As we saw earlier this month, Jesse Norman MP, Transport Secretary, visited Birmingham for a special ceremony to lay the first track on the Birmingham Westside extension and whilst there took the opportunity to launch a call for evidence to seek views on the potential for light rail and “other rapid transit solutions” in English towns and cities. The consultation – which will be open until May – states that it is looking to “build on the popularity of light rail” with one of the aims to see if there are any issues preventing new schemes from getting off the drawing board. Just quite what another consultation might mean is unclear at this time.
Speaking about the launch of this consultation, Mr Norman, said: “The Midlands Metro (sic) network shows how government support can help to create a sustainable, accessible and innovative light rail system, which forms an integral part of a modern urban transport network. This is a great time to explore the incredible potential for light rail schemes across the country. Today’s wide-ranging call for evidence seeks new ideas and new support for the next generation of light rail, so that we make existing systems work better, and can work with cities and towns across the UK to create new ones.”
The exact wording of the consultation launch says:
Call for evidence inviting views on how to:
* better harness the opportunities for building on the popularity of light rail
* build our manufacturing and engineering capacity
The call for evidence asks a range of questions including:
* if there is a need for other light rail and other rapid transit systems in the UK
* what the possible environmental, economic and congestion benefits would be of introducing new systems
* if there are issues preventing light rail and other rapid transit solutions
The Department for Transport say they want this call to evidence “to act as a trigger, as a stimulus for new ideas and as a means to gather input from a wide range of stakeholders, including those from overseas, on the scale of opportunity for light rail.”
As well as traditional tram and light rail the report also states they are looking at tram-train, very or ultra-light rail and other rapid transit forms (personal rapid transit/automated transit networks) so there is no guarantee that the results of this consultation will actually lead to a good news story for trams.
The more cynical amongst may think you have heard this all before – and indeed there have been several reports over the years and governments saying they backed light rail and tram systems before they didn’t – but we will have to wait and see just what comes out of this “call for evidence” as to whether it is yet another false dawn or really will be the start of a new era for light rail in England.
In other related DfT news it has also been announced that there is to be £1.5 million of funding to establish a Light Rail Safety Standard board to ensure safer journeys for passengers. It is said that this will enable improved UK wide cooperation.
* The document announcing this “call for evidence” is available on the Department for Transport website and the consultation runs until 19th May 2019.