Trackless tram plans on the agenda for Liverpool

Could trams finally return to the streets of Liverpool? They could if plans currently being discussed come to fruition but rather than having track and overhead to operate they would be trackless trams operated by batteries with rubber wheels and guided by sensors on the road. The relatively short line – being developed under the working title the Paddington Line, and previously having been known as the Lime Line – would link the university quarter in the city, the new Paddington development and Lime Street Railway Station with journey times as short as four minutes being suggested.

A consultation has just been launched asking for views on the plans which it is said would provide “last mile connectivity” in the city centre but would also have the potential for expansion across the entire city region. Once the consultation is completed it would be presented to the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority Transport Committee who could explore it further and investigate possible funding. But before that there is a long way to go!

The initiative of this line was first launched by Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson at a conference in London during 2017 and since then an in-depth demand study has been undertaken. This concluded that there could be 1,000 extra trips per hour during peak times as a result of various masterplans and new developments in the city.

In the preamble to the consultation the developers of the Knowledge Quarter say: “The Paddington Line has been designed to provide ‘last mile’ connectivity, joining Knowledge Quarter Liverpool to the places people commute to and travel in from, but with the scope to work across the entire city region. Using a carbon neutral, rapid transit, trackless tram system, the Paddington Line would ultimately build on the success of the City Council, its Knowledge Quarter Mayoral Development Zone partners and the Metro Mayor’s City Region Combined Authority funding at Paddington Village.”

While the first phase would be a short line from Paddington Village into the city centre possible extensions are also being considered. This would include connections to Pier Head, Festival Gardens and Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

The idea of trackless trams has been under development in recent years but nothing concrete seems to have happened just yet. However, the document says the technology is evolving quickly “not just in vehicle types but also in fuel types, size and flexibility to meet need and demand appropriately. At this stage we anticipate a ‘tram like’ service, reflecting quality and permanence, without the costly and less flexible infrastructure of conventional tram systems.”

This isn’t the first plan for a new tramway in Liverpool with the previous Merseytram being abandoned in 2007 after the then government pulled the plug on a number of schemes across the UK.

More details and the consultation document can be viewed here.

* If you Google (other search engines are available!) Liverpool Trackless Trams you also get lots of results about Liverpool, New South Wales who are also looking into the same idea! It’s a small world!

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6 Responses to Trackless tram plans on the agenda for Liverpool

  1. Nigel Pennick says:

    Driverless buses with complex technology, plenty of things to go wrong at every level, expensive, made by companies whose interest is in having customers who are locked in to using their technology and no other. The fiasco of over-complex computerized signalling systems on Thameslink and the three different ones on the still-delayed Crossrail shows that simpler is better. After the great power cut, trains could not just drive off because the computers had to be re-set by experts who had to travel by car to the trains to fix them. Mayors love the grand showpiece gesture – remember Boris Johnson’s ‘Garden Bridge’? the Cambridgeshire mayor also wants driverless buses in tube tunnels. History is littered with failed ‘revolutionary’ transport projects. It’s about time they all got real.

  2. Geoff IoM says:

    “A carbon neutral, rapid transit, trackless tram system” – all fine and dandy, but what about PM2.5s? (the micro-particulates produced by rubber-tyre and road surface wear). These have been shown to be extremely damaging, and add significantly to urban pollution. Steel-wheel-on-steel-rail, on the other hand, has no such adverse effects.

    • Peter Watts says:

      Agreed on the micro particulates. But we should also focus on the large amount of particulates from the braking systems of the steel-wheel-on-steel-rail trams. Just look at the amount of particulates which can be seen around the reserved tracks of the Blackpool or Manchester systems for example, where often the whole track is turning a soft brown colour. Even the Airport line in Manchester is changing colour after only a short time in service.
      At the end of the day, each type of transport system has its own pros and cons.

      • steve hyde says:

        The brown deposit seen on the concrete around the track that Peter mentions is nothing to do with the braking system. The braking is primarily dynamic and there is very little disc or pad wear. The staining is actually caused by the rust formed from the steel worn from both rail and wheel as the trams pass. It doesn’t alter Peter’s concern of course as it is a form of micro particle.

  3. David says:

    This type of vehicle has already been deemed a failure in Caen and replaced with a conventional railed tramway. This is a typical Liverpudlian way of wasting a huge amount of money on a scheme which won’t go anywhere. If the councils which were involved in delivering the second generation tramway had not wasted so much time bickering it would have been built.

    • Peter Watts says:

      The two technologies are similar, but different. The system in Caen had a choice back in 1996 between the TVR from Bombardier (the guided articulated bus system), a conventional tramway, or a high density bus service. Due to the cost of the TVR being around 45% of a conventional tramways, this option was chosen.

      The TVR system did run for almost 15 years which in itself is not bad. Although the system was not as reliable as planned, Bombardier gained alot of experience for other tramway projects (as much of the technology on board was similar to conventional trams) but more importantly Caen gained a conventional tramway in 2018 which it probably would not have gained if the choice in 1996 had been high density buses. By the time of the choice for a replacement of the TVR system in 2014, France was well advanced with conventional tram schemes.