Government support for light rail set to run-out as Nottingham and Sheffield call for more cash

The previous funding announcement by the Department for Transport to prop up English light rail systems in Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield, Tyne and Wear and the West Midlands is set to run out at the start of August with no sign yet of official confirmation of extra cash to allow their continued operation. Over the past few days stories have come out of both Nottingham and Sheffield about the need for this extra cash with Tramlink Nottingham (operators of Nottingham Express Transit) said to be losing £400,000 a week with the significant drop in passenger revenue.

The story on Nottingham Express Transit is probably unsurprising as with passenger numbers so far down it is inevitable that large losses are going to be made but the figure was revealed in council document. Nottingham City Council do expect the Department for Transport to cover these losses (the suggestion is that there has been some sort of vague agreement to supply the funding but nothing concrete as yet). Tramlink Nottingham’s finances were said to be not great even before the pandemic with the lack of passenger numbers just exacerbating the losses.

NET has been assigned £3.7 million from the Department for Transport over the course of the pandemic but this was only in place to help ensure a service could be maintained for key workers for 12 weeks. These 12 weeks end at the start of August. With NET having already confirmed an increase in services from Monday 3rd August it remains to be seen whether this is part of an early agreement with the DfT or something to try and increase revenue as more people start to head out to work again.

Cllr Adele Williams, Nottingham City Council portfolio holder for transport, is quoted in the Nottingham Post about the subject: “We welcome the funding that has been announced to date by the Government, however we are still seeking assurances that it will continue into the future while passenger numbers are down and social distancing is in place. The tram network is a key component of our wider plans to keep the city moving. The Government promised to stand ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ with local councils at the start of the Covid lockdown and they need to make good on that commitment. At the moment, we have received around £23million against an anticipated spend of close to £87 million on Covid.” [The figures mentioned here are thought to relate the general council and not for the trams solely].

Up in Sheffield, Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis, has also gone on record as saying that they were in negotiations with the DfT to try and secure funding from 3rd August but had not had any confirmation that additional cash would be forthcoming.

It remains to be seen what support, if any, may be offered by the government and for how long. It will also be interesting to see whether Blackpool is included in any future round now that a service is again running.

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