More funding confirmed for light rail in England

Five tram and light rail systems in England outside of London (both the Docklands Light Railway and London Tramlink are covered by the Transport for London funding package) are to receive funding of up to £37.4 million over the next 12 weeks following confirmation of support for the Department for Transport. Manchester Metrolink, Nottingham Express Transit, Stagecoach Supertram, Tyne and Wear Metro and West Midlands Metro will share the funding – but the Blackpool Tramway remains conspicuous by its absence from the announcement.

As we reported last week, there was concern amongst local authorities in the areas with light rail systems that the government funding was set to run out with fears in Sheffield particularly that they may have to stop all services without any commitment to further funds. All public transport operators in the country have seen a significant downturn in crucial fare revenue during the pandemic whilst still trying to operate as full a service as possible and outside support has been crucial to ensure their continued efficient operation.

For the five tram and light rail operators they will have access of up to £3.1 million a week – and a commitment from the DfT that it will be further reviewed at the end of the 12 week period.

In total tram and light rail services will have been supported by the following government funding since the start of the pandemic:

Manchester Metrolink – £44 million

Nottingham Express Transit – £12.1 million

Stagecoach Supertram – £6.8 million

Tyne and Wear Metro – £24.7 million

West Midlands Metro – £5.7 million

As mentioned in the introduction the funding announcement makes no mention of the Blackpool Tramway. Whilst when the funding packages were originally put together the tramway was not running, it has been operating since 19th July with an increase in services due from Sunday 16th August. Whether Blackpool Transport will be able to dip into the funding promised for bus services (noted in the same press release that a further £218.4 million will be made to available to bus operators over the next eight weeks) is unclear although presumably unlikely.

For the Tyne and Wear Metro the latest funding will be of up to £8.5 million with Nexus confirming that this will help them to sustain the service until the end of October. Martin Kearney, Nexus Chief Operating Officer, said: “This is vital funding support that will enable us to sustain Metro services while customer numbers continue to recover. The Covid-19 crisis has had a major impact on Metro journeys and they remain around 40% of what we would normally expect. There has been gradual growth since lockdown has eased, shops have re-opened, and more people have returned to work, which is positive news. However, we expect the recovery to be slow going, which is why Government support is essential for Metro. We remain on dialogue with the Government about longer term funding support for the services we deliver.”

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