exactly equate.
(Adrian Tuddenham's address was from this point onwards opened out to include free-form discussion of points that were raised as questions or otherwise introduced by members of the audience :)

(q) : cost of road tax needs to be added in to the bus figures in the fifty year comparison.
(q) : has any consideration been given to comparative wages costs ?
(AT) : The specific conditions in Bath make it desirable that the proposed trams should have a crew of two, i.e. reintroduction of 'conductors'. There is evidence from elsewhere, including the new Sheffield tramway, that this is an excellent factor towards gaining public acceptance, particularly among persons who for whatever reason are less than fully mobile. It follows that, despite the ability to do at least double the work of a bus, the new Bath trams will not show this economy in terms of comparative wages costs.

(q) : The DETR funds bus lanes, so does this not mean that similar funding for tram tracks should be available from national funds ?
(q) : Other savings on costs should be put into the equation, notably those relating to : road damage / building damage / environmental damage / congestion / road traffic accidents / lost mobility of individuals
(q) : The routes carry potential to link tourists to heritage sites, a most notable example being a walk down to Prior Park ( difficult access for cars ).
(q) : An obvious longer distance addition to the radial city routes would be a branch to the south picking up the alignment of the old Somerset & Dorset railway line. It has to be remembered that the development of the Radstock and Midsomer Norton areas as dormitory feeders to Bath ( and Bristol ) happened almost immediately after the line had been closed by Dr. Beeching. This generated considerable commuter car usage on limited roads ( the A.367 corridor ) only after the railway link had gone. The alignment is largely intact for such re-use as a tramway route.

Sources of finance.

(q) : Will we not we need some form of "charter" to underlie all of this scheme ?
Yes, application will have to be made for a 'Transport and Works Order'.

(q) : You need to understand that a prerequisite is for the scheme to be written into the local authority's 'Local Transport Plan', and this to be valid for the next five years, and also compatible with the local authority's 'Structure Plan'. Once this is done, it is possible for financing to be undertaken through a PFI or similar scheme, the local authority continuing to collect car parking and other tolls, but hypothecating this revenue towards funding the scheme.

(q) : How far are B&NESactually involved in this scheme ?
It has just been said, a commitment for five years
( Note-taker's note : I believe that in the hubbub of multiple conversations that was now taking place in the room, the preceding question / answer was either misunderstood or incorrectly answered )

(q) : You are overlooking that B&NEShas in fact made a positive proposal, admittedly only an option, but that is for a line to link Lambridge to the Western Riverside development.
(AT) : But I believe that the scheme you refer to only pays 'lip-service' to it being a rail-based line, I believe that what they have in mind is a service to be provided by buses. I have already said that for the concept of TfB to really work it needs the whole system to be implemented from the outset.
( Brian Lomas ) : Supporting what AT has just said, the economics are such that it is far cheaper, proportionately, to implement a whole system as one entity than install one trial line and then add to it later as a separated exercise.

( Brian Lomas ) : The one thing that worries me in all that I have heard this evening is this very heavy dependence on using the "LR.55" track formation. We have been hearing about the development of "LR.55" for a very long time but it is still not demonstrated in operational service except for this one very short ( and possibly untypical ) length that has been laid in Sheffield.
(AT) : I would not entirely agree that we are wholly dependent on "LR.55" as such. Other trackforms with similar characteristics are under development ( James Skinner ) ( Brian Lomas ) : I still do not think that Bath should be the system to pioneer such a radical design, the prospects if the design proved to be defective are unthinkable. What I would suggest would be to wait and see whether Manchester adopts "LR.55" or similar for its proposed additional route. If it does, and it is successful, then Bath could follow. If Manchester finds "LR.55" to be a disaster they can recover from the situation and re-lay tracks with much less painful loss than Bath would suffer.
( Brian Lomas ) : On more positive note, you can be assured that despite all the objections that will inevitably arise during the planning phase of the tramway, once it is actually running there will be a groundswell of local approval and acclaim, such as happened at Strasbourg.
(qs) : other similar examples cited, including other parts of Sheffield, and Christchurch,N.Z.

(q) : will the system cope with the hills in Bath ?
(AT) : Yes. The new Sheffield system has gradients of 1:10. In icy conditions it is possible to have computer-controlled sanding of a slipping wheel. This is like ABS braking on a car.

(q) : the first car of the day can ascend on the wrong road to disperse the ice.
(q) : on London's Dog Kennel Hill there were duplicated tracks provided in each direction.
(AT) : that was only done after a very bad accident had occurred in the early years, and cars of a specific design were latterly designated for routes using Dog Kennel Hill.

(q) : Birkenhead was a pioneering tramway system, and its Pearson Street carried a gradient of 1:11.
(AT) : It is true that the top of Broad Street has a gradient of 1:8 but the old trams used it, though it is believed that the police on traffic duty had a permanent instruction to avoid bringing a tram to a stand at the top of Broad Street if it could be avoided.
Another possibility for icy conditions would be to copy the idea of the heated road surface used on Lansdown, and it would be even easier to heat steel tram track at the required spot.

(q) : how will the electrical power be distributed ? through an overhead system again ?
(AT) : Yes. The diameter of the conductor wire will be around one third of an inch. Modern overhead wire systems need not be ugly, they can almost 'disappear' and be unnoticed.
(q) : but Manchester's overhead is incredibly ugly and intrusive. Thick poles and heavy supporting wires. ( Brian Lomas ) : Manchester infrastructure was erected with an 'electric main-line railway' attitude. There is no reason why it should be perpetuated.

(q) : Suggestion that all concerned should embark on a fact-finding tour of Germany where the best current examples of modern tramway practice can be found. Some urban systems are integrated with suburban main-line rail systems and vehicles share tracks.
( Brian Lomas ) : This last suggestion is a little over-simplistic. Germany has a universal system of ATP on the railway which happily accommodates integration of tramways with branch lines or even main line railway routes. Britain needs to move significantly forward in this area before anything similar can be considered here. The first likely example we might see could be on the extension of the Tyne & Wear Metro to Sunderland.

(q) : Your proposal makes no mention of the siting of the depot ?
(AT) : The old depot in Walcot Street still exists, but in modern environmental terms it has to be accepted that tram depots generate some noise, e.g. on overnight maintenance activity, and this has to be taken into consideration.

There are a number of possibilities, perhaps as part of the Western Riverside development, though as a service industry this would take up land-use that perhaps should be devoted to commercial revenue-raising purposes. It also needs to be decided whether it is better to have one large depot incorporating stabling and maintenance for the whole fleet, or several smaller outlying stables, perhaps up to one on each route, and a central maintenance depot.

(q) : Will you please comment on the degree of pedestrianisation that is envisaged ?
(AT) : First it must be emphasised that trams and pedestrians do mix. The swept path of a tram on its track is obvious, consistent and predetermined. Pavement cafes in Europe have their tables within inches of the tramway. Braking of modern trams is not only very swift but also very smooth. It has been demonstrated in Blackpool that the driver and front of a tram can go past a stop at full service speed before the driver even commences braking, yet the result is still entirely smooth and pleasant for the passengers.

(q) : No mention has been made of integration with buses on longer distance routes ?
( Brian Lomas ) : In Germany, e.g. Karlsruhe, no buses at all are allowed within a centre-city tramway "box". (q) : but the regional bus system around Bath feeds in substantial services from a radius of thirty / forty miles, surely these need to be co-ordinated at a central bus station, as now ?
(AT) : there are questions to be addressed regarding the future proposals for a re-located bus station in Bath. There is the question of facility of interchange with the railway at Bath Spa station, and environmental factors such as whether the proposed new site environmentally damages the prospect of a riverside vista.
( Note-taker's note : again there was a hubbub of multiple conversations at this point, and it was clear that there were several other dissenting voices speaking against the prospect of decanting long-distance bus passengers other than at a proper central bus station. Feelings seemed to be quite strong on this issue, but were not pursued further from the Chair ).


(AT) : I now wish to demonstrate to you how, over the ages, tramway systems have coped with particular problems or have introduced innovative ideas :


(q) : this would surely interfere with and slow down the passenger service ?
(AT) : I want to stress that the proposed tramway presents the prospect of a frequent safe and reliable form of transport for persons who at present may be reluctant to use public transport when they wish to go out in the evenings.

( Jenny Sutherland ) : I am a little unclear, and uneasy, about the method of picking up passengers at stopping places. At first I thought you were saying that the trams would revert to the kerbside to pick up, but now you seem to be saying that passengers have to cross to a central strip in the road ?
(AT) : Yes. It is envisaged that many of the stopping places will be protected on a ramped 'island' ( also giving level access into the vehicle for disabled people ), and this will often need to be in the centre of the road, but may I point out that in such cases : "100% of the people have to cross 50% of the road", whereas with present bus services : "50% of the people have to cross 100% of the road", so that basically the situation is not worsened.

(q) : can you please clarify again. Is the 'central loop' going to be just a one-way single track and all services going around in the same direction ?
(AT) : Yes, that is correct. At the moment it seems best for some reasons if the direction that is adopted should be 'clockwise'.

(AT) : I would like to say a little more about this factor of the proportion of the community that will be served by the tramway. I have shown you the very high total proportion ( 90% ) of Bath residents that will be acceptably served by the TfB proposed system. By contrast, the proposed system for Bristol will only bring benefit to a relatively minor localised sector of the city residents. If we were to look for economies of implementation in Bath, perhaps the proposed Lansdown route is the most 'shaky', though this has a positive factor for P+R. The Lambridge scheme has been mentioned, and this would indeed be a very good choice if we were forced back into having just one 'starter' route, but I still think we should press for the ideal and introduce the whole proposed system as one entity from the outset.
( Brian Lomas ) : If only one route can be achieved initially, do not be too depressed, as it is encouraging to realise that even this can act as a catalyst which whips up groundswell urging for more. e.g.Strasbourg.

(q) : To make it all work it is essential that the whole scheme has a balancing factor of stringently applied parking restrictions within the centre of Bath, c.f. London
(q) : TfB needs to tighten up the regime in which the proposal is being made. It is absolutely essential to go along with agreed supporting measures with B&NES. It is foolish to think that the tramway proposal could in any way be 'standalone'. Compare with London's D.L.R. where the light railway was only built on the back of potential regenerated land values, these closely concentrated and on a massive scale, and in an area where access had previously been particularly restricted due to the geographical siting.
(q) : Yes, above comment supported, it is essential to look to means of access to regenerated land potential within Bath, this means not only Western Riverside but also recent new potential sites like Foxhill.
(q) : It would seem unwise to pile too much of the total initial cost on to application(s) for financial grant as this seems likely to cause 'overbalancing' that would inevitably lead to rejection of such application(s).
( Note-taker's note : the above points were not specifically pursued in any detail from the Chair ).
( The meeting was in any case generally drawing to a close by now, and further discussion was among several small independent groups around the room ).

( Brian Lomas ) : May I draw attention to the talk I am due to give, here at the BRLSI, this coming Friday 12th February. The title is : "Rapid transit proposals for Bath" and I must emphasise that its content complements and in no way represents some sort of competitive scheme to what you have been hearing tonight.


TRANSCRIPT: Peter Provest